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Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832


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The exploration of subclinical psychopathic subtypes and


the relationship with types of aggression q
a,*
Diana Falkenbach , Norman Poythress b, Caysyn Creevy a

a
Department of Psychology, City University of New York at John Jay College of Criminal Justice,
445 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019, United States
b
Department of Mental Health Law and Policy, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute,
University of South Florida, 13301 Bruce B Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612, United States

Received 2 May 2007; received in revised form 29 August 2007; accepted 12 October 2007
Available online 19 December 2007

Abstract

The psychopathy literature includes inconsistencies with regard to correlates, etiology, and treatment,
suggesting heterogeneity within the construct. This paper used measures of psychopathy (the LPS primary
and secondary), temperament (the BIS and BAS scales), and anxiety (STAI), in a model-based cluster anal-
ysis, and identified prototypes that somewhat resembled subclinical primary and secondary psychopathy in
a college population. Variants matched theory in terms of psychopathy factors and anxiety, but there were
some inconsistencies in terms of BIS and BAS. Despite these discrepancies, the current study found a
theoretically consistent relationship between the clusters and types of aggression generally supporting
the construct validity of the subclinical psychopathic clusters that emerged in this study; the primary
psychopathic-like traits cluster utilized more instrumental/mixed aggression and the secondary psycho-
pathic-like traits cluster reported more hostile/reactive aggression.
Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Psychopathy subtypes; Instrumental and hostile/reactive aggression; Cluster analysis; Personality traits;
Primary and secondary psychopathy; Subclinical psychopathic traits

q
This study was presented as a paper at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, La Jolla, CA.
*
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 212 237 8361; fax: +1 212 237 8930.
E-mail address: dfalkenbach@jjay.cuny.edu (D. Falkenbach).

0191-8869/$ - see front matter Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.paid.2007.10.012
822 D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832

1. Introduction

Contemporary conceptualizations of psychopathy reflect the Cleckley (1941) initial operation-


alization of deficits in affective and interpersonal functioning. Psychopathic individuals are super-
ficially charming, insincere and have difficulty with meaningful attachments to others. They lack
range and depth of emotions and tend to be narcissistic, deceitful and manipulative (Lykken,
1995). Since Cleckley’s seminal work, clinical, theoretical, and empirical evidence has accumulated
supporting of the notion that psychopathy is a heterogeneous construct, with discrete subtypes
(for review see Skeem, Poythress, Edens, Lilienfeld, & Cale, 2003).

1.1. Psychopathy subtypes: clinical views

Karpman (1941), distinguished between primary psychopaths, whose features originated in


an unspecified but presumably constitutional deficit, and secondary psychopaths, whose behav-
ior resulted from environmental insult (e.g., parental rejection, harsh punishment, parental
overindulgence). Whereas primary psychopaths are seen as callous, self-serving, nonanxious
and less affective, secondary psychopaths are capable of experiencing, on at least a transient
basis, anxiety and emotion. Karpman also differentiated the two subtypes in terms of
impulsivity:
... paradoxical as it may seem, the true [primary] psychopath is in a sense the least impulsive
of them all... Rather than being hasty, the psychopath often coolly and deliberately plans his
actions...there is no hotheadedness here at all of the type we are accustomed to seeing in neu-
rotics and psychotics (pp. 523–524).
Similarly, Mealey (1995) proposes an evolutionary based theory indicating that Primaries are a
result of genetic factors that predispose them against the experience of social emotions (e.g., anx-
iety), autonomic hypoarousal, and temperament which leave them unresponsive to typical teach-
ings of moral responsibility. This combination leaves them without empathy and indicates that
their behavior is driven by instrumental purposes, rather than emotional reactions. Secondaries
act in antisocial ways due to exposure to risk factors in the environment, and are more prone
to emotional reactions.

