Differentiating Successful Psychopaths from Non-psychopathic Controls
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Modern day psychopaths are categorized into two distinct types: criminal and noncriminal psychopaths, who are thought to display different profiles of neural and cognitive function (Gao & Raine, 2010). More specifically, criminally-deviant behavior in unsuccessful psychopaths is associated with impulsive, antisocial tendencies characterized by deficits in executive function. The purpose of this study was to gain insight into successful psychopaths. It was predicted that relative to non-psychopathic controls, they would have enhanced response to reward cues and reduced response to punishment cues associated with anxiety, intact cognitive empathy, but impaired emotional empathy. Self-report measures of psychopathy, behavioral indices and empathy were administered to identify college students who were either high or low in psychopathic traits. Independent samples t-tests were conducted to examine if behavioral activation and inhibition systems and different forms of empathy could differentiate between the two groups. Behavioral modulation, specifically reward responsiveness, and emotional processing (i.e., emotional empathy) were not significantly different between groups. However, elevated sensation seeking and intact cognitive empathy are consistent with previous research on successful psychopaths. These results inform and embellish the Gao and Raine (2010) model, providing further insight into how successful psychopaths differ non-psychopathic controls, with implications for prevention of criminal psychopathy.