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Cognition. 2006 Sep;101(2):414-42. Epub 2006 Aug 10.

The emergence of psychopathy: implications for the neuropsychological approach to developmental disorders.

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Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, USA. <>


In this paper, I am going to examine the disorder of psychopathy and consider how genetic anomalies could give rise to the relatively specific neuro-cognitive impairments seen in individuals with this disorder. I will argue that genetic anomalies in psychopathy reduce the salience of punishment information (perhaps as a function of noradrenergic disturbance). I will argue that the ability of the amygdala to form the stimulus-punishment associations necessary for successful socialization is disrupted and that because of this, individuals with psychopathy do not learn to avoid actions that will harm others. It is noted that this model follows the neuropsychological approach to the study of developmental disorders, an approach that has been recently criticized. I will argue that these criticisms are less applicable to psychopathy. Indeed, animal work on the development of the neural systems necessary for emotion, does not support a constructivist approach with respect to affect. Importantly, such work indicates that while environmental effects can alter the responsiveness of the basic neural architecture mediating emotion, environmental effects do not construct this architecture. However, caveats to the neuropsychological approach with reference to this disorder are noted.

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