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Title: An exploration of the trauma histories, dissociative experiences and psychopathic features of murderers
Author: Newberry, Michelle T.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2724 6908
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2008
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Background: Differential relationships of the dimensions of psychopathy with external factors indicate that psychopathy can be conceptualised as a multifaceted syndrome comprised of distinct subgroups of psychopaths (Blackburn, 1988). However, it is not known whether similar subtypes of psychopathy exist across cultures. The research question which this thesis sought to answer was: Do subtypes of psychopathy exist among murderers, and if so, might the prevalence of these subtypes differ across cultures? Three aims were addressed: i) to compare the trauma histories, dissociative experiences and psychopathic features of British and South African men convicted of murder and the associations among them; ii) to test potential aetiological models of psychopathy; and iii) to explore whether subtypes of psychopathy could be identified among men convicted of murder. Method: Participants were 120 adult male prisoners serving sentences for murder. Sixty participants were British and incarcerated in prisons in England and 60 participants were South African and incarcerated in South Africa. Trauma, dissociation and psychopathy were measured using the Trauma History Questionnaire (THQ; Green, 1996), the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES; Carlson & Putnam, 1993) and the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised Second Edition (PCL-R; Hare, 2003a), respectively. Results: South African participants reported significantly more traumatic and dissociative experiences and possessed more psychopathic features than their British counterparts. Structural equation modelling (SEM) analyses of the entire sample revealed that trauma was positively and directly related to the behavioural features of psychopathy, whereas trauma was positively and indirectly related to the affective features of psychopathy via the partial mediating role of dissociation, suggesting that subtypes of psychopathy may exist among murderers. In addition, cluster analyses identified subtypes of psychopathy, two of which parallel variants of primary and secondary psychopathy described in the literature. Conclusions: Dissociation may mediate the relationship between trauma and psychopathy among individuals who have experienced high levels of trauma, suggesting that there may be a threshold or a ‘cut-off’ level at which witnessing or experiencing trauma becomes detrimental for one’s psychological health. The prevalence of certain subtypes of psychopathy may differ across cultures. Findings have theoretical implications as well as implications for the treatment and risk assessment of offenders.
Supervisor: Reynolds, M. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Trauma ; Dissociation ; Dissociative experiences ; Psychopathic features