1.2. Psychopathy subtypes: theoretical views

The Lykken (1995) typology theory uses Gray (1975), (1987) and Fowles (1980) concepts of the
behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and behavioral activation system (BAS) to distinguish the tem-
perament deficits of primary and secondary psychopathy. The BIS is triggered by cues of punish-
ment and aversive stimuli, and inhibits ongoing behaviors (Gray, 1982). BIS activation produces
anxiety and/or fear in response to potential harm or nonreward, which serves to deter individuals
from persisting in risky behavior. A weak BIS results in a relatively fearless temperament and less
sensitivity, or responsiveness, to signs of punishment or nonreward. Given the role of punishment
in socialization, individuals born with a fearless temperament are more difficult to socialize. In
contrast, the BAS is related to impulsivity, engaged when reward opportunities are presented,
and shifts attention to goal-directed behavior (Fowles, 1980).
D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832 823

Theory suggests that a deficit in either system may contribute to antisocial behavior. Specifi-
cally, a weak BIS is postulated as the constitutional deficit of the primary psychopath and an
overactive BAS is postulated as a deficit of the secondary psychopath. When a desired, but pro-
hibited, goal is encountered, the BIS and BAS are both activated resulting in either an avoidance
approach (BAS), or a dilemma (BIS). In a well-socialized individual, the fear of consequences
overrides the drive and this internal control deters the antisocial behavior. However, the person
with a weak BIS (primary psychopathy) does not experience sufficient anxiety regarding the con-
sequences of the antisocial behavior, therefore the behavior continues. However, the secondary
psychopath, whose strong appetitive urge (overactive BAS) overrides inhibitions associated with
a normal BIS, may also behave in an antisocial manner. Newman, MacCoon, Vaughn, and Sadeh
(2005) found empirical support for this theory.

1.3. Psychopathy subtypes: empirical findings

Empirical studies, using mainly the two factor definition of psychopathy defined by Hare’s Psy-
chopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 1991) with offender samples, mirror clinical and the-
oretical characterizations of primary and secondary psychopathy (Karpman, 1941). A number of
studies have reported divergent correlates for PCL-R Factor 1, which assesses core affective and
interpersonal features (e.g., superficial charm, callousness, lack of remorse or guilt) and Factor 2,
which captures features associated with a socially deviant lifestyle (e.g., impulsivity, poor behavior
controls). As summarized by Hicks, Markon, and Patrick (2004), Factor 1 correlates positively
with narcissism, and negatively with neuroticism and negative emotionality. In contrast, Factor
2 correlates positively with neuroticism, negative emotionality, impulsivity, and sensation seeking.
Despite the theory regarding psychopathy subtypes, there have been relatively few systematic
empirical investigations. Further, those that have employed cluster analysis to identify subtypes,
have either lacked a theoretical perspective (Vassileva, Kosson, Abramowitz, & Conrod, 2005),
used inadequate samples (Haapasalo & Pulkkinen, 1992), or failed to employ a sufficiently broad
array of clustering variables to adequately inform the debate (Herve, Yong hui Ling, & Hare,
2000). An exception is the recent work of Hicks et al. (2004), where 96 psychopathic prisoners
(PCL-R Total P 30) were clustered on a general personality measure. Two groups emerged from
the cluster analysis: Emotionally Stable Psychopaths and Aggressive Psychopaths, whose profiles
in terms of personality variables (e.g., stress reactivity, anxiety, negative emotionality, control)
and life history variables (e.g., childhood and adult fights, self-report alcohol problems) paralleled
descriptions of primary and secondary psychopathy, respectively. However, while this was the
first empirical support for psychopathy subtypes, it did not specifically cluster using psychopathy
factor scores or temperament variables associated with Lykken and Karpman’s theories.

1.4. Assessment of psychopathy in non-institutionalized populations

The majority of the research on psychopathy uses the PCL-R. However, the PCL-R cannot be
utilized in non-institutionalized samples for which collateral files are lacking. Additionally, the
antisocial/aggressive behavior features of Factor 2 were not part of Cleckley’s original conceptu-
alization of psychopathy and make the PCL-R ill-equipped to identify successful psychopaths
lacking a criminal history (Lilienfeld & Andrews, 1996). Research with non-institutionalized pop-
824 D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832

ulations has found that despite lower base-rates, there is evidence for diverse expressions of psy-
chopathic traits across the population; that psychopathy is a dimensional construct (Skeem et al.,
2003). Consequently, research on non-institutionalized samples is important for investigating the
subclinical levels of psychopathic traits, to determine if results are generalizable to more individ-
uals (Lilienfeld, 1998). Additionally, because base rates for aggression and psychopathy are higher
in males (Nicholls, Ogloff, Brink, & Spidel, 2005), the use of male only samples increase the like-
lihood of finding these traits.

