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Psychol Sci. 2011 Oct;22(10):1280-7. doi: 10.1177/0956797611420730. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

Psychopathic traits and preattentive threat processing in children: a novel test of the fearlessness hypothesis.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-6560, USA.


We tested the fearlessness hypothesis of psychopathy in an at-risk sample of 88 preadolescent children. Psychopathy was measured using combined child- and parent-reported scores on the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD). Using a continuous-flash-suppression paradigm, we evaluated threat processing at the preattentive level for the first time in a study of psychopathy. Scores for the APSD Callous/Unemotional factor, which assesses the core affective deficits of psychopathy, predicted preattentive face-recognition deficits for fearful faces and, to a lesser extent, for disgusted faces. This finding contradicts recent suggestions that the fearlessness associated with psychopathy is solely a consequence of overt attentional artifacts. Future research should focus on preattentive processing of fear in individuals with callous-unemotional traits, and on the implications of preattentive-processing deficits for treatment and theory development.

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