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Psychiatry Res. 2004 Apr 30;130(3):297-312.

Temporal lobe abnormalities in semantic processing by criminal psychopaths as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging.

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  • 1Institute of Living, Hartford, CT 06106, USA.


We tested the hypothesis that psychopathy is associated with abnormalities in semantic processing of linguistic information. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to elucidate and characterize the neural architecture underlying lexico-semantic processes in criminal psychopathic individuals and in a group of matched control participants. Participants performed a lexical decision task in which blocks of linguistic stimuli alternated with a resting baseline condition. In each lexical decision block, the stimuli were either concrete words and pseudowords or abstract words and pseudowords. Consistent with our hypothesis, psychopathic individuals, relative to controls, showed poorer behavioral performance for processing abstract words. Analysis of the fMRI data for both groups indicated that processing of word stimuli, compared with the resting baseline condition, was associated with neural activation in bilateral fusiform gyrus, anterior cingulate, left middle temporal gyrus, right posterior superior temporal gyrus, and left and right inferior frontal gyrus. Analyses confirmed our prediction that psychopathic individuals would fail to show the appropriate neural differentiation between abstract and concrete stimuli in the right anterior temporal gyrus and surrounding cortex. The results are consistent with other studies of semantic processing in psychopathy and support the theory that psychopathy is associated with right hemisphere abnormalities for processing conceptually abstract material.

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