The Indirect Relationships Between Psychopathic Traits and Proactive and Reactive Aggression Through Empathy and Emotion Dysregulation

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This study examined the extent to which empathy and emotion dysregulation facilitate the relationships between psychopathic personality traits and aggression, using a sample of 368 university students. Psychopathic traits were assessed with the Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised (PPI-R; Lilienfeld and Widows 2005), empathy via the Affective and Cognitive Measure of Empathy (ACME; Vachon and Lynam Assessment, 23, 135-149, 2016), and emotion dysregulation using the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS; Gratz and Roemer Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26, 41-54, 2004). A series of structural equation models (SEM) compared indirect effects of psychopathic traits on proactive and reactive aggression (Reactive Proactive Aggression Questionnaire; Raine et al. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16, 512-524, 2006) through empathy and emotion dysregulation. Findings indicated a significant and positive indirect effect of Self-Centered Impulsivity traits on proactive aggression through low empathy, whereas the positive indirect effect of Self-Centered Impulsivity on reactive aggression was through high emotion dysregulation. Both Fearless Dominance and Coldheartedness had significant negative indirect effects on reactive aggression through (low) levels of emotion dysregulation; Fearless Dominance also exhibited a negative indirect effect on proactive aggression via ACME total score. Moreover, Coldheartedness had a significant, positive indirect effect on proactive aggression through (low) empathy. In a final model that accounted for shared variance between empathy and emotion dysregulation, all indirect relationships were maintained, suggesting that each path is not better accounted for by variance in the other. In all, this study builds upon prior research on emotion-related correlates of psychopathy, suggesting differential pathways from psychopathic traits to proactive and reactive aggression.

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Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment

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