Neuropsychological implications of selective attentional functioning in psychopathic offenders

Neuropsychology. 2006 Sep;20(5):614-24. doi: 10.1037/0894-4105.20.5.614.


Several core characteristics of the psychopathic personality disorder (i.e., impulsivity, failure to attend to interpersonal cues) suggest that psychopaths suffer from disordered attention. However, there is mixed evidence from the cognitive literature as to whether they exhibit superior or deficient selective attention, which has led to the formation of several distinct theories of attentional functioning in psychopathy. The present experiment investigated participants' abilities to purposely allocate attentional resources on the basis of auditory or visual linguistic information and directly tested both theories of deficient or superior selective attention in psychopathy. Specifically, 91 male inmates at a county jail were presented with either auditory or visual linguistic cues (with and without distractors) that correctly indicated the position of an upcoming visual target in 75% of the trials. The results indicated that psychopaths did not exhibit evidence of superior selective attention in any of the conditions but were generally less efficient in shifting attention on the basis of linguistic cues, especially in regard to auditory information. Implications for understanding psychopaths' cognitive functioning and possible neuropsychological deficits are addressed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Cues
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reading
  • Reproducibility of Results