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Socio-cultural factors in psychopathy

Social factors clearly influence the probability of an individual engaging in antisocial behaviour and being diagnosed with antisocial personality. Henry et al., for example, found that lack of emotional closeness within the family and poor parenting at the age of 12 years was predictive of both violence and delinquency at the age of 17 years. Perhaps the longest longitudinal study of this phenomenon is the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. This was able to identify childhood factors that were predictive of antisocial personality and adult convictions up to the age of 40 years. The most important childhood predictors were similar to those of Henry et al.: a convicted parent, large family size, low intelligence or school attainment, a young mother and disrupted family. Family factors may also contribute to the lack of emotion associated with psychopathy. It has been suggested that the sustained experience of negative emotional events during childhood results in the individual learning to ‘switch off’ their emotions in response both to negative events that occur to them and to their behaviours that affect others. While family infl uences are clearly important, external influences may also impact on the individual. Henry et al. found that having violent peers was predictive of later violent and nonviolent delinquency. Similarly, Eamon and Mulder  found that impoverished neighbourhood and school environments, exposure to deviant peer pressure, and parenting practices involving physical punishment and excessive monitoring of behaviour (perhaps as a consequence rather than cause of their antisocial behaviour) were related to antisocial behaviour among Latino adolescents in the USA. In an attempt to quantify the degree to which family and peer factors contribute to antisocial behaviour, Eddy and Chamberlain  followed a group of offenders over a two-year period. Family management skills and deviant peer association accounted for 32 per cent of the variance in antisocial behaviour over this period. Borduin  summarized the non-family antecedents of antisocial behaviour as:

peer relations : high involvement with deviant peers, poor social skills, low involvement with pro-social peers school factors : poor academic performance, drop-out and low commitment to education neighbourhood and community : criminal sub-culture, low organizational participation among residents, low social support and high mobility.

The prevalence of antisocial behaviour is increasing over time in many countries, virtually doub ling over a period of 15 years in the USA to about 3.6 per cent of the general population. There are also marked differences in its prevalence across countries, ranging from about 0.14 per cent in Taiwan to over 3 per cent in countries such as New Zealand. These various fi ndings led Paris  to speculate that Asian cultures are protective against antisocial personality as a result of their family structure, which is typically highly cohesive and has clear limits on acceptable behaviour – the opposite constellation of characteristics to those implicated in the development of antisocial behaviour.

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