Psychopathic traits influence threat avoidance in a community sample independent of testosterone

Personal Disord. 2021 Sep;12(5):428-436. doi: 10.1037/per0000481. Epub 2021 Apr 1.


Psychopathy is a personality construct that encompasses a constellation of traits reflecting emotional dysfunction and antisocial behavior. Individuals with elevated levels of psychopathic traits have shown abnormal affective processing. Studies with psychopathic offenders suggested that this is a result of altered automatic social approach-avoidance tendencies. The goal of the current study was to increase the insight into the underlying mechanism of affective processes in community-dwelling individuals with a high level of psychopathic traits by studying approach and avoidance behavior in an experimental setting. Furthermore, given its link with aggression and threat approach, testosterone was measured to investigate a possible mediatory role. Eighty-seven healthy individuals performed a computerized affective approach-avoidance task in which they pushed or pulled emotional faces using a joystick. The results showed that high levels of psychopathic traits corresponded with diminished threat avoidance to angry faces, as was found previously in psychopathic offenders. Although endogenous testosterone was positively associated with the level of psychopathic traits, it did not mediate the effect of psychopathic traits on threat avoidance. We propose that an increased understanding of the interplay between different neuroendocrine mechanisms could lead to a better insight into the underlying mechanism of abnormal threat avoidance in individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Criminals*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Testosterone*


  • Testosterone