Elucidating the role of negative parenting in the genetic v. environmental influences on adult psychopathic traits

Hailey L. Dotterer, Alexandra Y. Vazquez, Luke W. Hyde, Craig S. Neumann, Pekka Santtila, Patrizia Pezzoli, Ada Johansson, S. Alexandra Burt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background Psychopathic traits involve interpersonal manipulation, callous affect, erratic lifestyle, and antisocial behavior. Though adult psychopathic traits emerge from both genetic and environmental risk, no studies have examined etiologic associations between adult psychopathic traits and experiences of parenting in childhood, or the extent to which parenting practices may impact the heritability of adult psychopathic traits using a genetically-informed design. Methods In total, 1842 adult twins from the community reported their current psychopathic traits and experiences of negative parenting during childhood. We fit bivariate genetic models to the data, decomposing the variance within, and the covariance between, psychopathic traits and perceived negative parenting into their genetic and environmental components. We then fit a genotype × environment interaction model to evaluate whether negative parenting moderated the etiology of psychopathic traits. Results Psychopathic traits were moderately heritable with substantial non-shared environmental influences. There were significant associations between perceived negative parenting and three of four psychopathy facets (interpersonal manipulation, erratic lifestyle, antisocial tendencies, but not callous affect). These associations were attributable to a common non-shared environmental pathway and not to overlapping genetic effects. Additionally, we found that primarily shared environmental influences were stronger on psychopathic traits for individuals with a history of greater negative parenting. Conclusions Utilizing a genetically-informed design, we found that both genetic and non-shared environmental factors contribute to the emergence of psychopathic traits. Moreover, perceptions of negative parenting emerged as a clear environmental influence on the development of interpersonal, lifestyle, and antisocial features of psychopathy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Behavioral genetics
  • bivariate ACE model
  • parenting
  • psychopathy


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