[Forensic neuropsychology at the challenge of the relationship between cognition and emotion in psychopathy]

Rev Neurol. 2008 Dec;47(11):607-12.
[Article in Spanish]


Introduction: The relationship between frontal lobe damage and criminality is especially complex. The neural substrates of psychopathic behavior seem to involve structural and functional abnormalities in the frontal lobes and the limbic system. AIM. To analyze the repercussions that brain structural and functional abnormalities in psychopathic individuals may have for forensic neuropsychology.

Development: Consistent evidence indicate that response inhibition problems in psychopathic subjects are linked to structural or functional damage in the frontal cortex. Furthermore, the prefrontal cortex, along with the amygdala and the hippocampus forms the limbic system, which is an important neural substrate of emotion processing; therefore the psychopath's capacity of affective processing could also be impaired. The theoretical frameworks of the somatic marker and mirror neuron hypotheses, along with the empirical study of executive functions may contribute to explain the inability of the psychopathic subjects to feel empathy, which is one of the main inhibitors of violence and antisocial behavior.

Conclusions: The relationship between frontal lobe dysfunction and antisocial behavior arises an important legal issue. In order to consider some type of minor liability in the case of psychopaths it is suggested to gather further research data about the relationship between frontal lobe dysfunction and the ability to inhibit antisocial behavior by making an adequate use of empathy and emotional ties.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / pathology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Forensic Psychiatry*
  • Frontal Lobe* / pathology
  • Frontal Lobe* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychology*
  • Psychopathology