Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

An investigation of the relationship between psychopathy and greater gray matter density in lateral prefrontal cortex

  • Emily N. Lasko (a1), David S. Chester (a1), Alexandra M. Martelli (a1), Samuel J. West (a1) and C. Nathan DeWall (a2)...

Abstract

Psychopathic traits predispose individuals toward antisocial behavior. Such antagonistic acts often result in “unsuccessful” outcomes such as incarceration. What mechanisms allow some people with relatively high levels of psychopathic traits to live “successful”, unincarcerated lives, in spite of their antisocial tendencies? Using neuroimaging, we investigated the possibility that “successful” psychopathic individuals exhibited greater development of neural structures that promote “successful” self-regulation, focusing on the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). Across two structural magnetic resonance imaging studies of “successful” participants (Study 1: N = 80 individuals in long-term romantic relationships; Study 2: N = 64 undergraduates), we observed that gray matter density in the left and right VLPFC was positively associated with psychopathic traits. These preliminary results support a compensatory model of psychopathy, in which “successful” psychopathic individuals develop inhibitory mechanisms to compensate for their antisocial tendencies. Traditional models of psychopathy that emphasize deficits may be aided by such compensatory models that identify surfeits in neural and psychological processes.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      An investigation of the relationship between psychopathy and greater gray matter density in lateral prefrontal cortex
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      An investigation of the relationship between psychopathy and greater gray matter density in lateral prefrontal cortex
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      An investigation of the relationship between psychopathy and greater gray matter density in lateral prefrontal cortex
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Emily N. Lasko, Email: laskoen@vcu.edu

