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Acta Psychiatr Scand Suppl. 2002;(412):75-80.

Understanding the abnormal by studying the normal.

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Center for Developmental Research, Department of Social Sciences, Orebro University, Sweden.



In the present paper we ask whether it is meaningful to study psychopathic traits in non-referred youths and whether this kind of research can be used to understand the development of criminal full-blown psychopathy.


We review studies that have investigated the utility of assessing psychopathic traits in non-referred samples of youths.


Research shows that psychopathic traits in non-referred youths manifest similarly to how they are manifested among incarcerated offenders, as indicated by similarities in factor structures. Also, psychopathic traits relate similarly to frequent, violent antisocial behavior in non-referred youths as among adult and adolescent institutionalized criminal offenders. Thus, the differences between the non-referred conduct-problem youths exhibiting a psychopathic personality pattern and the incarcerated, criminal youths identified as psychopathic seem to be quantitative rather than qualitative.


It is concluded that research on non-referred youth samples can provide important knowledge about the processes that underlie the development of psychopathic traits and how this development can be prevented. Implications for future research and intervention and prevention are discussed.

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