Psychopathy's influence on the coupling between hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and -gonadal axes among incarcerated adolescents

Megan M. Johnson, Andrew R. Dismukes, Michael J. Vitacco, Chelsea Breiman, Donald Fleury, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Conduct disorder (CD) is a heterogeneous diagnosis, leading researchers to initiate studies focused on neurobiological mechanisms underlying this disorder. One specifier of CD currently considered for inclusion in the DSM-V is callous-unemotional (CU) traits, a key component of psychopathy. CU traits are thought to have neuroendocrine underpinnings, yet little is known about hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and -gonadal (HPG) hormones in the context of psychopathic traits. The current study sought to identify daily coupling patterns between HPA and HPG hormones in order to clarify distinct neurobiological underpinning associated with psychopathic/CU traits. Fifty incarcerated adolescent males who met criteria for CD were recruited and provided 10 saliva samples across 2 days. Participants completed the Psychopathy Checklist Youth Version (PCL:YV) and Inventory of Callous Unemotional Traits (ICU) on a third day. Diurnal cortisol, testosterone, and DHEA functioning was modeled via hierarchical linear modeling. Psychopathy subscales from the measures administered were used as predictors of daily coupling patterns between these hormones. Results indicated all three hormones were tightly coupled. Further, higher PCL-YV interpersonal scores related to greater coupling between all three hormones, whereas higher ICU callousness scores related to greater uncoupling of testosterone with cortisol and DHEA. The current study is novel in its emphasis on testing the coupling of HPA and HPG hormones among incarcerated adolescent males. Results suggest that affective and interpersonal psychopathic traits are marked by unique HPA- and HPG coupling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)448-458
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Adolescents
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Cortisol
  • Coupling
  • DHEA
  • Diurnal
  • Hormone
  • Incarcerated
  • Psychopathy
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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