Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Traumatic Experiences in Childhood and Psychopathy: A Study on a Sample of Violent Offenders from Italy

Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Traumatic Experiences in Childhood and Psychopathy: A Study on a Sample of Violent Offenders from Italy

Article excerpt


Traumatic experiences in childhood and psychopathy: a study on a sample of violent offenders from Italy

Giuseppe Craparo1, Adriano Schimmenti1 and Vincenzo Caretti2*

1Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, University of Enna "Kore", Enna, Italy; 2Department of Psychology, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy


Background : The link between early traumatic experiences of abuse/neglect and criminal behaviour has been widely demonstrated. Less is known, however, about the relationship between these experiences and the development of psychopathic personality.

Objective : This study investigated childhood relational trauma in a group of violent offenders from Italy. We hypothesised a higher level of early relational trauma associated with higher scores on psychopathy.

Method : Twenty-two offenders convicted for violent crimes aged 22-60 (M=38, SD=11) participated in this study. Participants were selected by the Italian justice system for an experimental research programme aiming at the evaluation of psychopathic personality traits among violent offenders. Within the group, 14 participants (64%) had committed murder, 4 (18%) had committed rape, and 4 (18%) were convicted child sex offenders. The Traumatic Experience Checklist was used to assess childhood relational trauma; the Hare Psychopathy Checklist--Revised (PCL-R) was used to assess psychopathy.

Results : There was a high prevalence of childhood experiences of neglect and abuse among the offenders. Higher levels of childhood relational trauma were found among participants who obtained high scores on the PCL-R. There was also a significant negative association between age of first relational trauma and psychopathy scores.

Conclusions : Findings of this study suggest that an early exposure to relational trauma in childhood can play a relevant role in the development of more severe psychopathic traits.

Keywords: Psychopathy; child abuse and neglect; violent offenders; high-risk groups

*Correspondence to: Vincenzo Caretti, Department of Psychology, Viale delle Scienze, Ed. 15, 90100 Palermo, Italy, Tel: (+39) 063219337, Email:

For the abstract or full text in other languages, please see Supplementary files under Article Tools online

Received: 17 May 2013; Revised: 26 July 2013; Accepted: 25 August 2013; Published: 20 December 2013

European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2013. © 2013 Giuseppe Craparo et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License (, permitting all non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Citation: European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2013, 4 : 21471 -

Psychopathy is a complex personality disorder, characterising individuals with emotional deficits who lack a regard for social norms, empathy, and remorse (Hare, 1991, 1993). In the early years, Cleckley (1976) described the inability to participate in, or understand, the emotional aspects of humanity as one of the fundamental factors in psychopathy:

Let us say that, despite his otherwise perfect functioning, the major emotional accompaniments are absent or so attenuated as to count for little .... If we grant the existence of a far reaching and persistent blocking, absence, deficit, or dissociation of this sort, we have all that is needed, at the present level of our inquiry, to account for the psychopath. (p. 371).

Robert Hare shed light on the affective and interpersonal-related issues linked to psychopathy. His approach--operationalised in the golden standard Hare Psychopathy Checklist--Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 2003)--contributed to the understanding of the origins and maintenance of the disorder leading to the important distinction between psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder (Rutherford, Cacciola, & Alterman, 1999). …

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