Exploring the neural correlates of (altered) moral cognition in psychopaths

Behav Sci Law. 2021 Dec;39(6):731-740. doi: 10.1002/bsl.2539. Epub 2021 Oct 15.


Research into the neurofunctional mechanisms of psychopathy has gathered momentum over the last years. Previous neuroimaging studies have identified general changes in brain activity of psychopaths. In an exploratory meta-analysis, we here investigated the neural correlates of impaired moral cognition in psychopaths. Our analyses replicated general effects in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, lateral prefrontal cortex, fronto-insular cortex, and amygdala, which have been reported recently. In addition, we found aberrant brain activity in the midbrain and inferior parietal cortex. Our preliminary findings suggest that alterations in both regions may represent more specific functional brain changes related to (altered) moral cognition in psychopaths. Furthermore, future studies including a more comprehensive corpus of neuroimaging studies on moral cognition in psychopaths should re-examine this notion.

Keywords: empathy; meta-analysis; moral cognition; neuroimaging; psychopathy; theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Insular Cortex*
  • Morals