2. Present study

The present study was designed to assess, using cluster analysis, Lykken’s theoretical proto-
types of primary and secondary psychopathy in a college sample. Measures of psychopathic
traits, BIS, BAS, and trait anxiety were utilized as clustering variables. It was hypothesized
that one group would be distinguished by a relatively higher score on the Factor 1/primary
traits and low scores on BIS and anxiety – a pattern representing primary psychopathy. It
was anticipated that a second cluster would emerge with relatively higher scores on Factor
2/secondary traits, BAS and anxiety – a pattern representing secondary psychopathy. It was
not anticipated that there would be many true clinical psychopaths within the sample, how-
ever, the aim was to assess for the existence of these patterns in those that display sub-clinical
levels of psychopathic traits.
Assuming the existence of these prototypic groups, aggression measures were employed as val-
idation. In the offender literature aggression is associated with psychopathy (e.g., Harris, Rice, &
Cormier, 1991; Hemphill, Hare, & Wong, 1998; Salekin, Rogers, & Sewell, 1996). Cornell et al.
(1996) found that psychopathy was preferentially associated with instrumental aggression, or
aggression used to attain a particular goal rather than cause injury. Alternatively, non-psycho-
pathic individuals were more inclined to display hostile/reactive aggression, or an angry reaction
to frustration or provocation intended to cause harm. Skeem et al. (2003) went a step further and
hypothesized that instrumental aggression would be more prevalent in primary psychopaths,
whereas hostile/reactive aggression would be more prevalent in secondary psychopaths. Thus,
in the current study, it was hypothesized that with respect to aggression, (1) groups with relative
elevations on psychopathy indicators would have significantly higher scores on a self-report
aggression measure than those with lower psychopathy scores, and (2) the prototypical primary
and secondary groups would differ significantly in the types of aggression that they manifested,
with instrumental aggression being more prevalent in the cluster with primary traits.

3. Method

3.1. Participants

Participants were 96 male undergraduates who participated in the study for class extra-credit.
Their ages ranged from 18 to 46 years (M = 21.46, SD = 4.56). The sample was racially diverse
with; 59.4% (N = 57) were Caucasian, 20.8% (N = 20) were African American, 19.8% (N = 19)
D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832 825

were from other racial backgrounds, and 1% did not indicate their racial group. The sample’s eth-
nicity was reported as 12.4% (N = 12) Hispanic, 54.6% (N = 53) reported they were another eth-
nicity, and 33% (N = 32) did not specify their ethnic group.

3.2. Measures

3.2.1. Behavioral inhibition system/behavioral activation system scales (BIS/BAS; Carver & White,
1994)
The BIS/BAS scales are comprised of 20 self-report items, rated on a four-point Likert scale
(from ‘‘disagree strongly,’’ to ‘‘agree strongly’’). Seven BIS items ask about responses to poten-
tially punishing events. The BAS Total is made up of Drive, Reward Responsiveness, and Fun
Seeking subscales. In the university based derivation sample, the BAS scales were positively cor-
related with each other (from .34 to .41.) and correlations between the BIS and the BAS scales
were low( .12, .08, .28), providing support for the independence of the systems. Internal consis-
tency (coefficient alpha) ranged from .66 to .76, and test-retest reliability (8-week interval) ranged
from .59 (Reward Responsiveness) to .69 (Fun Seeking). In the current study, Cronbach’s alpha
values for the BIS and BAS were .68 and .76, respectively.

