Neural correlates of social cooperation and non-cooperation as a function of psychopathy

Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Biological Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 9.47). 07/2007; 61(11):1260-71. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.07.021
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Psychopathy is a disorder involving a failure to experience many emotions that are necessary for appropriate social behavior. In this study, we probed the behavioral, emotional, and neural correlates of psychopathic traits within the context of a dyadic social interaction.
Thirty subjects were imaged with functional magnetic resonance imaging while playing an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma game with human confederates who were outside the scanner. Subjects also completed two self-report psychopathy questionnaires.
Subjects scoring higher on psychopathy, particularly males, defected more often and were less likely to continue cooperating after establishing mutual cooperation with a partner. Further, they experienced more outcomes in which their cooperation was not reciprocated (cooperate-defect outcome). After such outcomes, subjects scoring high in psychopathy showed less amygdala activation, suggesting weaker aversive conditioning to those outcomes. Compared with low-psychopathy subjects, subjects higher in psychopathy also showed weaker activation within orbitofrontal cortex when choosing to cooperate and showed weaker activation within dorsolateral prefrontal and rostral anterior cingulate cortex when choosing to defect.
These findings suggest that whereas subjects scoring low on psychopathy have emotional biases toward cooperation that can only be overcome with effortful cognitive control, subjects scoring high on psychopathy have an opposing bias toward defection that likewise can only be overcome with cognitive effort.

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