Developmental psychobiology

Neuroendocrine factors distinguish juvenile psychopathy variants.

PMID 27616728


The characteristic pattern of emotional hypo-reactivity observed in primary psychopathy is not evident in secondary psychopathy, which is thought to originate from childhood adversity and co-occurring anxiety. The main aim of this study was to test whether salivary afternoon cortisol, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and cortisol-to-DHEA concentrations, which at high levels indicate risk for chronic stress and poor mental health, distinguished secondary from primary variants of callous-unemotional (CU) traits-the affective component of psychopathy. This aim was achieved by first identifying psychopathy variants using latent profile analysis of CU, anxiety, and aggression scores among 232 incarcerated adolescent boys (M age = 16.75). Based on a subset with neuroendocrine data (n = 201), aggressive secondary CU variants had lower afternoon DHEA concentrations and higher cortisol-to-DHEA ratios and comorbid psychopathology compared with all other groups. In contrast, two primary CU variants (aggressive and non-aggressive types) emerged with profiles characterized by low to average psychopathology and high DHEA levels. Findings contribute to a growing literature base suggesting that biomarkers may distinguish youth on separable developmental pathways to psychopathy.