Dual temperamental risk factors for psychopathic personality: evidence from self-report and skin conductance

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Mar;100(3):557-66. doi: 10.1037/a0021848.


Psychopathy is a personality disorder consisting of dysfunctional affective interpersonal features (Factor 1) and impulsive-antisocial behavior (Factor 2) that exhibit differential associations with palmar skin conductance (SC) reactivity. The goal of this study was to determine whether the distinct SC reactivity observed in incarcerated psychopaths generalizes to university students who score high on personality dimensions hypothesized to be the risk factors for these psychopathy factors. Lilienfeld's Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI; Lilienfeld & Andrews, 1996) was used to compute scores on 2 factor-analytically derived dimensions that have been the focus of recent research in psychopathy. PPI-1 is hypothesized to relate to the low-fear temperamental risk factor, whereas PPI-2 is hypothesized to relate to regulatory dysfunction. SC reactivity was measured during tasks previously used in studies of diagnosed psychopaths. Results indicated that PPI-1 was associated with reduced SC during anticipation of an aversive noise and PPI-2 was associated with enhanced SC reactivity during presentation of a speech about one's faults. Additional analyses explored an 8-factor solution of the PPI and 3 temperament dimensions derived from factor analysis of several personality measures. Together, the SC results suggest that the Factor 1 pathway, best captured with refined assessments of behavioral fearlessness, related to reduced SC reactivity to an aversive noise-consistent with a weak defense system. The Factor 2 pathway, best captured by higher order dimensions reflecting externalizing, disinhibited forms of negative temperament, related to enhanced SC reactivity to a speech stressor-consistent with high stress reactivity.

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Galvanic Skin Response* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Inventory
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperament* / physiology