3.2.2. State-trait anxiety inventory (STAI; Spielberger, Gorsuch, & Lushene, 1970)
The STAI consists of two 20-item scales: the state and trait anxiety scales. The trait anxiety
(STAI-T) scale was used in the current study and considers long-term manifestations of anxiety.
Items are rated on a four-point Likert scale (from ‘‘almost never,’’ to ‘‘almost always’’). The STAI
has excellent internal consistency and high retest reliability (Gaudry, Vagg, & Spielberger, 1975).
Concurrent validity for the trait anxiety scale is demonstrated by the correlations from .70 to .85
with the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale (Taylor, 1953) and the Anxiety Scale Questionnaire (Cat-
tell & Scheier, 1963). The Cronbach’s alpha for the STAI-T in the current study was .90.

3.2.3. Levenson’s psychopathy scale (LPS; Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick, 1995)
Levenson et al. (1995) created the 26-item Primary (LPS-P; 16 items) and Secondary (LPS-S; 10
items) self-report psychopathy scales in order to assess psychopathic features in non-institution-
alized groups. The scales were modeled on the PCL-R factors. The LPS-P was designed to tap
core affective and interpersonal features (Factor 1) and the LPS-S scale was designed to assess so-
cially deviant attitudes and traits (Factor 2). Each item is rated on a four-point Likert scale (from
‘‘disagree strongly’’ to ‘‘agree strongly’’). In the undergraduate derivation sample the two scales
were correlated at r = .40 and coefficient alphas for the scales were .82 (LPS-P) and .63 (LPS-S).
The LPS-P was weakly related to trait anxiety whereas the LPS-S was significantly correlated with
trait anxiety. However, both scales were significantly correlated with antisocial behavior; .44
(LPS-P) and .29 (LPS-S). Similar findings have been reported in other undergraduate samples
(Lynam, Whiteside, & Jones, 1999; McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto, 1998). In the current study,
the coefficient alpha values were .82, .83 and.71 for LPS-T, LPS-P and LPS-2, respectively.

3.2.4. Aggression questionnaire (AQ; Buss & Perry, 1992)


The AQ consists of four factor-analytically derived scales: Physical Aggression, Verbal Aggres-
sion, Anger, and Hostility. In the undergraduate derivation sample, internal consistencies using
826 D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832

coefficient alpha were satisfactory (Total score, .89. Physical Aggression, .85; Verbal Aggression,
.72; Anger, .83; and Hostility, .77). Satisfactory test-retest correlations (.72–.80) were obtained (9-
week interval). The version of the AQ used in this study utilized a four-point Likert scale (from
‘‘extremely uncharacteristic of me,’’ to ‘‘extremely characteristic of me’’). In the current study, the
alpha for the AQ was .90 (.83 for Physical Aggression, .71 for Verbal Aggression, .82 for Anger,
and .71 for Hostility).

3.2.5. Aggressive incidents coding form (adapted from Cornell et al., 1996)
A modified version of the rating scale developed by Cornell et al. (1996) was used to determine
whether a reported act of aggression was instrumental or hostile/reactive. Cornell et al. (1996) dis-
tinguished between various aggression characteristics: (a) planning, (b) goal-directedness, (c)
provocation, (d) anger, and (e) victim relationship. Two raters independently rated each partici-
pant’s reported scenario as reflecting instrumental aggression, or an act committed ‘‘for a clearly
identifiable purpose other than responding to provocation or frustration’’ (Cornell et al., 1996, p.
785), or hostile/reactive aggression, or an act that was judged to be a ‘‘reaction to a dispute or
interpersonal conflict with the victim’’ (Cornell et al., 1996, p. 785).
In the current study all participants reported at least one incident of aggression. Instrumental
aggression was relatively rare and everyone that engaged in instrumental aggression also used
reactive aggression. The method suggested in Cornell et al. (1996) was any act of instrumental
aggression identified a participant as an Instrumental Aggressor. In the current study a more con-
servative approach was used and participants who reported instrumental aggression were assigned
to the Combined Aggressor group. During coding, one subject did not provide enough informa-
tion to be rated and was dropped from the aggression analyses. Of the remaining 95 participants,
38.5% (N = 37) of subjects were classified as combined aggressors and 60.4% (N = 58) were clas-
sified as reactive aggressors. The percent agreement for the two independent raters was 85%, with
a Kappa coefficient of .70, indicating substantial agreement (Landis & Koch, 1977). Comparative
analyses indicated no group differences on age, F(1,93) = 1.2, p < .28, or on racial background, v
2
(1, N = 94) = 4.27, p = .12, Cramer’s V = .213.

