Emotion disrupts neural activity during selective attention in psychopathy

Naomi Sadeh, Jeffrey M. Spielberg, Wendy Heller, John D. Herrington, Anna S. Engels, Stacie L. Warren, Laura D. Crocker, Bradley P. Sutton, Gregory A. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dimensions of psychopathy are theorized to be associated with distinct cognitive and emotional abnormalities that may represent unique neurobiological risk factors for the disorder. This hypothesis was investigated by examining whether the psychopathic personality dimensions of fearless-dominance and impulsive-antisociality moderated neural activity and behavioral responses associated with selective attention and emotional processing during an emotion-word Stroop task in 49 adults. As predicted, the dimensions evidenced divergent selective-attention deficits and sensitivity to emotional distraction. Fearless-dominance was associated with disrupted attentional control to positive words, and activation in right superior frontal gyrus mediated the relationship between fearless-dominance and errors to positive words. In contrast, impulsive-antisociality evidenced increased behavioral interference to both positive and negative words and correlated positively with recruitment of regions associated with motivational salience (amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, insula), emotion regulation (temporal cortex, superior frontal gyrus) and attentional control (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex). Individuals high on both dimensions had increased recruitment of regions related to attentional control (temporal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex), response preparation (pre-/post-central gyri) and motivational value (orbitofrontal cortex) in response to negative words. These findings provide evidence that the psychopathy dimensions represent dual sets of risk factors characterized by divergent dysfunction in cognitive and affective processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsr092
Pages (from-to)235-246
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Emotional distraction
  • Fearless-dominance
  • FMRI
  • Impulsive-antisociality
  • Psychopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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