"But not the music": psychopathic traits and difficulties recognising and resonating with the emotion in music

Cogn Emot. 2023 May-Jun;37(4):748-762. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2023.2205105. Epub 2023 Apr 27.


Recognising and responding appropriately to emotions is critical to adaptive psychological functioning. Psychopathic traits (e.g. callous, manipulative, impulsive, antisocial) are related to differences in recognition and response when emotion is conveyed through facial expressions and language. Use of emotional music stimuli represents a promising approach to improve our understanding of the specific emotion processing difficulties underlying psychopathic traits because it decouples recognition of emotion from cues directly conveyed by other people (e.g. facial signals). In Experiment 1, participants listened to clips of emotional music and identified the emotional content (Sample 1, N = 196) or reported on their feelings elicited by the music (Sample 2, N = 197). Participants accurately recognised (t(195) = 32.78, p < .001, d = 4.69) and reported feelings consistent with (t(196) = 7.84, p < .001, d = 1.12) the emotion conveyed in the music. However, psychopathic traits were associated with reduced emotion recognition accuracy (F(1, 191) = 19.39, p < .001) and reduced likelihood of feeling the emotion (F(1, 193) = 35.45, p < .001), particularly for fearful music. In Experiment 2, we replicated findings for broad difficulties with emotion recognition (Sample 3, N = 179) and emotional resonance (Sample 4, N = 199) associated with psychopathic traits. Results offer new insight into emotion recognition and response difficulties that are associated with psychopathic traits.

Keywords: Psychopathy; emotion categorisation; emotion perception; music.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Facial Expression
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Music*