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Emotional processing and psychopathic traits in male college students: An event-related potential study.

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Emotional processing deficits are often considered a hallmark of psychopathy. However, there are relatively few studies that have investigated how the late positive potential (LPP) elicited by both positive and negative emotional stimuli is modulated by psychopathic traits, especially in undergraduates. Attentional deficits have also been posited to be associated with emotional blunting in psychopathy, consequently, results from previous studies may have been influenced by task demands. Therefore, we investigated the relationship between the neural correlates of emotional processing and psychopathic traits by measuring event-related potentials (ERPs) during a task with a relatively low cognitive load. A group of male undergraduates were classified as having either high or low levels of psychopathic traits according to their total scores on the Psychopathic Personality Inventory — Revised (PPI-R). A subgroup of these participants then passively viewed complex emotional and neutral images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) while their EEGs were recorded. As hypothesized, in general the late LPP elicited by emotional pictures was found to be significantly reduced for participants with high Total PPI-R scores relative to those with low scores, especially for pictures that were rated as less emotionally arousing. Our data suggest that male undergraduates with high, but subclinical levels of psychopathic traits did not maintain continued higher-order processing of affective information, especially when it was perceived to be less arousing in nature.

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