Demonstrating emotional processing differences in psychopathy using affective ERP modulation


Address correspondence to: Nathaniel E. Anderson, Mind Research Network, 1101 Yale Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA. E-mail:


Psychopaths exhibit abnormalities processing emotional information, but there is less certainty regarding the role attention plays in these processes. We present data from two affective picture-viewing tasks comparing event-related potential (ERP) modulation effects when emotional information is present but not task relevant (Task 1) followed by a condition directing attention to the categorization of emotional content (Task 2). Controls show a robust, persistent ERP positivity (200–900 ms) associated with emotional target photos compared to neutral targets in both tasks. Individuals with psychopathy only showed this differentiation when explicitly attending to the emotional content of the photos (Task 2), and these effects remained smaller than the amplitude differences demonstrated by controls. Although abnormal allocation of attention may play a critical role, this cannot completely account for emotional processing deficits associated with psychopathy.