Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Cognitive Neuroscience


Yu Gao

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


psychopathy, countdown, heart rate, psychophysiological, children


Psychopathy is characterized by impulsive antisocial behavior, interpersonal and affective deficits such as lack of guilt, empathy, and remorse. An affective deficit observed in individuals with psychopathic traits is the lack of anticipatory fear. In a fearful situation, individuals generally develop fear and associate it with the situation, so they know to avoid it in the future. The ability to anticipate fear prevents individuals from committing wrongdoings due to the negative consequences that arise from it. However, individuals with psychopathic traits have been found to show reduced anticipatory fear, which in turn may contribute to more antisocial behavior. To date, only a few studies have examined such deficits in youth with psychopathic traits across sex, and findings linking such deficits with specific psychopathic traits are mixed. In our study, we examined if adolescents with psychopathic traits showed deficits in anticipatory fear in ninety-two male and female schoolchildren (Mean age = 14.2, 57% male) from the community. Heart rate responses were recorded during a countdown task, in which participants viewed a countdown of numbers from 12 to 0 on a computer screen, and a burst of loud noise was delivered when the countdown reached zero. Their psychopathic traits were assessed via self and parents’ reports. Results showed that in boys high Callousness was associated with reduced heart rate deceleration, whereas in girls high callous-unemotional traits (the affective dimension of psychopathic traits) were associated with more heart rate acceleration. These findings provide further evidence for gender differences in the etiology of psychopathy.

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