Limbic abnormalities in affective processing by criminal psychopaths as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging

Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Nov 1;50(9):677-84. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(01)01222-7.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Crime*
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / anatomy & histology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / abnormalities*
  • Limbic System / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Temporal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Vocabulary