Psychopathy as a disorder of the moral brain: fronto-temporo-limbic grey matter reductions demonstrated by voxel-based morphometry

Neuroimage. 2008 Apr 15;40(3):1202-13. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.12.054. Epub 2008 Jan 11.


Major advances have been made in the understanding of the neurobiology of psychopathy in the past years, yet the distribution and extent of neuroanatomical abnormalities underlying the disorder are still poorly known. It is also unclear if different dimensions of the construct of psychopathy (e.g., emotional callousness, antisocial behavior) correspond to structural abnormalities in distinct regions of the brain. We tested the following hypotheses: (1) psychopathy is related to grey matter reductions in regions of the brain that underlie moral conduct and (2) the severity of psychopathy is related to the degree of structural abnormalities. Optimized voxel-based morphometry and the screening version of the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL: SV) were employed to investigate a matched sample of 15 community psychiatric patients with high PCL: SV scores, and 15 healthy normal volunteers. The analyses controlled for total grey matter, white matter and cerebrospinal fluid volumes. Grey matter reductions were observed in the frontopolar, orbitofrontal and anterior temporal cortices, superior temporal sulcus region, and insula of the patients. The degree of structural abnormalities was significantly related to the interpersonal/affective dimension of psychopathy. The pattern of grey matter reductions in patients with high psychopathy scores comprised a distributed fronto-temporal network which plays a critical role in moral sensibility and behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / pathology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Limbic System / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Occupations
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology*