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The relationship between psychopathy and moral development in young sex offenders

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This study examined the relationship between psychopathic traits and moral development (moral judgement and empathy) in 85 Dutch male sex offenders between 13 and 23 years of age. Questions were asked about general life situations, sexual situations with morally relevant features, and questions about the offender's own abuse victim. A weak negative association was found between psychopathy and mature moral judgement, but only when questions involved the offender's own abuse victim. Weak to moderate negative associations were found between psychopathy and cognitive and affective empathy in general and sexual situations, but not in the own abuse victim situations. Further analysis revealed moderate negative associations between psychopathy and affective empathy in the own abuse victim situations, but only when an unfamiliar victim was involved. This is the first study, to our knowledge, showing that juvenile sex offenders with high levels of psychopathy have context-specific moral deficits, and that in this group both cognitive and affective empathy are related to psychopathy.
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Keywords: affective empathy and young sex offenders; cognitive empathy; moral development; moral judgement; psychopathy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Forensic Child and Youth Care Sciences,University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands 2: Department of Criminology,Free University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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