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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Sep;46(9):972-81.

Response reversal and children with psychopathic tendencies: success is a function of salience of contingency change.

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  • 1Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Heath, Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-2670, USA.



Previous work has inconsistently reported difficulties with response reversal/extinction in children with psychopathic tendencies.


We tested the hypothesis that the degree of impairment seen in children with psychopathic tendencies is a function of the salience of contingency change. We investigated the performance of children with psychopathic tendencies on a novel probabilistic response reversal task involving four conditions with gradated reward-punishment contingencies (100-0, 90-10, 80-20 and 70-30; i.e., for the 100-0 contingency, responding to one object is always rewarded while responding to the other is always punished).


In line with predictions, the impairment seen in the children with psychopathic tendencies was an inverse function of the salience of the contingency change.


We suggest that this data is consistent with suggestions of subtle orbital frontal cortex impairment in children with psychopathic tendencies.

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