Potential Effects of Severe Bilateral Amygdala Damage on Psychopathic Personality Features: A Case Report

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The fearlessness model posits that psychopathy is underpinned by a deficiency in the capacity to experience fear, predisposing to other features of the condition, such as superficial charm, guiltlessness, callousness, narcissism, and dishonesty. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether fearlessness is irrelevant, necessary, sufficient, or merely contributory to psychopathy. In the present case study, we sought to examine the fearlessness model by studying an extensively investigated female patient—S. M.—who experienced early emerging bilateral calcifications of the amygdala, resulting in a virtual absence of fear. We aimed to replicate findings regarding S. M.’s deficient experience of self-reported fear and examine her levels of triarchic psychopathy dimensions (boldness, meanness, disinhibition). We also examined S. M.’s history of heroic behaviors given conjectures that fearlessness contributes to both heroism and psychopathy. Compared with population-based norms, S. M. reported deficient levels of self-reported fear and self-control, as well as elevated levels of heroism. She did not, however, exhibit elevated levels of the core affective deficits of psychopathy, as reflected in measures of coldheartedness and meanness. These findings suggest that severe fear deficits may be insufficient to yield the full clinical picture of psychopathy, although they do not preclude the possibility that these deficits are necessary.

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