The mediating role of reflective functioning and general psychopathology in the relationship between childhood conduct disorder and adult aggression among offenders

Karen Yirmiya, Matthew Constantinou, Elizabeth Simes, Anthony Bateman, James Wason, Jessica Yakeley, Mary McMurran, Mike Crawford, Alison Frater, Paul Moran, Barbara Barrett, Angus Cameron, Zoe Hoare, Elizabeth Allison, Stephen Pilling, Stephen Butler, Peter Fonagy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background. The nature of the pathway from conduct disorder (CD) in adolescence to antisocial behavior in adulthood has been debated and the role of certain mediators remains unclear. One perspective is that CD forms part of a general psychopathology dimension, playing a central role in the developmental trajectory. Impairment in reflective functioning (RF), i.e., the capacity to understand one’s own and others’ mental states, may relate to CD, psychopathology, and aggression. Here, we characterized the structure of psychopathology in adult male-offenders and its role, along with RF, in mediating the relationship between CD in their adolescence and current aggression. Methods. A secondary analysis of pre-treatment data from 313 probation-supervised offenders was conducted, and measures of CD symptoms, general and specific psychopathology factors, RF, and aggression were evaluated through clinical interviews and questionnaires. Results. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that a bifactor model best fitted the sample’s psychopathology structure, including a general psychopathology factor (p factor) and five specific factors: internalizing, disinhibition, detachment, antagonism, and psychoticism. The structure of RF was fitted to the data using a one-factor model. According to our mediation model, CD significantly predicted the p factor, which was positively linked to RF impairments, resulting in increased aggression. Conclusions. These findings highlight the critical role of a transdiagnostic approach provided by RF and general psychopathology in explaining the link between CD and aggression. Furthermore, they underscore the potential utility of treatments focusing on RF, such as mentalization-based treatment, in mitigating aggression in offenders with diverse psychopathologies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • aggression
  • antisocial personality disorder
  • conduct disorder
  • general psychopathology factor
  • MOAM
  • offenders
  • probation
  • reflective functioning

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