Higher trait levels of psychopathy have been associated with both a tendency to maintain disadvantageous decision-making strategies and aberrant cortico-limbic neural activity. To explore the neural mechanisms associated with the psychopathy-related propensity to continue selecting risky choices, a non-forensic sample of participants completed a self-report psychopathy questionnaire and two runs of a risky decision-making task during H215O positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. In this secondary data analysis study, we leveraged data previously collected to examine the impact of previous drug use on risky decision-making to explore the relations between self-reported psychopathy and behavioral and brain metrics during performance of the Cambridge Decision-Making Task (CDMT), in which volunteers chose between small/likely or large/unlikely potential reward outcomes. Behaviorally, we observed that psychopathy scores were differentially correlated with the percent of risky decisions made in run 1 vs. run 2 of the task. Specifically, higher levels of psychopathy, above and beyond that attributable to drug use or sex, were associated with greater tendencies to make risky selections only in the second half (run 2) of the task. In parallel, psychopathy scores negatively correlated with regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the right insula and right ventral striatum during run 2 of the CDMT. These exploratory outcomes suggest that greater levels of psychopathy may be associated with an inability to translate experience with negative outcomes into behavioral adaptations possibly due to decreased neural efficiency in regions related to somatic and/or reward feedback processes.
Keywords: PET; decision-making; insula; psychopathy; striatum.