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Brain Cogn. 2011 Nov;77(2):176-82. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2011.06.010. Epub 2011 Aug 5.

P3 event-related potentials and childhood maltreatment in successful and unsuccessful psychopaths.

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  • 1Department of Criminology, Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Although P3 event-related potential abnormalities have been found in psychopathic individuals, it is unknown whether successful (uncaught) psychopaths and unsuccessful (caught) psychopaths show similar deficits. In this study, P3 amplitude and latency were assessed from a community sample of 121 male adults using an auditory three-stimulus oddball task. Psychopathy was assessed using the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (Hare, 2003) while childhood physical maltreatment was assessed using the Conflict Tactic Scale (Straus, 1979). Results revealed that compared to normal controls, unsuccessful psychopaths showed reduced parietal P3 amplitudes to target stimuli and reported experienced more physical abuse in childhood. In contrast, successful psychopaths exhibited larger parietal P3 amplitude and shorter frontal P3 latency to irrelevant nontarget stimuli than unsuccessful psychopaths. This is the first report of electrophysiological processing differences between successful and unsuccessful psychopaths, possibly indicating neurocognitive and psychosocial distinctions between these two subtypes of psychopathy.

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