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Neuropsychology. 2008 Sep;22(5):669-80. doi: 10.1037/a0012692.

Psychopathic personality traits associated with abnormal selective attention and impaired cognitive control.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL 61820, USA.


The current study investigated how mechanisms of attention that have been well-characterized in the cognitive psychology literature (Lavie, Hirst, De Fockert, & Viding, 2004; Maylor & Lavie, 1998) may be differentially associated with psychopathic traits in nonincarcerated men. Previous research on cognition and psychopathy indicated that primary psychopathic traits were associated with overfocused attention and/or reduced processing of information peripheral to the focus of attention. Conversely, deficits in executive functioning, such as working memory and cognitive control, were implicated in secondary psychopathic traits. Results revealed a significant relationship between traits typically associated with primary psychopathy (e.g., low anxiety, social dominance, fearlessness, callousness) and reduced processing of task-irrelevant distractors, suggesting diminished basic attentional capacity among individuals high on these traits. In contrast, some characteristics linked to secondary psychopathy (e.g., social alienation, cynicism) showed a positive relationship with impaired working memory functioning, indicative of deficits in cognitive control, whereas other traits (i.e., self-centeredness, antagonism) did not. These results suggest that psychopathic traits are differentially related to selective impairments in attentional functioning, which may help explain the observed heterogeneity in psychopathic manifestations.

PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved.

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