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Because it is difficult to distinguish differences in
event-related potentials between psychopaths and nonpsychopaths
in Figures 1, 2, and 3, replacement figures are available
upon request from the corresponding authors, Kent A. Kiehl
or Robert D. Hare, 2136 West Mall, Department of Psychology,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada,
V6T 1Z4. E-mail KAK firstname.lastname@example.org, RDH email@example.com.
We tested the hypothesis that psychopathy is associated
with abnormal processing of semantic and affective verbal
information. In Task 1, a lexical decision task, and in
Task 2, a word identification task, participants responded
faster to concrete than to abstract words. In Task 2, psychopaths
made more errors identifying abstract words than concrete
words. In Task 3, a word identification task, participants
responded faster to positive than to negative words. In
all three tasks, nonpsychopaths showed the expected event-related
potential (ERP) differentiation between word stimuli, whereas
psychopaths did not. In each task, the ERPs of the psychopaths
included a large centrofrontal negative-going wave (N350);
this wave was absent or very small in the nonpsychopaths.
The interpretation and significance of these differences
There have been several attempts to explain psychopathy in terms of brain damage or dysfunction. Most of these attempts have relied heavily on evidence obtained from routine electroencephalographic (EEG) examinations, neuropsychological tests, and behavioral comparisons between psychopaths and patients with brain damage (e.g., Elliott, 1978; Flor Henry, 1976; Gorenstein, 1982; Hare, 1979; Syndulko, 1978; see also Chapter 11). In general, however, gross brain damage interpretations of psychopathy have not been very convincing, partly because much of the supporting evidence comes from clinical reports and research studies with a variety of methodological problems and limitations, including the use of vague, inconsistent, and unreliable diagnostic procedures, a tendency to focus on special forensic populations for which neurological impairment is suspected (e.g., court referrals involving violent and inexplicable crimes), and a failure to exert adequate experimental control (e.g., see Hare, 1984b; Syndulko, 1978). Although it is possible that firm evidence of palpable organicity will be found in psychopaths, we believe that it might be more fruitful to investigate the ways in which psychopaths may differ from others in the functional organization of cerebral processes and in their use of cognitive, attentional, and motivational strategies.
In line with this approach we present some exploratory data on the cerebral organization of language functions in criminal psychopaths. There are several reasons for our interest in the language processes of psychopaths. For example, the actual behavior of psychopaths is often strikingly inconsistent with their verbalized thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
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