Probability of punishment and suppression of behavior in psychopathic and nonpsychopathic offenders

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To investigate the hypothesis that psychopathic offenders would show less suppression of behavior as a function of punishment at varying levels of probability, 3 groups of Ss were selected. 50 criminal offenders were divided into 2 groups of psychopathic (mean age 31.5 yrs) and nonpsychopathic (mean age 30.7 yrs) offenders based on clinical ratings. A 3rd group of 25 nonoffenders (mean age 28.9 yrs) was also used. A probability-learning card game was developed that consisted of 10 different levels of punishment probability, with the punishment based on the response-cost technique of removing reinforcers (i.e., chips redeemable for money). A measure of suppression was obtained from the reduction of Ss' response rates. Results show psychopathic offenders to produce the least suppression and the lowest winnings, with these findings attributed to the psychopaths being least responsive when the probability of punishment was most uncertain. Results are best explained in terms of cognitive factors, with the element of magical or superstitious logic proposed as a major pathognomic characteristic of psychopathy. (17 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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