Does Affective Theory of Mind Contribute to Proactive Aggression in Boys with Conduct Problems and Psychopathic Tendencies?

Steven M. Gillespie, Mickey T. Kongerslev, Carla Sharp, Sune Bo, Ahmad M. Abu-Akel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescent psychopathic tendencies are associated with phenotypic increases in proactive aggression. However, the extent to which an understanding of others’ affective mental states, or affective theory of mind (ToM), contributes to proactive aggression remains unknown. We examined how performance on a well-known test of affective ToM, based on cropped images of the eye region, contributes to reactive and proactive types of aggression in a mixed ethnicity sample of 80 incarcerated adolescent boys. A hierarchical regression model showed that affective ToM predicted proactive aggression over and above the influence of clinically rated psychopathic tendencies. Importantly, affective ToM was unrelated to reactive aggression. Our results suggest that being able to recognize others’ affective mental states may be an important factor in aggressing against others for personal gain. These findings have implications for interventions designed to enhance ToM in youth with conduct problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)906-916
Number of pages11
JournalChild Psychiatry and Human Development
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ethical Approval The study was performed in accordance with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments, and was approved by the Danish Data Protection Agency and the Research Ethics Committee for Region Zealand, acting under the Danish Act on a Biomedical Research Ethics Committee System and the Processing of Biomedical Research Projects.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, The Author(s).


  • Adolescence
  • Conduct disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Psychopathy
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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