3.3. Procedures

Students in psychology classes offering extra credit points for research participation were invited
to volunteer for the current study. Informed consent was obtained using procedures approved by the
University Institutional Review Board. Upon recruitment into the study, each student completed the
personality and psychopathy measures. The aggression questionnaire and interview were adminis-
tered last in order to avoid influencing the answers on the psychopathy questionnaires. After report-
ing past acts of general aggression, participants were asked to report any specific acts of instrumental
aggression, which were scored as Instrumental only if they fit the criteria.

4. Analysis

The software package mclust (Fraley, 1998), which is integrated into the software package S-
Plus, 2003 was utilized for cluster analyses in the current study. Cluster analysis forms relatively
D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832 827

homogeneous subgroups by identifying cases in a sample with similar scores on a set of specified
variables. Model-based cluster analysis is a type of hierarchical clustering that is based on the
‘‘assumption that the data are generated by a mixture of underlying probability distributions’’
(Insightful Corporation, 1988–2001, p. 141) where each person is assumed to belong to a number
of subpopulations. Six different models are tested in model-based clustering, each with different
assumptions about the covariance matrices that establish the structure (size, shape, orientation)
of the data (see Fraley, 1998 for a more detailed discussion of the assumptions).
The fit of each model is evaluated using the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) which spec-
ifies the odds that one model is the best fit compared to the other models. The benefits of using a
goodness-of-fit index such as BIC, include the ability to objectively select the optimal solution and
the capacity to test multiple models. The average weight of evidence (AWE) statistic is an approx-
imation of the BIC statistic, and larger AWE values indicate more evidence for that particular
number of clusters (negative AWE values indicate no evidence for that particular number of clus-
ters). The difference between AWE values relates to the posterior odds, or the ratio of the prob-
ability that one model is correct over the probability that another model is correct. A difference of
10 indicates that the odds are 150:1 that the model with the higher value is a better fit. Raftery
(1995) suggests that a difference of +10 strongly indicates that the model is a better fit.

5. Results

5.1. Cluster analyses

Standardized scores on the LPS subscales, STAI-T and BIS/BAS, were subjected to model-
based cluster analyses. The best solution was obtained using model S (which has an elliptical
shape, and holds the volume constant but allows the shape to differ across groups), with a
four-cluster solution (AWE = 602.184). All other solutions were represented by significantly
lower AWE scores.1
Fig. 1 illustrates the z-score profiles for each of the four clusters. Relatively, those in Cluster 1
had higher scores on the LPS-P, above average scores on the LPS-S, and near average scores on
the BIS, BAS, and STAI-T. Despite the somewhat higher BIS than would be required for a clear
match, this group was called the Primary-Psychopathic-like-traits group.2 Relative to the other
groups, those in Cluster 2 had average scores on the LPS-P and higher scores on the LPS-S,
BIS, BAS, and STAI-T, and were referred to as the Secondary-Psychopathic-like-traits group.
The participants in Cluster 3 had below average scores on the psychopathy scales, BIS, BAS,
and STAI-T; this group was referred to as the Low Anxiety group. Finally, those in Cluster 4
had below average scores on the psychopathy measures and average scores on the BIS, BAS,
and STAI-T, and were called the Normal Temperament group.
Table 1 presents the raw score means for each of the clustering variables. A one-way MANOVA
revealed significant differences between the clusters on the clustering variables, Wilks’ = .214,

1
More detailed findings from the cluster analyses are available from the first author.
2
Authors acknowledge that this was a college sample and therefore referred to these groups as having psychopathic
like traits. They were not considered to be actual psychopaths.
828 D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832

2.00
Cluster 1
(Primary like
traits)
1.00 Cluster 2
(Secondary-
like traits)

z-scores Cluster 3 (No


0.00 anxiety)

Cluster 4
(Normal
-1.00 Temperment)

-2.00
ary

ry

BIS

iety
BA
da
rim

nx
on

it A
SP

ec

Tra
SS
LP

LP

Fig. 1. Mean z-scores for each of the four clusters.

