Interpersonal trauma and its relation to childhood psychopathic traits: what does ADHD and ODD add to the equation?

John J. Marshall* (Corresponding Author), Karolina Sorman, Natalie Durbeej, L. Thompson, Sebastian Lundström, Helen Minnis, Clara Hellner, Christopher Gillberg

*Corresponding author for this work

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Childhood trauma has demonstrated associations with callous-unemotional traits (e.g., reflecting lack of remorse and guilt, unconcern about own performance). Less is known about associations between trauma and multiple domains of child psychopathic traits. There has also been limited focus on the role of co-occurring disorders to psychopathy traits among children, namely, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and how they interact with childhood trauma.

We examined to what degree childhood interpersonal trauma can predict parent-rated psychopathic traits in a large population based Swedish twin sample (N = 5057), using a stringent definition of interpersonal trauma occurring before age 10. Two hundred and fifty-one participants met the interpersonal trauma criteria for analysis. The study explored the additional impact of traits of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

Linear regressions demonstrated statistically significant but clinically negligible effects of interpersonal trauma on total and subscale scores of parent-rated psychopathic traits. When exploring interaction effects of ADHD and ODD into the model, the effect increased. There were interaction effects between ODD and trauma in relation to psychopathic traits, suggesting a moderating role of ODD. Having been exposed to trauma before age 10 was significantly associated with higher parent rated psychopathy traits as measured by The Child Problematic Traits Inventory-Short Version (CPTI-SV), however the explained variance was small (0.3–0.9%).

The results challenge the notion of association between interpersonal trauma and youth psychopathic traits. They also highlight the need to gain an improved understanding of overlap between psychopathic traits, ADHD and ODD for clinical screening purposes and the underlying developmental mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number630
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Early online date18 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Thank you to the parents and young people who participated in the CATSS-9


  • Child
  • Psychopathy
  • Trauma
  • ADHD
  • ODD
  • Neurodevelopmental disabilities


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