A cognitive neuroscience perspective on psychopathy: evidence for paralimbic system dysfunction

Psychiatry Res. 2006 Jun 15;142(2-3):107-28. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2005.09.013. Epub 2006 May 19.


Psychopathy is a complex personality disorder that includes interpersonal and affective traits such as glibness, lack of empathy, guilt or remorse, shallow affect, and irresponsibility, and behavioral characteristics such as impulsivity, poor behavioral control, and promiscuity. Much is known about the assessment of psychopathy; however, relatively little is understood about the relevant brain disturbances. The present review integrates data from studies of behavioral and cognitive changes associated with focal brain lesions or insults and results from psychophysiology, cognitive psychology and cognitive and affective neuroscience in health and psychopathy. The review illustrates that the brain regions implicated in psychopathy include the orbital frontal cortex, insula, anterior and posterior cingulate, amygdala, parahippocampal gyrus, and anterior superior temporal gyrus. The relevant functional neuroanatomy of psychopathy thus includes limbic and paralimbic structures that may be collectively termed 'the paralimbic system'. The paralimbic system dysfunction model of psychopathy is discussed as it relates to the extant literature on psychopathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Humans
  • Language Disorders / diagnosis
  • Language Disorders / physiopathology
  • Language Disorders / psychology
  • Limbic System / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests