Skip to main content

Not the Sum of Its Parts: A Critical Review of the MacDonald Triad

Parfitt, Charlotte Hannah, Alleyne, Emma (2018) Not the Sum of Its Parts: A Critical Review of the MacDonald Triad. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 21 (2). pp. 300-310. ISSN 1524-8380. (doi:10.1177/1524838018764164) (KAR id:66782)

PDF Author's Accepted Manuscript
Language: English
Download (719kB) Preview
[thumbnail of Parfitt & Alleyne (in press).pdf]
This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology.
Request an accessible format
Official URL


The MacDonald triad posits that animal cruelty, fire setting, and bed wetting in childhood is indicative of later aggressive and violent behavior in adults. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as a precursor to later antisocial behaviors including serial and sexual murder; while practitioners cite the triad in clinical formulations and risk assessments. However, there is yet to be a critical review and consolidation of the literature that establishes whether there is empirical support. This article explores the validity of the triad. We conducted a narrative review of the relevant studies examining the MacDonald triad and its individual constituents. There is evidence that any one of the triad behaviors could predict future violent offending, but it is very rare to find all three behaviors together as predictors. Thus, the empirical research on the MacDonald triad does not fully substantiate its premise. Rather, it would appear that the triad, or its individual constituents, is better used as an indicator of dysfunctional home environments, or poor coping skills in children. Future research is needed with robust and rigorous methodologies (e.g., adequate control groups, longitudinal designs) to fully establish the MacDonald triad’s validity. Finally, further consideration is needed as to whether the triad behaviors are more indicative of other problematic outcomes (e.g., maladaptive coping to life stressors).

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/1524838018764164
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Emma Alleyne
Date Deposited: 18 Apr 2018 14:13 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:54 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Alleyne, Emma:
  • Depositors only (login required):


Downloads per month over past year