Table 1
Differences between the clusters on clustering variables
Psychopathic-like-traits Low anxiety Normal temperament F values
Primary (N = 41) Secondary (N = 16) (N = 13) (N = 26)

LPS-P
M 36.56a 31.44b 29.23b 24.85c F(3,92) = 24.77**, g2 = .45
SD 5.4 7.60 5.9 3.72
LPS-S
M 22.61a 24.25a 17.08b 19.00b F(3,92) = 12.84**, g2 = .30
SD 3.9 3.6 4.1 3.8
BIS
M 18.73b 22.69a 15.54c 19.96b F(3,93) = 20.39**, g2 = .40
SD 2.5 2.3 2.7 2.7
BAS
M 41.10a 43.94a 39.46a 41.77a F(3,93) = 2.63, g2 = .08
SD 4.5 4.7 3.5 4.7
STAI-T
M 41.32b 51.25a 30.92c 35.65c F(3,93) = 19.64**, g2 = .39
SD 6.9 10.3 6.4 8.3
* Significant at the 0.05 level. ** Significant at the 0.01 level.
Means that share superscripts are not significantly different and those that have differing superscripts differ at p < .05.

F(15,243) = 12.14, p < .001, g2 = .40. One-way ANOVAs and follow-up planned comparisons of
the mean differences between groups were conducted using the Bonferroni method. Results revealed
that all main effects were significant except for the BAS. For the LPS-P, the Primary-Psychopathic-
like-traits group had a higher mean than all other clusters, the Secondary-Psychopathic-like-traits
group was statistically similar to the Low Anxiety group, and the Normal Temperament group
D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832 829

Percent of Instrumental and Reactive Aggressors in Each Cluster

90
81.3
80
70
60 Reactive
51.2
48.8
50 Aggressors
40 Instrumental
30 Aggressors
18.8
20
10
0
Primary Secondary
N=20 N = 21 N=13 N=3

Psychopathic Traits Groups

Fig. 2. The proportion of individuals in the two psychopathic-like-traits groups who used instrumental versus reactive
aggression.

was significantly lower than the other clusters. For the LPS-S there was no significant difference be-
tween the Primary- Psychopathic-like-traits group and the Secondary-Psychopathic-like-traits
group. The two No Psychopathic-Traits groups were statistically similar to each other, but signifi-
cantly lower than the Psychopathic-like-traits groups. The Secondary-Psychopathic-like-traits group
had the highest BIS scores. The Normal Temperament and the Primary-Psychopathic-like Traits
group were similar to each other, and the Low Anxiety group was significantly lower than all other
groups. The Secondary-Psychopathic-like-traits group had the highest STAI-T, followed by the Pri-
mary-Psychopathic-like Traits group. The two No Psychopathic-Traits groups were statistically sim-
ilar to each other, but significantly lower than the Psychopathic-like-traits groups.

5.2. Aggression analyses

A one-way MANOVA revealed significant differences among the clusters on the AQ,
F(3.92) = 9.72, p < .001, g2 = .24. As predicted, mean scores for the two prototypical Primary
and Secondary-Psychopathic-like-traits (M = 68.27, SD = 12.18; M = 73.25, SD = 14.03, respec-
tively) groups were significantly higher than those of the No Psychopathic-traits groups
(M = 53.85, SD = 9.57 for Low anxiety and M = 59.04, SD = 10.61 for Normal temperament).
Fig. 2 displays the proportion of individuals in the two psychopathic-like-traits groups who were
classified as combined versus reactive aggressors. A Chi-square analysis revealed that the groups
differed significantly, Pearson v2(1, N = 57) = 4.98, p = .026, Cramer’s V = .30. As predicted,
instrumental aggression was preferentially associated with the Primary-Psychopathic-like-traits,
whereas proportionately fewer individuals (18.8% versus 51.2%) from the Secondary-Psycho-
pathic-like-traits group were in the combined aggression group.

