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Pers Individ Dif. 2007 Dec;43(8):2057-2071.

Startle modulation in non-incarcerated men and women with psychopathic traits.

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Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, United States.


Past research has demonstrated that individuals with psychopathic characteristics are under-responsive to aversive stimuli, however, much of this work has failed to include non-incarcerated samples, or to examine gender differences in this relationship. Additionally, few studies have examined the role of specific personality characteristics, as they relate to both psychopathic behavior and emotional responsiveness. The current study assessed emotional modulation of the startle response in a community sample of 108 men and women (99 with usable startle data) during perception of emotion-laden photographs. Consistent with previous work, men reporting high levels of psychopathy failed to show the typical increase in the startle response when exposed to aversive photographs, but only when responses were elicited relatively early in picture viewing (i.e., 2.0 s as compared to 4.5 s post-photograph onset). Additionally, both genders showed a significant effect of harm avoidance and anxiety on modulation of the startle response, such that individuals reporting low levels of each trait failed to show significant responses to aversive photographs. These results suggest that while deficits in emotional processing extend to non-incarcerated samples, the relationship may be influenced by additional factors including gender, personality, and attributes related to incarceration.

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