Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory does Not Predict Future Offending

Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory does not predict future offending and thus should not yet be used for risk assessment purposes in applied forensic settings. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychological Assessment. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychological Assessment | 2017, Vol. 29, No. 6, 740–753

Psychometric Properties and Prognostic Usefulness of the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI) as a Component of a Clinical Protocol for Detained Youth: A Multiethnic Examination


Olivier F. Colins, Leiden University Medical Center/Academic Workplace Forensic Care for
Youth and Örebro University
Kostas A. Fanti, University of Cyprus
Henrik Andershed, Örebro University
Eva Mulder, Leiden University Medical Center/Academic Workplace Forensic Care for Youth
Randall T. Salekin, University of Alabama
Arjan Blokland, Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement
Robert R.J.M. Vermeiren, Leiden University Medical Center/Academic Workplace Forensic
Care for Youth


Prior studies have shown that the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI) holds promise as a self-report tool for assessing psychopathic traits in detained adolescents. However, these studies have been conducted in a research context where anonymity and confidentiality are provided. Few studies have examined the usefulness of the YPI in clinical settings. To address this research gap, the present study examined data from 1,559 detained boys who completed the YPI as part of a clinical protocol. Official criminal records were available for a subsample (n = 848), allowing us to test the prognostic usefulness of the YPI. Results of confirmatory factor analyses, overall, support the proposed 3-factor structure, though model fit indices were not as good in Dutch boys compared to boys from other ethnic groups. Measurement invariance tests showed that the YPI scores are manifested in the same way across all 4 ethnic groups and suggest that means scores between the 4 ethnic groups are comparable. The YPI scores were internally consistent, and correlations with external variables, including aggression and conduct problems, support the convergent validity of the interpretation of YPI scores. Finally, results demonstrated that YPI scores were not significantly positively related to future criminality. In conclusion, this study suggests that the YPI may hold promise as a self-report tool for assessing psychopathic traits in detained male adolescents during a clinical protocol. However, the finding that the YPI did not predict future offending suggests that this tool should not yet be used for risk assessment purposes in forensic settings.


Psychopathic Traits Inventory, validity, recidivism, criminal justice, self-report

Summary of the Research

“Psychopathic personality may result in substantial destruction to the self and the community, underscoring the importance of accurately identifying individuals with psychopathy.” (p.741)

“[Self-report instruments for psychopathy] represent an important tool for researchers and clinicians working with detained youth, mainly because youth detention settings often do not have the financial resources to rely on expert-based comprehensive evaluations for all youth entering the facility and often experience difficulties to locate and finding parents and teachers able or willing to provide reliable diagnostic information. Yet, the reliance on self-report to assess psychopathic traits is not without skepticism.” (p.741)

“The concern that self-report tools are nonvalid indicators of psychopathic traits is especially salient when being used in applied forensic settings. Although studies with detained youth typically scrutinized the psychometric properties of self-report tools when guaranteeing confidentiality and anonymity, there is an urgent need to investigate how well these tools perform when being completed as part of a clinical protocol, where the information may have actual consequences for the informant. The present study will address this need by testing the psychometric properties and prognostic usefulness of the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI; Andershed, Kerr, Stattin, & Levander, 2002) in a forensic setting for young offenders of different ethnicities” (p. 741)

“Altogether, evidence supports the utility of the YPI as a research instrument for assessing psychopathic traits in detained adolescents, and researchers have started to refer to the YPI as a promising tool for real-world forensic settings. One crucial test for the YPI’s potential as a clinical tool is the evaluation of its psychometric properties in settings where the reported information may bring actual consequences to the informant.” (p. 742)

“Worldwide, ethnic minorities are overrepresented in forensic settings. Therefore, it is quite remarkable that the psychometric properties of psychopathy tools in ethnic minorities rarely received separate scrutiny.” (p. 742)

“Psychopathy measures such as the PCL-R and the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI)-Revised are being used as risk assessment tools in adult forensic settings, and thus influence legal decision making. It is very much likely that this soon will be the case in youth forensic settings as well. Therefore, it is relevant to test if psychopathy scores are related to future criminality among detained youth.” (p. 742)

“The failure to reveal prospective relations between YPI scores and recidivism seems to challenge the predictive validity of the YPI scores. However, psychopathy tools, including the YPI, were not developed for risk assessment purposes, and findings on this topic, therefore, should not necessarily be interpreted as support for or against the ‘predictive validity’ of these tools.” (p. 742)

“The purpose of this study was to examine the psychometric properties and the prognostic usefulness of the YPI in detained male youth when being completed as part of a clinical assessment protocol.” (p. 743)

“The current study used data involving boys from two large youth detention centers (YDCs) in the Netherlands. […] For the purpose of the current study, data for 1,559 criminal-justice involved detained male adolescents who completed the YPI, the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Second Version (MAYSI-2; Grisso & Barnum, 2006), the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997), and the Reactive Proactive Aggression Questionnaire (Raine et al., 2006) were made available to the authors. This sample will be used to test the psychometric properties of the YPI. For a subsample (n = 848), official criminal records were available, which implies that it was also possible to test the prognostic usefulness of the YPI scores.” (p. 743)

Boys’ ethnicities were divided into 4 categories: Dutch, Moroccan, Surinamese/Antillean, and Other ethnicity.

