Emotion regulation in psychopathy

Biological Psychology 92:541–548 (2013)
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Abstract

Emotion processing is known to be impaired in psychopathy, but less is known about the cognitive mechanisms that drive this. Our study examined experiencing and suppression of emotion processing in psychopathy. Participants, violent offenders with varying levels of psychopathy, viewed positive and negative images under conditions of passive viewing, experiencing and suppressing. Higher scoring psychopathics were more cardiovascularly responsive when processing negative information than positive, possibly reflecting an anomalously rewarding aspect of processing normally unpleasant material. When required to experience emotional response, by ‘getting into the feeling’ of the emotion conveyed by a negative image, higher factor 1 psychopathic individuals showed reduced responsiveness, suggesting that they were less able to do this. These data, together with the absence of corresponding differences in subjective self-report might be used to inform clinical strategies for normalising emotion processing in psychopathic offenders to improve treatment outcome, and reduce risk amongst this client group.

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Tom Burns
Uppsala University