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Int J Psychophysiol. 1989 Sep;8(1):1-16.

Evoked potentials and psychopathy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles 90089-1061.


All previous studies which have assessed evoked potentials (EPs) in psychopathic populations are critically reviewed. Three main themes emerge from this review. Firstly early EP studies suggest a dysfunctional arousal system at a brainstem or parietal cortex level in psychopaths. Secondly, middle-latency EP studies suggest that psychopaths show larger visual EP amplitudes, particularly at high intensity levels, indicating cortical augmenting. Thirdly, psychopaths are characterised by enhanced P3 EPs to task-relevant events. An extended sensation-seeking model of psychopathy is proposed which attempts to incorporate these electrophysiological findings into an information-processing framework. It is argued that under certain circumstances psychopaths are characterised by information-processing proficiencies and that they are clearly differentiated from schizophrenics at a psychophysiological level in terms of P3. It is concluded that current 'processing deficit' conceptions of antisociality are overly restrictive and ignore performance superiorities which may have important implications for our understanding of psychopathy.

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