In psychopathic patients emotion attribution modulates activity in outcome-related brain areas

Psychiatry Res. 2010 May 30;182(2):88-95. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.01.007. Epub 2010 Apr 22.


The understanding that other people's emotional states depend on the fulfilment of their intention is fundamentally important for responding adequately to others. Psychopathic patients show severe deficits in responding adequately to other people's emotion. The present study explored whether these impairments are associated with deficits in the ability to infer others' emotional states. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), identical cartoon stories, depicting a subject whose intention was fulfilled or not fulfilled, were presented to 14 psychopathic patients and 14 non-psychopathic patients. The participants should indicate the protagonist's emotional state. Additionally, a non-mentalizing control condition was presented. The two groups showed no behavioural differences. But in non-psychopathic patients emotion attribution was associated with increased activity of the mirror neuron system, the bilateral supramarginal gyrus and the superior frontal gyrus. In contrast psychopathic patients showed increased activation of regions associated with outcome monitoring and attention, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, the medial frontal cortex and temporo-parietal areas. The results emphasize that although psychopathic patients show no deficits in reasoning about other people's emotion if an explicit evaluation is demanded, they use divergent neural processing strategies that are related to more rational, outcome-oriented processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / pathology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Criminals*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Expressed Emotion / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen