The construct of psychopathy as applied to children and adolescents has received increasing attention in recent years. Many researchers and clinicians believe that psychopathic traits and behaviors are first manifested early in life, which has led to efforts to develop measures to identify psychopathic traits early in development. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV) is a structured assessment instrument designed to assess psychopathic traits and behaviors in adolescents. It was adapted from the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, developed by Robert Hare, which is widely used in research, clinical, and forensic settings for the assessment of psychopathy in adults. The PCL:YV was published in 2003 to provide researchers and clinical users with a common metric to assess psychopathic traits in adolescents and to encourage systematic research. Future research and input from practitioners will play an integral role in clarifying and refining the construct, identifying the causal mechanisms, delineating the psychobiological correlates, and designing effective intervention programs.
The PCL:YV consists of 20 items that measure the interpersonal, affective, and behavioral dimensions considered to be fundamental to the construct of psychopathy. The PCL:YV manual provides a detailed item description and examples of sources of information to use when rating the item. Each item is scored on a 3-point scale: A rating of 2 indicates that the item definitely applies, 1 indicates that it applies to some extent, and 0 indicates that the symptom definitely does not apply to the individual. Several sources of information are needed to score the PCL:YV—namely, a semistructured interview with the youth and a review of available file and collateral information associated with the youth.
Because of the increasing importance of the PCL:YV in the juvenile justice systems, the manual recommends that it should be used and interpreted in combination with information from a number of sources and should never be the sole criterion for decision making about treatment and/or adjudication. In addition, because the consequences of misuse are especially serious, Forth and colleagues state that it is inappropriate to label a youth as a psychopath and that it is unethical to use scores for exclusion from available treatment programs. Finally, it is not appropriate to rely on PCL:YV scores alone to impose harsher sentences or to use the scores in determining whether a young offender should be tried as an adult.
PCL:YV: Factor Structure, Reliability, and Generalizability
Confirmatory factor analyses suggest that a model with four correlated factors provided a very good explanation for the pattern of covariation among PCL:YV item scores. Four items loaded on an Interpersonal dimension (e.g., impression management, pathological lying) and 4 items on an Affective dimension (e.g., lack of remorse, callous/lack of empathy). Five items loaded on a Behavioral dimension (e.g., impulsivity, lack of goals) and 5 items on an Antisocial dimension (e.g., poor anger control, serious criminal behavior). However, a model with only three correlated factors also provided reasonable fit. The interrater reliability of PCL:YV total scores is high (single-rater ICC of .90 to .96). The internal consistency of PCL:YV total scores is high, with alpha coefficients ranging from .85 to .94. Research has been conducted with institutionalized young offenders, young offenders on probation, psychiatric inpatient youths, and youths in the community. PCL:YV total scores do not appear to be unduly influenced by youths’ age, gender, or ethnicity.
High scores on the PCL:YV are associated with substance use, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adolescents.
The PCL:YV has been related to a range of relevant correlates and outcome measures. High PCL:YV scores are associated with academic problems, early onset of antisocial problems, instrumental motives for violence, increased frequency and versatility of nonviolent and violent offenses, and increased institutional nonviolent and violent infractions. In addition, PCL:YV scores are correlated with measures of cognitive, emotional, and social cognitive anomalies largely similar to those identified with adult psychopathic offenders.
Several studies have been conducted to examine the predictive validity of the PCL:YV. PCL:YV scores were predictive of nonviolent and violent/sexual recidivism in juvenile sex offenders and nonviolent and violent recidivism in adjudicated male youths. Recent research has not found the PCL:YV to predict general or violent recidivism in adjudicated female youths.
No controlled evaluations of intervention programs for youths scoring high on the PCL:YV have been completed to date. Research with offenders referred to a substance abuse program found that PCL:YV scores correlated negatively with days in the program, quality of participation, number of consecutive clean urine screens, and researchers’ ratings (from discharge summaries) of clinical improvement. There is some encouraging evidence that adolescent offenders with high PCL:YV scores who complete a treatment program have posttreatment violent recidivism rates that are lower than those who serve their dispositions in juvenile correctional facilities. Young offenders are more malleable than adult offenders, and early interventions are more likely to be effective than those directed at adults.
To date, much of the research has been conducted on older male adolescents who have been in contact with the juvenile justice system. Additional data are needed on female adolescents, younger adolescents, nonadjudicated community youths, and ethnically and culturally diverse groups.
- Forth, A. E., Kosson, D. S., & Hare, R. D. (2003). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.
- Patrick, C. (2006). Handbook of psychopathy. New York: Guilford.