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J Abnorm Psychol. 2000 Aug;109(3):373-85.

The psychopath as observer: emotion and attention in picture processing.

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Department of Psychology, Florida State University, USA.


This study extended prior work showing abnormal affect-startle modulation in psychopaths. Male prisoners viewed specific categories of pleasant (erotic or thrilling) and unpleasant (victim or direct threat) slide pictures, along with neutral pictures. Acoustic startle probes were presented early (300 and 800 ms) and late (1,800, 3,000, and 4,500 ms) in the viewing interval. At later times, nonpsychopaths showed moderate and strong reflex potentiation for victim and threat scenes, respectively. For psychopaths, startle was inhibited during victim scenes and only weakly potentiated during threat. Psychopaths also showed more reliable blink inhibition across pleasant contents than nonpsychopaths and greater heart rate orienting to affective pictures overall. These results indicate a heightened aversion threshold in psychopaths. In addition, deficient reflex modulation at early times suggested a weakness in initial stimulus evaluation among psychopaths.

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