Psychopathic Men: Deficits in General Mental Ability, Not Emotion Perception

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Psychopathy is characteristically associated with deficits in emotion perception; however, findings surrounding this deficit are actually quite mixed. This is most likely due to limitations of study methodology, including the use of tasks with unknown or poor psychometric properties, underpowered samples, and a lack of control for third variables. We present a study that addressed these limitations. A sample of men (n = 339) ranging across the psychopathy continuum, recruited in and out of the German prison system, completed three psychometrically validated tasks that assessed the ability to perceive facially expressed emotions. Using latent variable modeling, we show that deficits in emotion perception ability associated with psychopathy are fully attributable to deficits in general mental ability. Modeling relations at the manifest level, separately for inmates and noninmates, support these conclusions. We conclude that emotion general and emotion-specific deficits associated with psychopathy have been exaggerated and instead indicate deficits in general mental ability.

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