Psychopathic features across development: Assessing longitudinal invariance among Caucasian and African American youths.
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OBJECTIVES: Psychopathy is associated with severe forms of antisocial and violent behavior in adults. There is also a rapidly growing body of research focused on extending features of adult psychopathy downward to youth. To date however, the degree to which these features can be consistently and comparatively assessed at these younger ages, remains unclear. This study addresses this issue by investigating measurement invariance of underlying features of psychopathy across childhood and adolescence in a racially diverse sample of youth. METHODS: Three cohorts of youth (n =1517) were assessed annually from childhood to adolescence (ages ~7-16). Underlying features of psychopathy commonly assessed in youth (e.g. lack of guilt, impulsivity) were examined within a longitudinal bi-factor framework using multi-dimensional item-response theory (IRT) techniques. Differential item functioning was used to assess invariance across development and participant's race (African-American and Caucasian), using two distinct approaches: (1) traditional item-response theory (IRT) methods; and (2) a recently developed Bayesian structural equation modeling (BSEM) approach. RESULTS: Psychopathy features assessed in this study exhibited measurement consistency across development (~ages 7-16) and were found to tap into the same underlying construct as intended across measurement occasions, and equivalently for African-American and Caucasian youth. Results were similar when assessed using traditional IRT procedures for longitudinal invariance testing and when implementing the more recent BSEM methodology. CONCLUSIONS: Findings provide the first evidence that features of psychopathy can be assessed consistently in youth and improve our understanding of important developmental and sociocultural factors associated these features during earlier periods of development.