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Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Jun 1;45(11):1498-507.

Reduced P300 responses in criminal psychopaths during a visual oddball task.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.



Clinicians have long recognized that psychopaths show deficits in cognitive function, but there have been few experimental studies exploring these deficits. We present here the first in a series of event-related potential (ERP) experiments designed to elucidate and characterize the neural correlates of cognitive processes of psychopaths.


We recorded ERPs from a topographic array from 11 psychopathic and 10 nonpsychopathic prison inmates, assessed with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, during performance of a visual oddball task. ERPs to target (25% of trials) and nontarget (75% of trials) visual stimuli were analyzed.


Consistent with previous research, there were no group differences in the latency or amplitude of the ERPs for the nontarget stimuli. For nonpsychopaths, the P300 amplitude was larger when elicited by the target stimuli than when elicited by the nontarget stimuli. In contrast, psychopaths failed to show reliable P300 amplitude differences between the target and nontarget conditions. Psychopaths had a smaller amplitude P300 to target stimuli than did nonpsychopaths. In addition, the amplitude of the P300 was less lateralized in psychopaths than in nonpsychopaths. Psychopaths also had a larger centrofrontal negative wave (N550) during the target condition than did nonpsychopaths.


The results of this study indicate that there are substantial differences between psychopaths and others in the processing of even simple cognitive tasks and provide support for information processing models of psychopathy.

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