Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Triarchic conceptualization of psychopathy: Developmental origins of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness

Christopher J. Patricka1 c1, Don C. Fowlesa2 and Robert F. Kruegera3

a1 University of Minnesota

a2 University of Iowa

a3 Washington University–St. Louis


The clinical concept of psychopathy (“psychopathic personality”) is generally considered to entail persistent behavioral deviancy in the company of emotional–interpersonal detachment. However, longstanding debates continue regarding the appropriate scope and boundaries of the concept. Here, we review alternative historic descriptions of the disorder together with empirical findings for the best-established assessment instruments in use with adolescents and youth as a basis for formulating an integrative, triarchic model of psychopathy. The essence of the triarchic model is that psychopathy encompasses three distinct phenotypic constructs: disinhibition, which reflects a general propensity toward problems of impulse control; boldness, which is defined as the nexus of social dominance, emotional resiliency, and venturesomeness; and meanness, which is defined as aggressive resource seeking without regard for others (“dysaffliated agency”). These differing phenotypic components are considered in terms of relevant etiologic and developmental pathways. The triarchic conceptualization provides a basis for reconciling and accommodating alternative descriptive accounts of psychopathy, and a framework for coordinating research on neurobiological and developmental processes contributing to varying manifestations of the disorder.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Christopher J. Patrick, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Elliott Hall, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail:


Preparation of this article was supported by Grants MH65137 and MH072850 from the National Institute of Mental Health and funds from the Hathaway Endowment at the University of Minnesota.