“[The YPI] seems to provide internally consistent scores in a real-world, forensic setting. This is important, since other psychopathy self-report tools often have difficulties to deliver acceptable internally consistent scores in samples of detained youth.” (p. 747)

“The current study showed that the YPI affective factor score remained significantly uniquely related to various criterion measures, including conduct problems and low pro social behavior. […] Importantly, the other two YPI factor scores were also uniquely related to the criterion measures, with the exception of pro-social behavior. Therefore, it would be beneficial if researchers systematically report on all factor scores of their psychopathy measures as this would allow the examination of the unique relation between psychopathy factor scores and various criterion measures.” (p. 747)

“YPI scores were not significantly predictive of future arrests, and as a result we did not test the incremental contribution of the YPI scores above and beyond other risk factors. […] our findings and their consistency with past research raise the question of whether there is a compelling need to use psychopathy tools for risk assessment purposes.” (p. 748)

“This study showed that the YPI assesses a constellation of traits in detained boys that is similar to the three-factor model of psychopathic personality. The findings also support the internal consistency and convergent validity of the YPI scores. That this is possible in a clinical context and across various ethnic groups is particularly relevant given the increased interest in using psychopathy tools in forensic work with juveniles and given the overrepresentation of ethnic minority youth in youth detention centers. The finding that YPI scores were not predictive of future crime warrants further study.” (p. 749–750)

Translating Research into Practice

“The results from this study strongly suggest that YPI scores should not (yet) be used for risk assessment purposes in applied forensic settings. Further research is urgently needed to investigate the prognostic usefulness of various psychopathy tools completed as part of a clinical protocol, rather than as part of a research project.” (p. 748)

“YPI scores were related to higher levels of self-reported concurrent aggression, anger, and conduct problems, and lower levels of pro-social behavior. The YPI, thus, may provide clinically relevant information that help to identify a group of detained boys who are in need of different and more intense treatment approaches.” (p. 749)

“Although the three YPI factors scores were related to aggression, interventions that foster emotion processing and use reward-oriented (i.e., self-interest) instead of punishment-oriented strategies may be more effective to reduce aggression in detained youth who show high levels of affective traits than in their counterparts who only manifest high elevated YPI interpersonal or behavioral factor scores.” (p. 749)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Moroccan boys scored significantly lower on the YPI and measures of aggression, anger–irritability, alcohol/drug use, and conduct problems than boys in the other ethnic groups, whereas Dutch boys scored higher on the majority of these measures than boys from a Surinamese/Antillean or Other ethnicity.” (p. 745)

“Of note, the present study showed that prior arrest was predictive of future arrest, suggesting that one does not need YPI total or factor scores to identify detained youth who are at an increased risk to commit new crimes. At the same time, the strength of these prospective relations between past and future arrests should not be overstated (OR from 1.05 to 1.52). Clearly, future research that tries to identify the best predictors of recidivism is highly relevant, but clinicians and researchers should keep in mind that predicting future criminality might be very difficult with existing tools.” (p. 749)

“Strengths of this study include the relatively large number of boys from various ethnic origins who completed the YPI as part of a clinical protocol, the use of validated self-report measures to assess external criterion variables, and the possibility to test the prospective relation between YPI scores and officially registered future criminality.’ (p. 749)

“The study also had several limitations. First, in line with many previous articles and because of sample size considerations, Antillean and Surinamese youth were merged together in one group and Turkish youth were included in the Other origin group. […] Second, female youth were not included in this study and future research is needed to examine the usefulness of the YPI in detained female populations. Third, we relied on one source of official records of recidivism (i.e., prosecutor level data), and, as mentioned, multisource data may be helpful to determine the relation between child psychopathy and subsequent offending. This implies that we might have underestimated true recidivism.” (p. 749)

“Future designs should consider multiple sources of information regarding the commission of illegal acts. This may further facilitate whether the YPI will provide clinical utility regarding risk prediction in applied settings.” (p. 750)

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Authored by Kseniya Katsman

Kseniya Katsman is a Master’s student in Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her interests include forensic application of dialectical behavior therapy, cultural competence in forensic assessment, and risk assessment, specifically suicide risk. She plans to continue her education and pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

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