What symptoms of psychopathy might be central? A network analysis of the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R) in three large samples.

Despite a wealth of research, the core features of psychopathy remain hotly debated. Using network analysis, an innovative and increasingly popular statistical tool, we mapped the network structure of psychopathy, as operationalized by the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 2003) in two large U.S. offender samples (nNIMH = 1559; nWisconsin = 3954), and one large Dutch forensic psychiatric sample (nTBS = 1937). Centrality indices were highly stable within each sample, and indicated that Callousness/lack of empathy was the most central PCL-R item in the two U.S. samples, which aligns with classic clinical descriptions and prototypicality studies of psychopathy. The similarities across the U.S. samples offer some support regarding generalizability, but there were also striking differences between the U.S. samples and the Dutch sample, wherein the latter Callousnesss/lack of empathy was also fairly central but Irresponsibility and Parasitic Lifestyle were even more central. The findings raise the important possibility that network-structures do not only reflect the structure of the constructs under study, but also the sample from which the data derive. The results further raise the possibility of cross-cultural differences in the phenotypic structure of psychopathy, PCL-R measurement variance, or both. Network analyses may help elucidate the core characteristics of psychopathological constructs, including psychopathy, as well as provide a new tool for assessing measurement invariance across cultures.