Professor Daniel Rijo

The changeability of psychopathic traits in adolescents

There is evidence that psychopathy is a developmental disorder, comprising a set of interpersonal (Grandiose-Manipulative), affective (Callous-Unemotional), and behavioural (Impulsive-Irresponsible: II) features. Psychopathy is considered of great relevance both in clinical as in forensic settings, as it associates with the most early, stable, and severe forms of antisocial behaviour. 

Daniel Rijo

Thus, several authors argued that the best time for intervention should be in early stages of development, namely during adolescence. Research on psychopathic traits in youthful populations vastly increased in the last three decades, mostly due to the relevance of the construct for risk assessment, risk prediction, and risk management in forensic settings. Nevertheless, research on psychopathic traits in children and adolescents still presents considerable gaps, namely issues related to its conceptualization, to the study of its etiological pathways and, mostly, to its treatment. Research on treatment effectiveness concerning the promotion of change on psychopathic traits in adolescents is still scarce and is marked by several methodological flaws.

In recent years, new approaches to cognitive-behavioral interventions have been developed and tested. Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), an evolutionary-based model, has been proposed as a promising treatment for young offenders with psychopathic traits, offering a tailored intervention to this population mental health needs. In this keynote, findings from a recent clinical trial on the efficacy of a CFT based intervention with young offenders with psychopathic traits will be presented. Using a controlled trial design (pre/post-test with a control group), findings supported the efficacy of this intervention in promoting therapeutic engagement and in reducing psychopathic traits among male detained youth, considering both change at a group level as well as change at an individual level.


Daniel Rijo, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Coimbra, where he investigates and teaches in the clinical and forensic areas.

He is an integrated member at the Center for Research in Neuropsychology and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions (CINEICC), funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology, where he coordinates the Research Group: Cognitive and Behavioral Processes and Change – Health and Psychopathology in Different Settings. He has been involved in research projects in the area of personality disorders and antisocial behavior and has collaborated with public and private institutions in several post-graduation trainings for psychiatrists, psychologists and health professionals in areas such as: Schema-Focused Therapy, deviant behavior, personality disorders treatment, and motivational interviewing.

In a partnership with the Portuguese Ministry of Justice, he has developed intervention and research projects in the prevention and rehabilitation of young and adult offenders. He has supervised postdoctoral and doctoral projects in the areas of clinical and forensic psychology and he is the author of several research articles published in international and national journals, books, intervention programs and book chapters. His current research areas include studies of the effectiveness of forensic rehabilitation programs, rehabilitation of IPV offenders in community-based interventions, third-generation psychotherapies with young offenders, and the changeability of child and adolescent psychopathic traits.