References

Hide All
Anderson, N. E., & Kiehl, K. A. (2012). The psychopath magnetized: Insights from brain imaging. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16, 5260. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2011.11.008.
Andersson, J. L., Jenkinson, M., & Smith, S. (2007). Non-linear registration, aka spatial normalisation FMRIB technical report TR07JA2. FMRIB Analysis Group of the University of Oxford.
Anestis, J. C., Harrop, T. M., Green, B. A., & Anestis, M. D. (2017). Psychopathic personality traits as protective factors against the development of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in a sample of national guard combat veterans. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 39, 220229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-017-9588-8.
Anestis, M., Anestis, J., & Joiner, T. E. (2009). Affective considerations in antisocial behavior: An examination of negative urgency in primary and secondary psychopathy. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 668670. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2009.05.013.
Berg, J. M., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Sellbom, M. (2017). The role of boldness in psychopathy: A study of academic and clinical perceptions. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 8, 319328. https://doi.org/10.1037/per0000247.
Blair, R. J. R. (2005). Responding to the emotions of others: Dissociating forms of empathy through the study of typical and psychiatric populations. Consciousness and Cognition, 14, 698718. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2005.06.004.
Blair, R. J. R. (2007). The amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in morality and psychopathy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 387392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2007.07.003.
Boccardi, M., Ganzola, R., Rossi, R., Sabattoli, F., Laakso, M. P., Repo‐Tiihonen, E., & Frisoni, G. B. (2010). Abnormal hippocampal shape in offenders with psychopathy. Human Brain Mapping, 31, 438447. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.20877.
Brook, M., & Kosson, D. S. (2013). Impaired cognitive empathy in criminal psychopathy: Evidence from a laboratory measure of empathic accuracy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122, 156166. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030261.
Chester, D. S., & DeWall, C. N. (2016). Sound the alarm: The effect of narcissism on retaliatory aggression is moderated by dACC reactivity to rejection. Journal of Personality, 84, 361368. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopy.12164.
Chester, D. S., Lynam, D. R., Milich, R., & DeWall, C. N. (2017). Physical aggressiveness and gray matter deficits in ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Cortex, 97, 1722. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.09.024.
Coccaro, E. F., Sripada, C. S., Yanowitch, R. N., & Phan, K. L. (2011). Corticolimbic function in impulsive aggressive behavior. Biological Psychiatry, 69, 11531159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.02.032.
Contreras-Rodríguez, O., Pujol, J., Batalla, I., Harrison, B. J., Bosque, J., Ibern-Regàs, I., & Cardoner, N. (2014). Disrupted neural processing of emotional faces in psychopathy. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 505512. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nst014.
Contreras-Rodríguez, O., Pujol, J., Batalla, I., Harrison, B. J., Soriano-Mas, C., Deus, J., & Cardoner, N. (2015). Functional connectivity bias in the prefrontal cortex of psychopaths. Biological Psychiatry, 78, 647655. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.03.007.
Cope, L. M., Shane, M. S., Segall, J. M., Nyalakanti, P. K., Stevens, M. C., Pearlson, G. D., & Kiehl, K. A. (2012). Examining the effect of psychopathic traits on gray matter volume in a community substance abuse sample. Psychiatry Research, 204, 91100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2012.10.004.
Decety, J., Skelly, L. R., & Kiehl, K. A. (2013). Brain response to empathy-eliciting scenarios involving pain in incarcerated psychopaths. JAMA Psychiatry, 70, 638645. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.27.
Douaud, G., Smith, S., Jenkinson, M., Behrens, T., Johansen-Berg, H., Vickers, J., & James, A. (2007). Anatomically related grey and white matter abnormalities in adolescent-onset schizophrenia. Brain, 130, 23752386. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awm184.
Ermer, E., Cope, L. M., Calhoun, V. D., Nyalakanti, P. K., & Kiehl, K. A. (2012). Aberrant paralimbic gray matter in criminal psychopathy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121, 649658. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026371.
Ermer, E., Cope, L. M., Nyalakanti, P. K., Calhoun, V. D., & Kiehl, K. A. (2013). Aberrant paralimbic gray matter in incarcerated male adolescents with psychopathic traits. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52, 94103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2012.10.013.
Falkenbach, D., Poythress, N., & Creevy, C. (2008). The exploration of subclinical psychopathic subtypes and the relationship with types of aggression. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 821832. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2007.10.012.
Gao, Y., & Raine, A. (2010). Successful and unsuccessful psychopaths: A neurobiological model. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 28, 194210. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.924.
Good, C. D., Johnsrude, I. S., Ashburner, J., Henson, R. N., Friston, K. J., & Frackowiak, R. S. (2001). A voxel-based morphometric study of ageing in 465 normal adult human brains. Neuroimage, 14, 2136. https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0786.
