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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2015 Sep;15(3):578-88. doi: 10.3758/s13415-015-0346-7.

Neural responses to others' pain vary with psychopathic traits in healthy adult males.

Author information

1
Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London, WC1H 0AP, UK, ana.cardoso.09@ucl.ac.uk.

Abstract

Disrupted empathic processing is a core feature of psychopathy. Neuroimaging data have suggested that individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits show atypical responses to others' pain in a network of brain regions typically recruited during empathic processing (anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus, and mid- and anterior cingulate cortex). Here, we investigated whether neural responses to others' pain vary with psychopathic traits within the general population in a similar manner to that found in individuals at the extreme end of the continuum. As predicted, variation in psychopathic traits was associated with variation in neural responses to others' pain in the network of brain regions typically engaged during empathic processing. Consistent with previous research, our findings indicated the presence of suppressor effects in the association of levels of the affective-interpersonal and lifestyle-antisocial dimensions of psychopathy with neural responses to others' pain. That is, after controlling for the influence of the other dimension, higher affective-interpersonal psychopathic traits were associated with reduced neural responses to others' pain, whilst higher lifestyle-antisocial psychopathic traits were associated with increased neural responses to others' pain. Our findings provide further evidence that atypical function in this network might represent neural markers of disrupted emotional and empathic processing; that the two dimensions of psychopathy might tap into distinct underlying vulnerabilities; and, most importantly, that the relationships observed at the extreme end of the psychopathy spectrum apply to the nonclinical distribution of these traits, providing further evidence for continuities in the mechanisms underlying psychopathic traits across the general population.

PMID:
25776930
PMCID:
PMC4526584
DOI:
10.3758/s13415-015-0346-7
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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