6. Discussion

The present study was the first to investigate Lykken’s theoretical prototypes of primary and
secondary psychopathy. Model-based clustering yielded four clusters, two of which had elevated
830 D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832

scores on measures of psychopathic features. The results provide initial empirical support for
understanding dimensional psychopathy as a heterogeneous construct, however there is only par-
tial evidence that the clusters fit within a theoretical framework (Lykken, 1995).

6.1. Coherence of obtained profiles with theory

Primary psychopaths have been characterized as having more affective and interpersonal traits
of psychopathy, and low anxiety and BIS, whereas more deviant lifestyle psychopathy traits, and
high anxiety and BAS are characteristics of secondary psychopaths. These patterns emerged in the
present study. However, while the Primary-Psychopathic-like-traits group included below average
scores on BIS and anxiety they were slightly higher than the Low anxiety groups (no psychopathic
traits), suggesting less fit with the theoretical model.
The Secondary-Psychopathic-like-traits group had profile features generally consistent with sec-
ondary psychopathy, however, the higher BAS scores only approached significance (p = .06). The
small sample size may have reduced power to find this difference, but a more distinct elevation on
this variable would have provided stronger evidence of a fit with Lykken (1995) prototype. Also,
while Lykken (1995) stated that secondary psychopaths will seek rewards in risky situations, but
will have normal levels of behavioral inhibition, the Secondary Psychopathic-like-traits group had
higher levels of BIS than all other groups. However, a strong BAS and BIS may each be necessary
features of secondary psychopathy related to their susceptibility to strong anxiety reactions (Hicks
et al., 2004). Further, McHoskey et al. (1998) reported that high BIS and BAS scores best pre-
dicted scores on the LPS-S in a college sample.
This lack of coherence with the current subtypes and BIS/BAS theory may be related to the use
of a ‘‘normal’’ population that was not actually psychopathic. In forensic settings people have
actually engaged in antisocial behaviors, demonstrating a lack of inhibition regarding conse-
quences (Low BIS). A theoretical modification of the BIS/BAS might be particularly apt for stu-
dent samples, whose members are generally better socialized and have more developed internal
constraints (i.e., conscience) than has been found in offender samples.

6.2. Aggression

As a validation of primary and secondary psychopathy theories, the clusters were compared on
measures of aggression. A positive association between psychopathic traits and aggression was
established. Specifically, the prevalence of combined aggression was nearly three times higher
in the Primary-Psychopathic-like-traits cluster than in the Secondary-Psychopathic-like Traits clus-
ter. These results generally support the construct validity of the subclinical psychopathic clusters
that emerged in this study.

7. Limitations

The current study utilized a male only sample in order to increase the likelihood of finding
aggressive and psychopathic traits; however, there is a need to examine these constructs in women.
Second, Wilson, Frick, and Clements (1999) criticized previous research that examined the two
D. Falkenbach et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 44 (2008) 821–832 831

types of psychopathy for being limited to institutionalized samples, providing the rationale for the
current research. However, given the slight theoretical deviations found, it is also important to
pursue this line of research with offender and forensic samples.
Additionally, the potential practical implications for subtyping are significant for ‘‘clinical’’
samples, particularly if research reveals reliable differences between subtypes in terms of recidi-
vism risk, treatment outcomes, or other relevant clinical and social policy variables. Third, due
to some overlap in the constructs of BIS, BAS and anxiety, there may be some redundancy in
the items, thereby impacting the independence when the variables are used in cluster analysis.
It will be important to replicate and extend the present findings using other measures of psychop-
athy and to extend the array of criterion measures employed to validate emergent subtypes. Such
research will be important in determining the degree to which findings regarding subtypes and their
correlates are replicable across (i.e., independent of) particular measures that investigators employ.

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