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J Abnorm Psychol. 2008 May;117(2):406-13. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.117.2.406.

Diminished cooperativeness of psychopaths in a prisoner's dilemma game yields higher rewards.

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Department of Medicine, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.


Maladaptive social behavior is one of the defining characteristics of psychopathic personality disorder. Nevertheless, maladaptive social behavior has only rarely been observed among psychopaths in experimentally controlled situations. The authors assessed the behavior of criminal psychopaths from high-security psychiatric hospitals in a computer simulation of a social dilemma situation. The psychopaths showed a markedly higher proneness to competitive (i.e., noncooperative) behavior than did healthy adults from the general population. The odds ratio between defection and being a psychopath was estimated at 7.86 in the sample. The probability to choose selfish instead of cooperative behavior was significantly linked to the following subscales of the Psychopathy Personality Inventory-Revised (S. O. Lilienfeld & M. R. Widows, 2005): rebellious nonconformity, Machiavellian egocentricity, and the total score. On average, the psychopathic participants accumulated higher gain and more strongly exploited their counterpart than did the healthy participants.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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