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Dissociable effects of psychopathic traits on cortical and subcortical visual pathways during facial emotion processing: An ERP study on the N170

Authors

  • Pedro R. Almeida,

    Corresponding author
    1. Laboratory of Neuropsychophysiology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
    2. School of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
    • Address correspondence to: Pedro R. Almeida, Laboratório de Neuropsicofisiologia, Faculdade de Psicologia e de Ciências da Educação, Universidade do Porto – Rua Alfredo Allen, 4200-135 Porto, Portugal. E-mail: palmeida@fpce.up.pt

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  • Fernando Ferreira-Santos,

    1. Laboratory of Neuropsychophysiology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
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  • Joana B. Vieira,

    1. Laboratory of Neuropsychophysiology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
    2. Faculty of Medicine, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
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  • Pedro S. Moreira,

    1. Laboratory of Neuropsychophysiology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
    2. School of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
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  • Fernando Barbosa,

    1. Laboratory of Neuropsychophysiology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
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  • João Marques-Teixeira

    1. Laboratory of Neuropsychophysiology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
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  • Pedro R. Almeida (SFRH/BD/38711/2007), Fernando Ferreira-Santos (SFRH/BD/64071/2009), and Joana B. Vieira (SFRH/BD/76254/2011) were supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. The authors would like to thank Eva C. Martins for her suggestions regarding data anaysis and Sofia Leite for her assistance in data collection. The authors would further like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments that helped improve the quality of the paper.

Abstract

This study examined the relation between psychopathic traits and the brain response to facial emotion by analyzing the N170 component of the ERP. Fifty-four healthy participants were assessed for psychopathic traits and exposed to images of emotional and neutral faces with varying spatial frequency content. The N170 was modulated by the emotional expressions, irrespective of psychopathic traits. Fearless dominance was associated with a reduced N170, driven by the low spatial frequency components of the stimuli, and dependent on the tectopulvinar visual pathway. Conversely, coldheartedness was related to overall enhanced N170, suggesting mediation by geniculostriate processing. Results suggest that different dimensions of psychopathy are related to distinct facial emotion processing mechanisms and support the existence of both amygdala deficits and compensatory engagement of cortical structures for emotional processing in psychopathy.

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