Gregory, S., Simmons, A., Kumari, V., Howard, M., Hodgins, S., & Blackwood, N. (2012). The antisocial brain: Psychopathy matters. A structural MRI investigation of antisocial male violent offenders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 69, 962972. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2012.222.
Hare, R. D. (2003). The psychopathy checklist – Revised. In Zeigler-Hill, V. & Shackelford, T. K. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of personality and individual differences (p. 3). Toronto, ON: Springer.
Hare, R. D., & Neumann, C. S. (2006). The PCL-R assessment of psychopathy: Development, structural properties, and new directions. In Patrick, C. J. (Ed.), Handbook of psychopathy (pp. 5888). New York: The Guilford Press.
Johnson, M. M., Caron, K. M., Mikolajewski, A. J., Shirtcliff, E. A., Eckel, L. A., & Taylor, J. (2014). Psychopathic traits, empathy, and aggression are differentially related to cortisol awakening response. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 36, 380388. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-014-9412-7.
Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Introducing the short dark triad (SD3): A brief measure of dark personality traits. Assessment, 21, 2841. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191113514105.
Karpman, B. (1948). The myth of the psychopathic personality. American Journal of Psychiatry, 104, 523534. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.104.9.523.
Kiehl, K. A., Smith, A. M., Hare, R. D., Mendrek, A., Forster, B. B., Brink, J., & Liddle, P. F. (2001). Limbic abnormalities in affective processing by criminal psychopaths as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Biological Psychiatry, 50, 677684. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3223(01)01222-7.
Kimonis, E. R., Frick, P. J., Cauffman, E., Goldweber, A., & Skeem, J. (2012). Primary and secondary variants of juvenile psychopathy differ in emotional processing. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 10911103. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579412000557.
Larson, C. L., Baskin-Sommers, A. R., Stout, D. M., Balderston, N. L., Curtin, J. J., Schultz, D. H., & Newman, J. P. (2013). The interplay of attention and emotion: Top-down attention modulates amygdala activation in psychopathy. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 13, 757770. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-013-0172-8.
Levenson, M. R., Kiehl, K. A., & Fitzpatrick, C. M. (1995). Assessing psychopathic attributes in a noninstitutionalized population. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 151158. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.68.1.151.
Lilienfeld, S. O., Watts, A. L., & Smith, S. F. (2015). Successful psychopathy: A scientific status report. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 298303. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721415580297.
Lykken, D. T. (1995). The antisocial personalities. London: Psychology Press.
Lynam, D. R., & Widiger, T. A. (2007). Using a general model of personality to identify the basic elements of psychopathy. Journal of Personality Disorders, 21, 160178. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.2007.21.2.160.
Miller, J. D., Gaughan, E. T., & Pryor, L. R. (2008). The Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy scale: An examination of the personality traits and disorders associated with the LSRP factors. Assessment, 15, 450463. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191108316888.
Miller, J. D., & Lynam, D. R. (2003). Psychopathy and the Five-Factor Model of personality: A replication and extension. Journal of Personality Assessment, 81, 168178. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327752JPA8102_08.
Miller, J. D., Lynam, D. R., Widiger, T. A., & Leukefeld, C. (2001). Personality disorders as extreme variants of common personality dimensions: Can the Five Factor Model adequately represent psychopathy? Journal of Personality, 69, 253276. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6494.00144.
Miller, J. D., Maples-Keller, J. L., & Lynam, D. R. (2016). An examination of the three components of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory: Profile comparisons and tests of moderation. Psychological Assessment, 28, 692701. https://doi.org/10.1037/pas0000221.
Müller, J. L., Gänßbauer, S., Sommer, M., Döhnel, K., Weber, T., Schmidt-Wilcke, T., & Hajak, G. (2008). Gray matter changes in right superior temporal gyrus in criminal psychopaths. Evidence from voxel-based morphometry. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 163, 213222. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2007.08.010.
Neumann, C. S., & Hare, R. D. (2008). Psychopathic traits in a large community sample: Links to violence, alcohol use, and intelligence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 893899. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.76.5.893.
Patrick, C. J., Fowles, D. C., & Krueger, R. F. (2009). Triarchic conceptualization of psychopathy: Developmental origins of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 913938. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579409000492.
Patton, C. L., Smith, S. F., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2017). Psychopathy and heroism in first responders: Traits cut from the same cloth? Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 9, 354368. https://doi.org/10.1037/per0000261.
Pawliczek, C. M., Derntl, B., Kellermann, T., Gur, R. C., Schneider, F., & Habel, U. (2013). Anger under control: Neural correlates of frustration as a function of trait aggression. PloS One, 8, e78503. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078503.
Pera-Guardiola, V., Contreras-Rodríguez, O., Batalla, I., Kosson, D., Menchón, J. M., Pifarré, J., & Soriano-Mas, C. (2016). Brain structural correlates of emotion recognition in psychopaths. PloS One, 11, e0149807. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149807.
