Adolescent Psychopathic Traits Negatively Relate to Hemodynamic Activity within the Basal Ganglia during Error-Related Processing

  • J. Michael MaurerEmail author
  • Vaughn R. Steele
  • Gina M. Vincent
  • Vikram Rao
  • Vince D. Calhoun
  • Kent A. Kiehl


Youth with elevated psychopathic traits exhibit a number of comparable neurocognitive deficits as adult psychopathic offenders, including error-related processing deficits. Subregions of the basal ganglia play an important, though indirect, role in error-related processing through connections with cortical areas including the anterior cingulate cortex. A number of recent structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (s/fMRI) studies have associated basal ganglia dysfunction in youth with elevated psychopathic traits, but these studies have not examined whether dysfunction occurring within subregions of the basal ganglia help contribute to error-related processing deficits previously observed in such at-risk youth. Here, we investigated error-related processing using a response inhibition Go/NoGo fMRI experimental paradigm in a large sample of incarcerated male adolescent offenders (n = 182). In the current report, psychopathy scores (measured via the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV)) were negatively related to hemodynamic activity within input nuclei of the basal ganglia (i.e., the caudate and nucleus accumbens), as well as intrinsic/output nuclei (i.e., the globus pallidus and substantia nigra) and related nuclei (i.e., the subthalamic nucleus) during error-related processing. This is the first evidence to suggest that error-related dysfunction previously observed in youth with elevated psychopathic traits may be related to underlying abnormalities occurring within subregions of the basal ganglia.


Juvenile delinquency Callous-unemotional traits Functional magnetic resonance imaging Error-related processing Basal ganglia 



This study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant R01 MH071896 (PI: Kiehl), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) grant R01 HD082257 (PI: Kiehl), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) K01 DA026502 (PI: Vincent), and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) P20 GM103472 (PI: Calhoun). JMM is supported by NIDA through grant number F31 DA043328. VRS is supported by the Intramural Research Program of NIDA, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, Maryland. We are grateful to the staff and clients (and parents) at the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center and the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department for their support and assistance in making this research possible. The authors thank Prashanth Nyalakanti for his assistance in data analysis.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All research protocols were approved by Ethical and Independent Review Services (E &I), the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), and the juvenile detention center where data collection occurred.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  2. 2.The Mind Research Network (MRN) & Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute (LBERI)AlbuquerqueUSA
  3. 3.Neuroimaging Research Branch, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Intramural Research ProgramNational Institutes of HealthBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Massachusetts Medical SchoolWorcesterUSA
  5. 5.Department of Neuro-OncologyMD Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  6. 6.Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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