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Keywords:

  • Psychopaths;
  • Conditioning;
  • Contingent negative variation;
  • Heart rate;
  • Electromyogram

Differential aversive Pavlovian conditioning with a foul odor as unconditioned stimulus (US) and neutral faces as conditioned stimuli (CS) was compared between 9 noncriminal psychopaths as defined by the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised and 12 healthy controls. Event-related potentials (ERP), heart rate, skin conductance response, corrugator EMG, and startle response potentiation as well as valence, arousal, and contingency of the CS were assessed. Whereas the healthy controls (HC) showed significant CS+/CS− differentiation, the psychopaths (PP) failed to exhibit a conditioned response although unconditioned responses were comparable between the groups. N100, P200, and P300 to the CSs revealed that psychopaths were not deficient in information processing and showed even better anticipatory responding than the HC group indicated by the terminal contingent negative variation (tCNV), that lacked, however, CS+ and CS− differentiation. These data indicate a deficit in association formation in psychopaths that may be related to deficient interaction of limbic-subcortical and cortical structures.