Phan, K. L., Fitzgerald, D. A., Nathan, P. J., Moore, G. J., Uhde, T. W., & Tancer, M. E. (2005). Neural substrates for voluntary suppression of negative affect: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Biological Psychiatry, 57, 210219. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2004.10.030.
Prado, C. E., Treeby, M. S., & Crowe, S. F. (2015). Examining relationships between facial emotion recognition, self-control, and psychopathic traits in a non-clinical sample. Personality and Individual Differences, 80, 2227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.02.013.
Raine, A., Meloy, J. R., Bihrle, S., Stoddard, J., Lacasse, L., & Buchsbaum, M. S. (1998). Reduced prefrontal and increased subcortical brain functioning assessed using positron emission tomography in predatory and affective murderers. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 16, 319332. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1099-0798(199822)16:3<319:AID-BSL311>3.0.CO;2-G.
Shirtcliff, E. A., Vitacco, M. J., Graf, A. R., Gostisha, A. J., Merz, J. L., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2009). Neurobiology of empathy and callousness: Implications for the development of antisocial behavior. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 27, 137171. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.862.
Skeem, J. L., Johansson, P., Andershed, H., Kerr, M., & Louden, J. E. (2007). Two subtypes of psychopathic violent offenders that parallel primary and secondary variants. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 395409. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.116.2.395.
Skeem, J. L., Poythress, N., Edens, J. F., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Cale, E. M. (2003). Psychopathic personality or personalities? Exploring potential variants of psychopathy and their implications for risk assessment. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 8, 513546. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1359-1789(02)00098-8.
Smith, S. F., Watts, A. L., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2014). On the trail of the elusive successful psychopath. The Psychologist, 27, 506510. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-28677-003.
Smith, S. M., Jenkinson, M., Woolrich, M. W., Beckmann, C. F., Behrens, T. E. J., Johansen-Berg, H., … Matthews, P. M. (2004). Advances in functional and structural MR image analysis and implementation as FSL. NeuroImage, 23, S208S219. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.07.051.
Tiihonen, J., Rossi, R., Laakso, M. P., Hodgins, S., Testa, C., Perez, J., & Frisoni, G. B. (2008). Brain anatomy of persistent violent offenders: More rather than less. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 163, 201212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2007.08.012.
Tsang, S., Salekin, R. T., Coffey, C. A., & Cox, J. (2017). A comparison of self-report measures of psychopathy among nonforensic samples using item response theory analyses. Psychological Assessment, 30, 311327. https://doi.org/10.1037/pas0000481.
Tzourio-Mazoyer, N., Landeau, B., Papathanassiou, D., Crivello, F., Etard, O., Delcroix, N., & Joliot, M. (2002). Automated anatomical labeling of activations in SPM using a macroscopic anatomical parcellation of the MNI MRI single-subject brain. NeuroImage, 15, 273289. https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0978.
Welker, K. M., Lozoya, E., Campbell, J. A., Neumann, C. S., & Carré, J. M. (2014). Testosterone, cortisol, and psychopathic traits in men and women. Physiology & Behavior, 12, 230236. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.02.057.
White, B. A., Gordon, H., & Guerra, R. C. (2015). Callous–unemotional traits and empathy in proactive and reactive relational aggression in young women. Personality and Individual Differences, 75, 185189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.11.031.
Wilson, M. S., & McCarthy, K. (2011). Greed is good? Student disciplinary choice and self-reported psychopathy. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 873876. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2011.07.028.
Woolrich, M. W., Jbabdi, S., Patenaude, B., Chappell, M., Makni, S., Behrens, T., & Smith, S. M. (2009). Bayesian analysis of neuroimaging data in FSL. NeuroImage, 45, S173S186. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.10.055.
Yang, Y., & Raine, A. (2009). Prefrontal structural and functional brain imaging findings in antisocial, violent, and psychopathic individuals: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 174, 8188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.03.012.
Yang, Y., Raine, A., Colletti, P., Toga, A. W., & Narr, K. L. (2009). Abnormal temporal and prefrontal cortical gray matter thinning in psychopaths. Molecular Psychiatry, 14, 561562. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2009.12.
Yang, Y., Raine, A., Colletti, P., Toga, A. W., & Narr, K. L. (2010). Morphological alterations in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in unsuccessful psychopaths. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119, 546554. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019611.
Zeier, J. D., Maxwell, J. S., & Newman, J. P. (2009). Attention moderates the processing of inhibitory information in primary psychopathy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118, 554563. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016480.
MathJax
MathJax is a JavaScript display engine for mathematics. For more information see http://www.mathjax.org.

Keywords

An investigation of the relationship between psychopathy and greater gray matter density in lateral prefrontal cortex

  • Emily N. Lasko (a1), David S. Chester (a1), Alexandra M. Martelli (a1), Samuel J. West (a1) and C. Nathan DeWall (a2)...

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed