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Altered Performance Monitoring in Psychopathy: A Review of Studies on Action Selection, Error, and Feedback Processing

Abstract

Psychopathy is a serious personality disorder characterized by a range of affective and behavioral adaptation deficits. Behavioral adaptation and individual as well as social functioning require monitoring of one’s behavior, i.e., performance monitoring. Performance monitoring has been associated with specific neurophysiological processes, for instance, an astoundingly uniform sequence in the human EEG. In this review, I will present evidence for altered and likely deficient performance monitoring processes in psychopathy, which can explain a range of behavioral deficits. Previous research, however, is also characterized by inconsistent findings and possible reasons will be discussed. Among some proposals for advancement of the field, applying a multidimensional and not unitary construct perspective of psychopathy may allow detection of unique or differential effects of psychopathic traits and therefore represents a particularly useful approach for future research. Neural responses related to performance monitoring are well-validated units of measurement, and recent research also highlights their value as targets and tools of intervention.

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Fig 1

Notes

  1. To this end, reported effects were first converted into effect sizes d and their standard errors using conversion formulas [see 55]. The converted effects were from Munro et al. [32] for the correlation between PCL-R scores and ERN amplitude at electrode site Cz (d = .847 [95% CI = −.499, 2.193]) and from Brazil et al. [33] for the group difference (d = .516 [95% CI = −.168, 1.2]). Second, OpenMetaAnalyst [54] was used to estimate the combined effect size and its confidence interval, using a random-effects model [DerSimonian-Laird approach; 56]. The resulting estimate was marginally significant (d = .584 [95% CI = −.026, 1.194], p = .061), indicating that there might be a reduced ERN in psychopathic offenders. This particular analysis was restricted to these two comparable studies, because the other studies reviewed either used different tasks or experimental contexts or investigated psychopathy from a different construct perspective.

  2. Interestingly, in one of the mentioned studies with non-significant findings [32], only file information was used to determine PCL-R scores, which seem to better capture impulsive-antisocial (factor 2) than interpersonal-affective features (factor 1; [58]). Hence, the marginal meta-analytic effect might also be associated with impulsive-antisocial features.

  3. In this regard, the experimental paradigm used in [74] might be of special interest for future research to disentangle otherwise integrated processes.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research through the German Research Foundation (DFG Grant EXC 302).

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Schulreich, S. Altered Performance Monitoring in Psychopathy: A Review of Studies on Action Selection, Error, and Feedback Processing. Curr Behav Neurosci Rep 3, 19–27 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40473-016-0061-x

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Keywords

  • Psychopathy
  • Performance monitoring
  • Behavioral adaptation
  • Error monitoring
  • Feedback processing
  • ERP
  • EEG
  • N2
  • ERN
  • FRN
  • Pe
  • Antisocial
  • Externalizing