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In conjunction with situational and circumstantial factors, personality is a common influence contributing to the tipping point at which an offence occurs. People without these traits in similar circumstances are better able to eschew risky situations. The ultimate cause of ostensibly antagonistic traits is in evolved behavioural mechanisms which continue to be useful in harsher socioecological niches. Antagonistic traits often function alongside more positive co-operative and empathic traits, both having contributed to human survival over millennia. A huge body of psychometric and multivariate work with offenders involving large samples and longitudinal samples indicates five-factor, HEXACO, Dark Triad and other trait description schemes corroborate one-another regarding the key trait influences on offending. These models map onto DSM and ICD-10 personality disorder models, suggesting personality disorders have a foundation in trait dispositions. Work is needed to identify better behavioural measures of these dispositions, and how they integrate into cognitive and desistance processes.
Lankford makes many useful points regarding the myths and shibboleths underlying our understanding of self-destructive killers and suicide bombers. He has collated an impressive data set on such offenders. However, his classification scheme is not built on sufficient evidence to support his proposed discrete categories of conventional, coerced, escapist, and indirect suicide terrorists. It would be straightforward to analyse the data, but it is unlikely that the resulting model would reflect that anticipated.
Some clinical syndromes of personality seem relatively unambiguous, and can be reliably identified. DSM-IV personality disorders provide quite distinctive personality 'types', particularly in cluster B 'dramatic' personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder, both of which are more common to offenders. Another personality model deriving from the clinical-descriptive condition is that of psychopathy. Empirical, trait-driven structural models of personality provide broad dimensions of personality without filling in the idiosyncratic details of the self created by experience, choice and chance, but nevertheless seem to be able to predict offending. Meta-analysis finds structural models like Hans Eysenck's Psychoticism, Extroversion and Neuroticism (PEN) or Costa and McCrae's Five-Factor Model (FFM), Tellegen's three-factor model and Cloninger's seven-factor model, all have particular dimensions associated with antisocial acts. Structural trait theories of personality are highly empirical, and thus are more testable than individually focused theories.
To examine the neuropsychiatric effects of infection with HIV, 220 drug users (27 HIV negative, 193 HIV positive) completed tests evaluating premorbid intelligence, memory, non-verbal performance, information processing speed, and mood. When these measures were compared cross-sectionally by the severity of HIV illness, symptomatic patients (in CDC stage IV) were impaired on Trails B, two-choice decision time, delayed recall of the Wechsler Logical Memory Test and most components of the Auditory Verbal Learning Test. These findings imply reduced capacity for concentration, speed of thought and memory. When 101 patients were retested a mean of 16 months after their initial assessment, performance on Trails A and B, Block Design and delayed recall of the Wechsler Logical Memory Test deteriorated more for patients at, or progressing within, CDC stage IV, than performance of patients at stage III. The results broadly correspond to the cross-sectional findings. However, there was a decline in all tests of memory function for the sample independent of clinical staging. This may be evidence of brain involvement before the appearance of other symptoms. Self-rated measures of mood did not change cross-sectionally, progressively, or interactively with time and stage of HIV illness, and cannot account for the changes in cognitive function observed. Change in drug use, similarly, does not account for the cognitive findings. Four (5%) of the retested subjects developed AIDS dementia complex, but most of the performance and memory impairments seen were subclinical despite the destructive neuropathology presumed to underlie intellectual decline in patients with HIV infection. An exploratory analysis of treatment with zidovudine in 65 patients with stage IV disease showed no demonstrable benefit for cognitive function.
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