A meta-analysis of childhood maltreatment in relation to psychopathic traits

Corine de Ruiter*, Matthias Burghart, Raneesha De Silva, Sara Griesbeck Garcia, Ushna Mian, Eoin Walshe, Veronika Zouharova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a mix of traits belonging to four facets: affective (e.g., callous/lack of empathy), interpersonal (e.g., grandiosity), behavioral instability (e.g., impulsivity, poor behavioral controls), and social deviance (e.g., juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility). Several scholars have argued that early childhood maltreatment impacts the development of psychopathy, although views regarding its role in the four facets differ. We conducted a meta-analysis including 47 studies comprising a total of 389 effect sizes and 12,737 participants, to investigate the association between psychopathy and four types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. We found support for a moderate link between overall psychopathy and childhood physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect, as well as overall childhood maltreatment. The link between psychopathy and childhood sexual abuse was small, but still statistically significant. These associations were stronger for the behavioral and antisocial facets than for the affective and interpersonal facets of psychopathy, but nearly all associations were statistically significant. Our findings are consistent with recently developed theories on the role of complex trauma in the development of severe personality disorders. Trauma-focused preventive and therapeutic interventions can provide further tests of the trauma-psychopathy hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0272704
Number of pages27
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2022


  • Antisocial Personality Disorder/epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse/psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Criminals/psychology
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Physical Abuse

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