Psychophysiological and Neuropsychological Characteristics of Non-Incarcerated Adult Males with Higher Levels of Psychopathic Personality Traits

  • Eric H. Zimak
  • Julie Suhr
  • Elizabeth M. Bolinger


Although much research on psychopathic individuals has been conducted in incarcerated settings, there is increasing interest in studying adults with higher levels of psychopathic traits in the general population. The present study investigated differences in psychophysiological response and neuropsychological functioning between undergraduate males with higher levels of psychopathic traits (higher-p) and undergraduate males with lower levels of psychopathic traits (lower-p). Participants completed self-report measures and neuropsychological measures, and skin conductance response was measured during a risk-taking and affective-picture viewing task. Consistent with previous findings among samples of incarcerated psychopaths, higher-p adults exhibited diminished responses to aversive and positive affective stimuli and were more disinhibited on a motoric response inhibition task. Contrary to expectations, higher-p adults made marginally better decisions on a risky decision making task. Findings were discussed in relation to Gao and Raines’ (Behavioral Sciences & the Law 28(2) 194–210, 2010) model of the neurobiological underpinnings of adults with higher levels of psychopathic traits in non-incarcerated settings, and offer evidence that higher-p adults have both adaptive and non-adaptive traits.


Psychopathy Skin conductance response Impulsivity Risk-taking 


Conflict of Interest

All authors declare no potential conflict of interests.

Experiment Participants

The study received university institutional ethics review board approval. Procedures were performed in compliance with relevant laws and institutional review board guidelines. The data was collected with informed consent of the participants.


This research was supported in part by a grant to the first author from the Ohio University Graduate Student Senate. The authors would also like to thank the Ohio University Psychology Department for funding assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric H. Zimak
    • 1
    • 2
  • Julie Suhr
    • 1
  • Elizabeth M. Bolinger
    • 1
  1. 1.200 Porter Hall Department of PsychologyOhio UniversityAthensUSA
  2. 2.E. P. Bradley Hospital, The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Department of Psychiatry & Human BehaviorRiversideUSA

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