Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

The stability of psychopathy across adolescence

Donald R. Lynama1 c1, Richard Charnigoa2, Terrie E. Moffitta3, Adrian Rainea4, Rolf Loebera5 and Magda Stouthamer-Loebera5

a1 Purdue University

a2 University of Kentucky

a3 Duke University and King's College London

a4 University of Southern California

a5 University of Pittsburgh


The current diagnostic system suggests that personality disorder categories be applied to children and adolescents in rare circumstances because of expected changes in personality pathology across development. The present study examined the stability in personality pathology, specifically psychopathy, across childhood and adolescence. Using a short form of the CPS and mixed models incorporating fixed and random effects, we examined the reliability, individual stability, mean-level stability, and predictive utility of juvenile psychopathy as a function of age (i.e., from 7 to 17 years old) in over 1,500 boys from the three cohorts of the Pittsburgh Youth Study. If adolescent development contributes to instability in personality pathology, large age-related fluctuations in reliability, stability, and predictive utility should be observed, particularly in the latter part of adolescence when normative changes are hypothesized to influence levels of psychopathy. Such fluctuations were not observed. In general, juvenile psychopathy could be reliably assessed beginning in childhood, was fairly stable across short and long intervals, showed little mean-level fluctuation, and predicted delinquency across adolescence. These results suggest that concerns about large changes in personality pathology across childhood and adolescence may be overstated. Implications and future directions are discussed.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Donald R. Lynam, Purdue University, Department of Psychological Sciences, 703 Third Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2081; E-mail:


This research was supported in part by NIMH Grants MH45070, MH49414, and MH60104; Grant 86-JN-CX-0009 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice; and the University of Wisconsin Graduate School. We thank the boys and their families from the Pittsburgh Youth Study for providing the data.