Investigating the neural correlates of psychopathy: a critical review

Mol Psychiatry. 2011 Aug;16(8):792-9. doi: 10.1038/mp.2010.124. Epub 2010 Dec 7.


In recent years, an increasing number of neuroimaging studies have sought to identify the brain anomalies associated with psychopathy. The results of such studies could have significant implications for the clinical and legal management of psychopaths, as well as for neurobiological models of human social behavior. In this article, we provide a critical review of structural and functional neuroimaging studies of psychopathy. In particular, we emphasize the considerable variability in results across studies, and focus our discussion on three methodological issues that could contribute to the observed heterogeneity in study data: (1) the use of between-group analyses (psychopaths vs non-psychopaths) as well as correlational analyses (normal variation in 'psychopathic' traits), (2) discrepancies in the criteria used to classify subjects as psychopaths and (3) consideration of psychopathic subtypes. The available evidence suggests that each of these issues could have a substantial effect on the reliability of imaging data. We propose several strategies for resolving these methodological issues in future studies, with the goal of fostering further progress in the identification of the neural correlates of psychopathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / pathology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Reproducibility of Results