Unique and Interactive Associations Between Maltreatment and Complex Emotion Recognition Deficits and Psychopathic Traits in an Undergraduate Sample

J Pers Disord. 2018 Aug;32(4):543-561. doi: 10.1521/pedi_2017_31_314. Epub 2017 Sep 13.


Psychopathy is defined by affective and interpersonal deficits, deviant lifestyle, and antisocial behaviors. Poor recognition of emotions and childhood maltreatment are two risk factors implicated in psychopathy. The current study examined whether childhood maltreatment and complex emotion recognition deficits showed unique and interactive associations with psychopathic traits among 261 undergraduate students. Results indicate that maltreatment was related to higher general psychopathy scores within a bifactor model comprising a general psychopathy factor and four specific factors tapping underlying dimensions of psychopathy (i.e., affective, interpersonal, lifestyle, and antisocial). A significant interaction emerged whereby maltreatment was related to higher antisocial factor scores among individuals showing poor recognition of positive emotions. In an intriguing interaction, more maltreatment was related to lower interpersonal factor scores among individuals with low/mean levels of neutral emotion recognition. The interaction of positive emotion recognition deficits and maltreatment highlights a potential intervention target among antisocial individuals who have experienced maltreatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Abuse / psychology*
  • Students
  • Young Adult