Symptoms of executive dysfunction are endemic to secondary psychopathy: an examination in criminal offenders and noninstitutionalized young adults

J Pers Disord. 2007 Aug;21(4):384-99. doi: 10.1521/pedi.2007.21.4.384.


Psychopathy is a heterogeneous personality disorder exhibiting deficits in passive avoidance, emotional processing, and arousal. In a mixed-gender group (N = 293) of undergraduates and prisoners, we examined the relationship of multiple indices of primary and secondary psychopathy to components of executive dysfunction as measured by the Frontal Systems and Behavior Scale (FrSBe; Grace & Malloy, 2001). After controlling for demographic variables, we found strong associations between psychopathy and components of executive dysfunction (Rs = .55 to .70). Primary psychopathy was negatively, whereas secondary psychopathy was positively, predictive of symptoms indicative of executive dysfunction. When indices of primary and secondary psychopathy and indices of executive functioning were jointly included in a factor analysis, a two-factor solution was obtained. Secondary psychopathy and all subscales of the FrSBe loaded on a single factor, whereas indices of primary psychopathy loaded solely on a second factor. These findings underscore the role of prefrontal circuitry in psychopathy, and specifically implicate executive dysfunction in secondary psychopathy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwestern United States
  • Models, Psychological
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires