Behavioral and electrophysiological responses to fairness norm violations in antisocial offenders

  • Sarah Verena Mayer
  • Karsten Rauss
  • Gilles Pourtois
  • Aiste Jusyte
  • Michael Schönenberg
Original Paper


Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a stable, lifelong pattern of disregard for and violation of others’ rights. Disruptions in the representation of fairness norms may represent a key mechanism in the development and maintenance of this disorder. Here, we investigated fairness norm considerations and reactions to their violations. To examine electrophysiological correlates, we assessed the medial frontal negativity (MFN), an event-related potential previously linked to violations of social expectancy and norms. Incarcerated antisocial violent offenders (AVOs, n = 25) and healthy controls (CTLs, n = 24) acted as proposers in the dictator game (DG) and ultimatum game (UG) and received fair vs. unfair UG offers from either another human (social context) or a computer (non-social context). Results showed that AVOs made lower offers in the DG but not the UG, indicating more rational and strategic behavior. Most importantly, when acting as recipients in the UG, acceptance rates were modulated by social context in CTLs, while AVOs generally accepted more offers. Correspondingly, ERP data indicated pronounced MFN amplitudes following human offers in CTLs, whereas MFN amplitudes in AVOs were generally reduced. The current data suggest intact fairness norm representations but altered reactions to their violation in antisocial personality disorder.


Medial frontal negativity Ultimatum game Dictator game Social decision-making Fairness norms Antisocial personality disorder 



The authors would like to thank Elisabeth Künzel and Angelika Bertsche for their support in data collection. Moreover, we would like to thank the staff of the JVA Adelsheim, especially Dr. Wolfgang Stelly, for their support in implementing the study.


S. V. M. was supported by the Postgraduate Research Grants Program of Baden-Württemberg and subsequently by the FAZIT foundation. A. J. was supported by the Promotion of Junior Researchers Program at the University of Tübingen and the LEAD Graduate School [GSC1028], a project of the Excellence Initiative of the German federal and state governments. Aside from financial support, no further contributions were made by the funders.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None of the authors has any conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 15 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical Psychology und PsychotherapyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Neurophysiology and Interventional NeuropsychiatryUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral NeurobiologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  4. 4.Department of Experimental Clinical and Health PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  5. 5.LEAD Graduate School and Research NetworkUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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