Psychopathy, the Big Five and empathy as predictors of violence in a forensic sample of substance abusers

It is widely recognized that substance abuse increases the general risk of delinquency and violent offenses in particular. Substance-related disorders are the primary cause of offenders being sentenced to mandatory treatment in forensic psychiatry. However, instead of a mono-causal link between addiction and violence, additional risk factors must be assumed. The current study examined the relations between psychopathy, empathy and general personality traits and their role in statistically predicting violent crimes of substance-abusing offenders. The sample consisted of 164 male and female forensic inpatients with substance-related disorders. They were administered the German versions of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI-R), the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (SPF). The psychopathy factor Impulsive Antisociality (IA) emerged as a positive statistical predictor of violent offenses, while Fearless Dominance (FD) served as a negative predictor. The Big Five factors and empathy domains failed to statistically predict violence, despite showing significant correlations with the psychopathy factors. Hence, substance-abusing violent offenders display a distinct pattern of personality characteristics with IA being associated with high Neuroticism, low Agreeableness and low Conscientiousness, as well as high Personal Distress and low Perspective Taking. IA therefore reflects a maladaptive trait that is overrepresented in forensic settings.

Stefanie Maria Nigel, Manuela Dudeck, Stefanie Otte, Karoline Knauer, Verena Klein, Titus Böttcher, Christina Maaß, Nenad Vasic & Judith Streb

The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, Volume 29, 2018 – Issue 6