A neurophysiological dissociation between monitoring one's own and others' actions in psychopathy

Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Apr 1;69(7):693-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.11.013. Epub 2011 Jan 7.


Background: Psychopathy is a severe personality disorder often leading to violent and disruptive antisocial behavior. Efficient and proper social behavior crucially relies on monitoring of one's own as well as others' actions, but the link between antisocial behavior in psychopathy and action monitoring in a social context has never been investigated.

Methods: Event-related potentials were used to disentangle monitoring of one's own and others' correct and incorrect actions in psychopathic subjects (n = 18) and matched healthy control subjects (n = 18). The error-related negativity (ERN) was investigated following own and other's responses in a social flanker task.

Results: Although both groups showed similar event-related potentials in response to own actions, amplitudes after the observation of others' action-outcome were greatly reduced in psychopathy. More specifically, the latter was not unique to observed errors, because the psychopathic group also showed reduced brain potentials after the observation of correct responses. In contrast, earlier processing of observed actions in the motor system, as indicated by the lateralized readiness potential, was unimpaired.

Conclusions: Monitoring of own behavior is not affected in psychopathy, whereas processing of the outcome of others' actions is disturbed. Specifically, although psychopathic individuals do not have a problem with initial processing of the actions of others, they have problems with deeper analyses of the consequences of the observed action, possibility related to the reward value of the action. These results suggest that aspects of action monitoring in psychopathy are disturbed in social contexts and possibly play a central role in the acquisition of abnormal social behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Checklist
  • Dissociative Disorders / physiopathology
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Personality Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders* / physiopathology
  • Personality Disorders* / psychology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Social Behavior*