Psychopathy is a personality disorder accompanied by abnormalities in emotional processing and attention. Recent theoretical applications of network-based models of cognition have been used to explain the diverse range of abnormalities apparent in psychopathy. Still, the physiological basis for these abnormalities is not well understood. A significant body of work has examined psychopathy-related abnormalities in simple attention-based tasks, but these studies have largely been performed using electrocortical measures, such as event-related potentials (ERPs), and they often have been carried out among individuals with low levels of psychopathic traits. In this study, we examined neural activity during an auditory oddball task using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a simple auditory target detection (oddball) task among 168 incarcerated adult males, with psychopathic traits assessed via the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). Event-related contrasts demonstrated that the largest psychopathy-related effects were apparent between the frequent standard stimulus condition and a task-off, implicit baseline. Negative correlations with interpersonal-affective dimensions (Factor 1) of the PCL-R were apparent in regions comprising default mode and salience networks. These findings support models of psychopathy describing impaired integration across functional networks. They additionally corroborate reports which have implicated failures of efficient transition between default mode and task-positive networks. Finally, they demonstrate a neurophysiological basis for abnormal mobilization of attention and reduced engagement with stimuli that have little motivational significance among those with high psychopathic traits.
Keywords: Attention; Default Mode Network; Oddball; Psychopathy; Salience Network; fMRI.