Causal Pathways to Psychopathy in Prisoners and Adults in the Community (Wolfson Institute, School of Medicine and Dentistry, QMUL)

Contact: Mark Freestone


Department: Wolfson Institute, School of Medicine and Dentistry

Institution: Queen Mary, University of London

Project timeline: As the data and analytical strategy for this work are in place, the work is flexible in relation to start and finish dates.

Project duration: The work would best suit approximately a 20 week duration part-time (0.6FTE), but the proposal can be offered flexibly depending on availability. For consistency a commitment of a minimum of 0.4FTE per week would be needed.

Closing date: 2nd August 2021

Expertise required: Extensive experience of quantitative data analysis, although not necessarily including causal or multivariate approaches as this will be closely supported by the supervisor; Expert knowledge of the causal factors behind chronic mental disorder(s), a good grasp of the principles of epidemiological modelling, and excellent communication and presentation skills

Project description: Psychopathy is a clinical syndrome with a complex aetiology, and those with high levels of traits of the disorder have a tendency to have negative outcomes themselves and be responsible for high amounts of criminal and/or antisocial behaviour, including violence towards others. A number of recent studies have provided compelling evidence that differential causal pathways to onset of the disorder (genetic, social and/or environmental) may be associated with qualitatively different behavioural and affective expressions; that psychopathy may not be a single construct but a spectrum disorder. This project will use existing, large epidemiological datasets (the Prisoner Cohort Study and Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys, 2000 – 2014) to explore causal pathways to the onset of psychopathy in the UK criminal and general populations. It will involve the use of longitudinal multivariate data analytic approaches based on a number of existing papers and analyses by the PI and colleagues to adapt an existing conceptual model for the causal onset of psychopathy, developed by the supervisor, into an empirical framework that can be tested using the data. The analysis will involve the fitting of the proposed model within both community and prisoner samples and evaluating the extent to which the model fits the data. The results of this project will help inform future data collection and analysis in relation to understanding the factors behind onset of psychopathic traits in general and forensic populations. Because the project will naturally have a particular focus on experiences in childhood, it may have more direct implications for public health.

Description of work involved: The student will provided with access to the data and relevant analytical software. They will be expected to, under supervision by the PI: – Operationalise, fit and multivariate models for causal pathways to psychopathy (Bayesian Networks, Path Analysis and/or Latent Variable Mixture Modelling) and investigate model fit where appropriate – Write these up in a brief report with associated tables and statistics. – Present these results to colleagues in a seminar – Contribute to academic paper(s) summarising the findings, ideally as lead author depending on contribution.

Student benefits: The student will benefit in the following ways: 1) Exposure to large, in some cases publicly available datasets designed to answer complex epidemiological questions, with the possibility of continued access after EoP. 2) Knowledge of, and supervision of, application advanced quantitative modelling techniques to answer causal questions. 3) Authorship on an impact factor journal article. 4) Exposure to wider research groups in Queen Mary and North London interested in using advanced quantitative methods to answer causal questions about mental health, including clinicians from NHS Trusts (East London NHS Foundation Trust and Barts Health) .