Set-Congruent Priming Stimuli Normalize the Information Processing of Psychopathic Offenders

  • Monika A. Dargis
  • Alexandra C. Mattern
  • Joseph P. Newman


Psychopathic individuals display characteristic deficits in processing emotion cues, the abstract meaning of words, and peripheral inhibitory cues, that have been linked to deficits in self-regulation and antisocial behavior. One view, supported by recent research, is that psychopathic individuals have difficulty processing set-incongruent information and that their difficulty may be ameliorated using task manipulations that establish a set-relevant focus of attention. We evaluated this characterization of the psychopathic deficit using a lexical decision (i.e., word recognition) task and priming manipulation that caused target stimuli to be set-congruent or set-incongruent. As predicted, low-anxious (i.e., primary) psychopathic participants displayed a significantly greater priming effect than low anxious non-psychopathic participants. The results highlight the potential value of priming relevant cognitive sets to overcome the costly information processing deficits associated with psychopathy. Treatment efforts emphasizing a balance of attention between primary and peripheral information may prove especially effective for reducing maladaptive behavior in psychopathic individuals.


Attention Anxiety Psychopathic personality Treatment Cognition 



The research was supported by grants MH53041 and DA030876 from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors acknowledge the essential cooperation of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. We also thank Leah Vaughn and Chad Brinkley for their assistance with the experimental task and Arielle Baskin-Sommers and Rachel Bencic for their assistance in preparing these data for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Experiment Participants

This study received approval by the university’s Institutional Review Board.


This work was supported by grants MH53041 and DA030876 from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Informed Consent

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


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monika A. Dargis
    • 1
  • Alexandra C. Mattern
    • 1
  • Joseph P. Newman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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