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Visual P3 amplitude and self-reported psychopathic personality traits: Frontal reduction is associated with self-centered impulsivity


  • This research was supported by faculty start-up funds supplied to the first author by the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Arts, and a grant from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Ms. McLarnon is now affiliated with Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Address reprint requests to: Scott R. Carlson, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada. E-mail:


Past studies have examined P3 amplitude as an index of cognitive function related to psychopathy with mixed results. Psychopathy is a heterogeneous set of dissociable traits, and no previous study has examined relationships between P3 and specific traits. A Two Process Theory (TPT) of psychopathy has recently been advanced predicting that P3 reductions are related to only one dimension. We evaluated the relationship between P3 and the two factors of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI) in 96 undergraduates who performed a visual task. One factor of the PPI, Self-Centered Impulsivity, is related to the dimension of the TPT predicted to underlie P3 reduction. Frontal amplitude reduction was uniquely and inversely related to this trait. The other PPI factor, Fearless Dominance, was associated with faster reaction times. Future work on psychopathic personality and P3 should evaluate whether relationships are unique to one personality dimension.