Clarifying the role of defensive reactivity deficits in psychopathy and antisocial personality using startle reflex methodology

Uma Vaidyanathan, Jason R. Hall, Christopher J. Patrick, Edward M. Bernat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations

Abstract

Prior research has demonstrated deficits in defensive reactivity (indexed by potentiation of the startle blink reflex) in psychopathic individuals. However, the basis of this association remains unclear, as diagnostic criteria for psychopathy encompass two distinct phenotypic components that may reflect differing neurobiological mechanisms-an affective-interpersonal component and an antisocial deviance component. Likewise, the role of defensive response deficits in antisocial personality disorder (APD), a related but distinct syndrome, remains to be clarified. In the current study, the authors examined affective priming deficits in relation to factors of psychopathy and symptoms of APD using startle reflex methods in 108 adult male prisoners. Deficits in blink reflex potentiation during aversive picture viewing were found in relation to the affective-interpersonal (Factor 1) component of psychopathy, and to a lesser extent in relation to the antisocial deviance (Factor 2) component of psychopathy and symptoms of APD-but only as a function of their overlap with affective-interpersonal features of psychopathy. These findings provide clear evidence that deficits in defensive reactivity are linked specifically to the affective-interpersonal features of psychopathy and not to the antisocial deviance features represented most strongly in APD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-258
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Volume120
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2011

Keywords

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Defensive reactivity
  • Fear
  • Psychopathy
  • Startle

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