Award Date

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Stephen D. Benning

Second Committee Member

Laurel M. Pritchard

Third Committee Member

Murray G. Millar

Fourth Committee Member

Peter B. Gray

Number of Pages



Theories considering the etiology of psychopathy suggest that trauma exposure, specifically childhood maltreatment and sexual abuse, is related to the development of callous-unemotional traits in children and adolescents, which are precursors to psychopathic traits in adulthood. Furthermore, posttraumatic stress disorder has an opposite relationship with many of the emotional and behavioral components of the two-factor model of psychopathy. Specifically, PTSD is positively associated to IA and traits associated with it and negatively associated with FD. Thus, this study sought to expand upon the current theories of a trauma-based etiology of psychopathy by investigating the relationship between trauma, PTSD, and psychopathic traits in an adult population.

We investigate several emotional and behavioral factors associated with trauma and resilience and how physical and perceived social support moderated both in the physiological and psychological relationship between trauma and PTSD in individuals high in psychopathic traits. We examined stress reactive cortisol, fear potentiated startle, and P3 event related potential in 186 undergraduate students. We found that individuals with IA had a high incidence of trauma exposure and was associated with more severe PTSD symptoms, whereas FD was associated with high levels of trauma exposure but was negatively associated with PTSD symptoms. Next, individuals higher in both IA and FD benefited physiologically from social support. Thus, this study provides the first evidence that social-based interventions may be beneficial for individuals higher in psychopathic traits. Furthermore, lower levels of social support were associated with the development of IA after being exposed to trauma. Thus, future studies should examine how socially based interventions can be used to prevent the development of maladaptive traits.


Cortisol; Psychopathy; Sex Differences; Social Support; Stress


Endocrinology | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Medical Neurobiology | Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Neurosciences

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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