Psychopathic Traits Are Associated With Reduced Fixations to the Eye Region of Fearful Faces

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Abstract

Impairments in processing fearful faces have been documented in both children and adults with psychopathic traits, suggesting a potential mechanism by which psychopathic individuals develop callous and manipulative interpersonal and affective traits. Recently, research has demonstrated that psychopathic traits are associated with reduced fixations to the eye regions of faces in samples of children and community-dwelling adults, however this relationship has not yet been established in an offender sample with high levels of psychopathy. In the current study, we employed eye-tracking with paradigms involving the identification and passive viewing of facial expressions of emotion, respectively, in a sample of adult male criminal offenders (n = 108) to elucidate the relationship between visual processing of fearful facial expressions and interpersonal and affective psychopathic traits. We found that the interpersonal-affective traits of psychopathy were significantly related to fewer fixations to the eyes of fear faces during the emotion recognition task. This association was driven particularly by the interpersonal psychopathic traits (e.g., egocentricity, deceitfulness), whereas fear recognition accuracy was inversely related to the affective psychopathic traits (e.g., callousness, lack of empathy). These findings highlight potential mechanisms for the subset of the interpersonal-affective traits exhibited by psychopathic individuals.

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