Basic Traits Predict the Prevalence of Personality Disorder Across the Life Span: The Example of Psychopathy

David D. Vachon, Donald R. Lynam, Thomas A. Widiger, Joshua D. Miller, Robert R. McCrae, Paul T. Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Personality disorders (PDs) may be better understood in terms of dimensions of general personality functioning rather than as discrete categorical conditions. Personality-trait descriptions of PDs are robust across methods and settings, and PD assessments based on trait measures show good construct validity. The study reported here extends research showing that basic traits (e.g., impulsiveness, warmth, straightforwardness, modesty, and deliberation) can re-create the epidemiological characteristics associated with PDs. Specifically, we used normative changes in absolute trait levels to simulate age-related differences in the prevalence of psychopathy in a forensic setting. Results demonstrated that trait information predicts the rate of decline for psychopathy over the life span; discriminates the decline of psychopathy from that of a similar disorder, antisocial PD; and accurately predicts the differential decline of subfactors of psychopathy. These findings suggest that basic traits provide a parsimonious account of PD prevalence across the life span.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698-705
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013


  • antisocial behavior
  • personality
  • personality disorder
  • prevalence rates
  • psychopathology
  • psychopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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