Psychopathic Traits Associate Differentially to Anger, Disgust and Fear Recognition among Men and Women

Abstract

Psychopathy is characterized by deficits in empathy and violation of the rights of others. Recent data link psychopathy-based lack of empathy to deficits in emotion recognition (ER), in particular fear and sadness. However, questions remain about emotions like anger and disgust and some studies even report a positive relationship between psychopathy and ER. Notably, the overwhelming majority of these studies have been conducted only with men, and studies in the general population suggest that women have better ER than men. To our knowledge, only two small studies have explicitly examined ER and psychopathy among women and they did find deficits in anger and disgust recognition. Therefore, mixed findings about ER and psychopathy may be due to gender differences that need to be clarified. This study aimed at bridging this gap using a large sample of 129 male (49 %) and 132 female (51 %) participants who completed psychopathy self-reports, and a computerized facial ER task. Among women there were deficits and advantages in ER: High social dominance and lack of anxiety traits were related to decreased fear and anger recognition respectively. Traits characterized by impulsiveness and rebelliousness were associated with better disgust and anger recognition respectively. For men, psychopathic traits characterized by ruthless manipulation of others, as well as lack of fear, were related to deficits recognizing anger. These results suggest that among women some psychopathic traits may confer an advantage in ER and give impetus for studies examining gender differences in the neurobiological substrates and manifestation of the syndrome.

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Correspondence to Lauren A. Delk.

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Lauren A. Delk, Leonardo Bobadilla, and Elizabeth N. Lima declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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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.

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Elizabeth N. Lima is now at the Charles George V.A. Medical Center, Asheville, NC.

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Delk, L.A., Bobadilla, L. & Lima, E.N. Psychopathic Traits Associate Differentially to Anger, Disgust and Fear Recognition among Men and Women. J Psychopathol Behav Assess 39, 25–34 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-016-9561-y

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Psychopathy
  • Emotion recognition
  • Empathy
  • PPI