Psychopathy, aggression, and the processing of emotional stimuli in non-referred girls and boys

Behav Sci Law. 2006;24(1):21-37. doi: 10.1002/bsl.668.


Research shows that individuals with psychopathic traits differ in how they process negative emotional stimuli. However, it is unclear whether these differences are specific to certain types of negative emotional stimulus and whether they are more strongly associated with psychopathic traits or aggression. Further, it is not clear whether or not deficits in emotional processing generalize to females and ethnic minority individuals with psychopathic traits. In this study, we examined the emotional processing of visual stimuli using a dot-probe task in 50 non-referred girls and boys (mean age of 9.30; SD = 2.00). Overall, there was a significant association between proactive aggression and reduced responsiveness to distressing stimuli. In addition, the predicted association between psychopathic traits and reduced responsiveness to distressing stimuli was only found for children high on aggression. Also, the associations among aggression, psychopathic traits, and responsiveness to distressing stimuli did not differ for boys and girls.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Arousal*
  • Attention
  • Child
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Emotions*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Personality Assessment
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Sex Factors