Brain Potentials Implicate Temporal Lobe Abnormalities in Criminal Psychopaths

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Psychopathy is associated with abnormalities in attention and orienting. However, few studies have examined the neural systems underlying these processes. To address this issue, the authors recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) while 80 incarcerated men, classified as psychopathic or nonpsychopathic via the Hare Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (R. D. Hare, 1991, 2003), completed an auditory oddball task. Consistent with hypotheses, processing of targets elicited larger frontocentral negativities (N550) in psychopaths than in nonpsychopaths. Psychopaths also showed an enlarged N2 and reduced P3 during target detection. Similar ERP modulations have been reported in patients with amygdala and temporal lobe damage. The data are interpreted as supporting the hypothesis that psychopathy may be related to dysfunction of the paralimbic system—a system that includes parts of the temporal and frontal lobes.

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