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Psychophysiology. 1994 Jul;31(4):319-30.

Emotion and psychopathy: startling new insights.

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Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee 32306-1051, USA.


Abnormal affective response in psychopaths is conceptualized within a broad theory of emotion that emphasizes reciprocal appetitive and defensive motivational systems. The startle response is proposed as a specific measure of the directional component of emotional activation. I review the literature that indicates that criminal psychopaths do not show the expected potentiation of the startle reflex that normally occurs during processing of aversive stimuli such as unpleasant photographs or punishment cues. Evidence is presented to demonstrate that this deviant response pattern is specific to individuals who display the classic affective symptoms of psychopathy. The core emotional deviation in psychopathy could be a deficit in fear response, which is defined as a failure of aversive cues to prime normal defensive actions. This emotional deficit may represent an extreme variant of normal temperament.

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