Childhood Maltreatment and Aggressive Behaviour in Violent Offenders With Psychopathy

Nathan J. Kolla*, Charlotte Malcolm, Stephen Attard, Tamara Arenovich, Nigel Blackwood, Sheilagh Hodgins, Nigel Blackwood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To document experiences of childhood maltreatment among violent offenders with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) distinguishing between those with and without the syndrome of psychopathy (+P and -P), and to determine whether maltreatment is associated with proactive and reactive aggression.

Method: The sample included 10 violent offenders with ASPD+P, 15 violent offenders with ASPD-P, and 15 nonoffenders. All participants completed interviews with the same forensic psychiatrist focusing on physical, sexual, and emotional abuse prior to age 18 using the Early Trauma Inventory. Aggression was assessed using the Reactive Proactive Questionnaire.

Results: Violent offenders with ASPD+P reported significantly more severe childhood physical abuse, but not more sexual or emotional abuse, than violent offenders with ASPD-P and nonoffenders. Psychopathy-Checklist Revised (PCL-R) scores, but not childhood physical abuse, were associated with proactive aggression. Childhood physical abuse was associated with reactive aggression, as was an interaction term indicating that when both PCL-R scores and childhood physical abuse were high, so was reactive aggression.

Conclusions: Among violent offenders, PCL-R scores were positively associated with proactive aggression, while experiences of childhood maltreatment were not. This finding concurs with previous studies of children and adults and suggests that proactive aggression may be a behavioural marker of psychopathic traits. By contrast, childhood physical abuse was associated with reactive aggression, even among violent offenders with high PCL-R scores. This latter finding suggests a strong influence of childhood physical abuse on the development of reactive aggression that persists over the lifespan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-494
Number of pages8
JournalCanadian Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • violent offending
  • childhood maltreatment
  • psychopathy
  • antisocial personality disorder
  • reactive aggression
  • proactive aggression
  • BOYS


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