, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 759-769
Date: 10 Jan 2012

Psychopathic Traits and Physiological Responses to Aversive Stimuli in Children Aged 9–11 Years

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Abstract

Atypical eletrodermal and cardiovascular response patterns in psychopathic individuals are thought to be biological indicators of fearless and disinhibition. This study investigated the relationship between psychopathic traits and these autonomic response patterns using a countdown task in 843 children (aged 9–10 years). Heart rate (HR) and non-specific skin conductance responses (NS-SCRs) were recorded while participants anticipated and reacted to 105 dB signaled or un-signaled white-noise bursts. Using multilevel regression models, both larger HR acceleration and fewer NS-SCR were found to be significantly associated with psychopathic traits during anticipation of signaled white-noise bursts. However, two divergent patterns appeared for HR and SCR: (1) larger HR acceleration was specific to the callousness-disinhibition factor of psychopathic traits while reduced NS-SCR was only associated with the manipulative-deceitfulness factor; (2) the negative association between the manipulative-deceitfulness factor and NS-SCR was only found in boys but not in girls. These findings replicated what has been found in psychopathic adults, suggesting that autonomic deficits present in children at risk may predispose them to later psychopathy. The divergent findings across psychopathic facets and sexes raised the possibility of different etiologies underlying psychopathy, which may in turn suggest multiple treatment strategies for boys and girls.