Background: Psychopathy is a complex personality disorder of unknown etiology. Central to the disorder are anomalies or difficulties in affective processing.
Methods: Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to elucidate the neurobiological correlates of these anomalies in criminal psychopaths during performance of an affective memory task.
Results: Compared with criminal nonpsychopaths and noncriminal control participants, criminal psychopaths showed significantly less affect-related activity in the amygdala/hippocampal formation, parahippocampal gyrus, ventral striatum, and in the anterior and posterior cingulate gyri. Psychopathic criminals also showed evidence of overactivation in the bilateral fronto-temporal cortex for processing affective stimuli.
Conclusions: These data suggest that the affective abnormalities so often observed in psychopathic offenders may be linked to deficient or weakened input from limbic structures.