Alpha-amylase reactivity in relation to psychopathic traits in adults

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Apr:54:14-23. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.01.012. Epub 2015 Jan 25.


Recent investigations of the psychobiology of stress in antisocial youth have benefited from a multi-system measurement model. The inclusion of salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), a surrogate marker of autonomic/sympathetic nervous system (ANS) activity, in addition to salivary cortisol, a biomarker of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning, has helped define a more complete picture of individual differences and potential dysfunction in the stress response system of these individuals. To the authors' knowledge, no studies have examined sAA in relation to antisocial behavior in adults or in relation to psychopathic traits specifically. In the present study, we examined sAA, in addition to salivary cortisol, in a relatively large sample (n=158) of adult males (M age=36.81, range=22-67 years; 44% African-American, 34% Caucasian, 16% Hispanic) recruited from temporary employment agencies with varying levels of psychopathic traits. Males scoring highest in psychopathy were found to have attenuated sAA reactivity to social stress compared to those scoring lower in psychopathy. No differential relationships with the different factors of psychopathy were observed. In contrast to studies of antisocial youth, there were no interactions between sAA and cortisol levels in relation to psychopathy, but there was a significant interaction between pre-stressor levels of sAA and cortisol. Findings reveal potential regulatory deficits in the fast-acting, 'fight or flight', component of the stress response in adult males with psychopathic traits, as well as abnormalities in how this system may interact with the HPA axis.

Keywords: Alpha-amylase; Antisocial; Cortisol; Hormone; Psychopathy; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / enzymology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / chemistry
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / enzymology
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Salivary alpha-Amylases / chemistry
  • Salivary alpha-Amylases / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / enzymology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Salivary alpha-Amylases
  • Hydrocortisone