Evaluating a Life History Strategy Model of Psychopathy

Shilpa Krishnan

Advisor: June P Tangney, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Jerome Short, Todd Zywicki

David J. King Hall, #2013
September 16, 2011, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


Psychopathy has been conceptualized both as a form of pathology and as an evolutionary adaptation. Life History Theory suggests a link between psychopathy and a high mating, low parental investment strategy, which is consistent with the evolutionary account. As psychopathy has most widely been viewed as a bi-factorial construct that consists of an interpersonal/affective factor (Factor 1) and a behavioral/lifestyle factor (Factor 2), it was thought to be useful in separating these distinct (but related) factors in the conceptualization of psychopathy. While theory would suggest that both Factor 1 and Factor 2 psychopathy should be related to a low investment, high mating “Fast Sex” strategy, the ways they relate to mating strategy may be different. The current study had three main aims: 1) To construct a latent variable reflective of traits related to a short term “Fast Sex” mating strategy and test if both Psychopathy Factors would be related to this factor. 2) To examine whether the experience of early environmental risk factors would differentially predict Factor 1 and Factor 2 psychopathy scores, with Factor 2 mediating the relationship between Early Risk and Fast Sex. 3) To investigate if having Factor 1 psychopathy traits (such as interpersonal effectiveness and low empathy toward partners) would enhance the relationship between Embodied Capital and mating strategy. Data from a sample of male inmates (n=345) was collected in order to examine these questions. Results of the current study showed that both Factor 1 and Factor 2 psychopathy predicted a latent construct reflecting behaviors associated with successful Fast Sex mating strategy. Consistent with the hypotheses, Early Risk factors predicted Fast Sex mating strategy through Factor 2 psychopathy scores, while this relationship was not mediated through Factor 1 psychopathy scores. Contrary to the original hypothesis, the presence of Embodied Capital did not predict a Fast Sex mating strategy for those high in Factor 1 traits compared to those low in Factor 1 traits.  These findings support the contention that psychopathy serves an evolutionary function related to Life History Theory. It also suggests a developmental link from the experience of Early Risk factors to an increase in the behavioral traits of psychopathy, which ultimately predicts Fast Sex, whereas there is no such developmental link through Factor 2 psychopathy. On the other hand, the current findings did not find that the relationship from Embodied Capital to Fast Sex was enhanced by Factor 1 traits. Limitations of the current study as well as future directions are discussed.