Neuroimaging of Psychopathy and Antisocial Behavior: A Targeted Review

Mood and Anxiety Program, National Institute of Mental Health, Room 206, 15K North Drive, MSC 2670, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
Current Psychiatry Reports (Impact Factor: 3.24). 02/2010; 12(1):76-82. DOI: 10.1007/s11920-009-0086-x
Source: PubMed


The goal of this article is to provide a selective and targeted review of the neuroimaging literature on psychopathic tendencies and antisocial behavior and to explore the extent to which this literature supports recent cognitive neuroscientific models of psychopathy and antisocial behavior. The literature reveals that individuals who present with an increased risk for reactive, but not instrumental, aggression show increased amygdala responses to emotionally evocative stimuli. This is consistent with suggestions that such individuals are primed to respond strongly to an inappropriate extent to threatening or frustrating events. In contrast, individuals with psychopathic tendencies show decreased amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex responses to emotionally provocative stimuli or during emotional learning paradigms. This is consistent with suggestions that such individuals face difficulties with basic forms of emotional learning and decision making.

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Available from: Robert James R Blair
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    • "Moreover, psychopathic traits are also one of the strongest predictors of chronic violent offending (Blair et al. 2006;Hare 2003;Raine 2002). Given the strong associations between ETV and psychopathic traits, as well as, between psychopathic traits and violent offending, it may be that ETV provides opportunities for youth with psychopathic traits, who have deficits in particular forms of emotional functioning and information processing (Sommers and Newman 2012;Blair 2010), to learn that violent strategies often produce sought after results. And, due to these deficits, any conflict around imposing harm on others is superseded by a strong desire to attain their goal. "
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    ABSTRACT: Exposure to violence (ETV) has emerged as a key and stable predictor of violent offending. However, not all youth offenders who experience ETV go on to chronic violent offending. Consequently, it is possible that individual differences, such as psychopathic traits, may be an important factor in the link between ETV and violent offending. These traits are associated with exposure to violence and, separately, to violent offending. The present study used data from Pathways to Desistance, a multisite, longitudinal study of serious juvenile offenders (N = 1170, Meanage = 16.05, SD = 1.16) to explore these relationships, simultaneously. First, autoregressive cross-lagged path models were used to examine the longitudinal bivariate relations among violent offending, ETV, and psychopathic traits. Second, latent class growth analysis was used to determine trajectories ETV. And third, the mediating influence of psychopathic traits was examined. Results indicated that ETV predicted later engagement in violence, but there was some degree of reciprocity between ETV and violence over time. Additionally, respondents with stable high or increasing trajectories of ETV reported more instances of violent offending. Finally, psychopathic traits mediated the relationship between ETV and violent offending. Together these findings support the notion that individuals with psychopathic traits perceive and internalize their environment differently than others and that this difference guides their own violent offending. Given the importance of psychopathic traits for understanding the influence of ETV on violent offending, prevention and intervention strategies must be developed that take into account both individual differences and environmental factors.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment
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    • "CU traits (lack of guilt and empathy ) are present in *25% of children and adolescents with conduct disorder. These traits have been associated with persistent antisocial behavior (Frick and White 2008) and distinct neurocognitive characteristics, including difficulty in processing facial expressions (Blair 2010a). Individuals with CU traits are also prone to reactive aggression (Blair 2010b) which makes it important to investigate whether the neural correlates of CU traits should be considered within the frustrative non-reward RDoC construct. "
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: We present the rationale and design of a randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for aggression in children and adolescents, which is conducted in response to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) approach initiative. Specifically, the study is focused on the brain-behavior associations within the RDoC construct of frustrative non-reward. On the behavioral level, this construct is defined by reactions elicited in response to withdrawal or prevention of reward, most notably reactive aggression. This study is designed to test the functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) and electrophysiological (EEG) correlates of aggression and its reduction after CBT. Methods: Eighty children and adolescents with high levels of aggression across multiple traditional diagnostic categories, ages 8-16, will be randomly assigned to receive 12 sessions of CBT or 12 sessions of supportive psychotherapy. Clinical outcomes will be measured by the ratings of aggressive behavior collected at baseline, midpoint, and endpoint evaluations, and by the Improvement Score of the Clinical Global Impressions Scale assigned by an independent evaluator (blinded rater). Subjects will also perform a frustration-induction Go-NoGo task and a task of emotional face perception during fMRI scanning and EEG recording at baseline and endpoint. Results: Consistent with the NIMH strategic research priorities, if functional neuroimaging and EEG variables can identify subjects who respond to CBT for aggression, this can provide a neuroscience-based classification scheme that will improve treatment outcomes for children and adolescents with aggressive behavior. Conclusions: Demonstrating that a change in the key nodes of the emotion regulation circuitry is associated with a reduction of reactive aggression will provide evidence to support the validity of the frustrative non-reward construct.
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    • "On the other hand, Ermer et al. (2012) reported decreased volume in the left lateral OFC specifically, using a sample of inmates with high PCL-R scores. The OFC has been considered one of the main neural candidates implicated in the affective and decision-making impairments observed in psychopathy (Blair, 2010, 2013), which raises questions about the reason for these inconsistencies. One possibility is that they are due to sampling differences across studies. "
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    ABSTRACT: Research suggests psychopathy is associated with structural brain alterations that may contribute to the affective and interpersonal deficits frequently observed in individuals with high psychopathic traits. However, the regional alterations related to different components of psychopathy are still unclear. We used voxel-based morphometry to characterize the structural correlates of psychopathy in a sample of 35 healthy adults assessed with the Triarchic Psychopathy Measure. Furthermore, we examined the regional grey matter alterations associated with the components described by the triarchic model. Our results showed that, after accounting for variation in total intracranial volume, age and IQ, overall psychopathy was negatively associated with grey matter volume in the left putamen and amygdala. Additional regression analysis with anatomical ROIs revealed total triPM score was also associated with increased lateral OFC and caudate volume. Boldness was positively associated with volume in the right insula. Meanness was positively associated with lateral OFC and striatum volume, and negatively associated with amygdala volume. Finally, disinhibition was negatively associated with amygdala volume. Results highlight the contribution of both subcortical and cortical brain alterations for subclinical psychopathy and are discussed in light of prior research and theoretical accounts about the neurobiological bases of psychopathic traits. © The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email:
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