Date of Award

Summer 8-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Jillian Grose-Fifer

Second Reader

Casey LaDuke

Third Advisor

Charles B. Stone


Empathy is a crucial component in forming interpersonal connections, and reflects the ability to share and understand the feelings of others. Psychopathy is often associated with a reduced ability to feel and display empathetic concern towards other people. The Response Modulation Hypothesis argues that such individuals have an attentional deficit, which makes it difficult for them to shift focus between stimuli, thus individuals who have high scores on the interpersonal-affective factor of psychopathy have an increased ability to ignore emotional stimuli that are goal-irrelevant. The current study investigated whether psychopathic traits would influence distractibility on an emotional Stroop (eStroop) task. One hundred and thirteen undergraduates completed a series of personality measures and performed the eStroop task where they identified the color of a square that was superimposed on negative and positive images chosen to elicit empathy, or neutral pictures that served as controls. After the eStroop task, participants saw all the pictures again and rated their level of arousal and empathy towards each picture. Our hypotheses were partly supported, but only for positive pictures; Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised Fearless Dominance factor (PPI-R FD) scores were negatively correlated with reaction time for positive pictures, but positively correlated for negative pictures. Moreover, task accuracy, and arousal and empathy ratings were not modulated by PPI-R FD. In contrast, PPI-R Coldheartedness (CH) scores were unrelated to performance on the eStroop task, but showed negative correlations with arousal and empathy ratings. Thus, PPI-R FD appears linked to deficits in relatively automatic bottom-up processes, whereas PPI-R CH is more associated with processing deficits that are more deliberative in nature. PPI-R Total Scores, Triarchic Psychopathy Measure (TriPM) Meanness, and TriPM Total Psychopathy Scores also showed negative correlations with empathy ratings, even though they had no relationship with task performance. Conversely, Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) Empathic Concern (EC) and IRI Personal Distress (PD) were positively correlated with empathy ratings for negative, neutral, and positive pictures. Therefore, much like the PPI-R CH subscale, these personality measures seem to be linked to top-down processing related to subjective ratings, rather than bottom-up task performance.



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