Teenagers as temporary psychopaths? Stability in normal adolescent personality suggests otherwise

David D. Vachon, Donald R. Lynam, Sarah E. Schell, Nicole S.J. Dryburgh, Paul T. Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A persistent criticism of assessing psychopathy during adolescence is that it runs the risk of mistaking normal, transient teenage behavior for the enduring characteristics of a future psychopathic adult. If true, early assessments of psychopathy will produce false positives, branding some non-psychopathic youths as psychopaths. Fundamentally, this criticism is not based on the stability of psychopathy during adolescence, which has been well established elsewhere. Rather, it is based on specific claims regarding the ways in which normal personality traits change during adolescence, potentially concealing psychopathy. This preliminary study tests these claims by examining trait differences across adolescence using the NEO-3 trait profiles of 500 youths (242 males and 258 females) aged 14–20. Our results are straightforward: normal personality traits related to psychopathy are virtually unchanging across this period. Thus, to the extent that youth psychopathy is assessed using personality traits rather than transient, age-specific delinquent behaviors, the risk of false positives is low.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-120
Number of pages4
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Adolescence
  • Development
  • False positives
  • Personality
  • Psychopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Teenagers as temporary psychopaths? Stability in normal adolescent personality suggests otherwise'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this