The relationship between attachment and empathy in the development of psychopathic traits among aggressive adolescents: Theoretical considerations and implications for intervention

Violent crime is a devastating social problem that affects the physical and mental health of victims, and has significant economic costs. Aggressive and violent behaviour among adolescents is particularly disturbing. Although adolescents who commit violent crimes are often incarcerated, placement in an institution does not reduce violent acts committed after release. A subset of aggressive adolescents demonstrates antisocial traits such as callousness, a lack of empathy, and a propensity for engaging in diverse, and at times severe, violent acts. These traits have been called “”psychopathic,”” because they appear to be an early version of adult psychopathy. These adolescents are at higher risk for continuing violent behaviour well into adulthood. While some research has examined biological causes, the family environment has been ignored, even though the family plays an important role in children’s development of empathy and social behaviour. Rosalind Catchpole is studying aggressive adolescents’ styles of relating to their caregivers and empathy levels. Her research will identify the risks and protective factors related to adolescent violence, and help improve intervention programs for aggressive adolescents.