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Keywords:

  • ADHD;
  • aggression;
  • antisocial behavior;
  • orbitofrontal cortex;
  • psychopathy;
  • response reversal

Background:  Previous work has inconsistently reported difficulties with response reversal/extinction in children with psychopathic tendencies.

Method:  We tested the hypothesis that the degree of impairment seen in children with psychopathic tendencies is a function of the salience of contingency change. We investigated the performance of children with psychopathic tendencies on a novel probabilistic response reversal task involving four conditions with gradated reward–punishment contingencies (100–0, 90–10, 80–20 and 70–30; i.e., for the 100–0 contingency, responding to one object is always rewarded while responding to the other is always punished).

Results:  In line with predictions, the impairment seen in the children with psychopathic tendencies was an inverse function of the salience of the contingency change.

Conclusions:  We suggest that this data is consistent with suggestions of subtle orbital frontal cortex impairment in children with psychopathic tendencies.