Moral/conventional transgression distinction and psychopathy in conduct disordered adolescent offenders

Personality and Individual Differences 49:995–1000 (2010)
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To date there are no studies examining the ability to make a moral/conventional transgression distinction in adolescent offenders with psychopathic traits. Based on the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version, we compared males with high (HP, n = 45), medium (MP, n = 31) and low psychopathy scores (LP, n = 39) on the moral convention distinction task. Under normal rule conditions the psychopathy groups did not differ in their ability to make a moral/conventional distinction. The HP group tended to view both transgression types as more permissible and conventional transgressions as less serious, than the LP group. Under modified rule conditions, the HP group exhibited reduced moral/conventional distinction scores com- pared to the MP group. The findings only partially replicate findings from previous M/C studies in children and adults with psychopathic traits. The work fits with more recent reports suggesting that psychopathy is not strongly associated with marked difficulties in cognitive theory of mind, perspective taking and moral judgements. Future studies should focus on the affective aspects of moral reasoning in offender samples.


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