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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring the relationship between psychopathic personality traits and executive function task ability in young adults and adults genetically at-risk for frontotemporal lobar dementia LaMarre, Amanda Kathleen


The construct of impulsivity plays an important role in personality theory, and is related to cognitive processes subsumed under the heading of executive functions. Moreover, a relationship appears to exist such that individual differences in executive function coincide with variations in impulsive personality traits. The prefrontal cortex has been proposed to be the neuroanatomical site which orchestrates the relationship between both personality and higher-order cognition. Psychopathologies and neurological disorders which display high levels of impulsivity and prefrontal cortex dysfunction, such as psychopathy and Frontotemporal Lobar dementia (FTLD), provide support for this suggestion. This thesis reports two studies which further investigate this relationship. In Study 1, undergraduate students completed the Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised (PPI-R) along with three tasks of executive function, the Stroop Task, Attention Networks Task (ANT) and the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). Hierarchical regression analysis indicates that the PPI-R Factor Score, Self-Centered Impulsivity, significantly predicts inability to implement an advantageous decision making strategy on the IGT. Neither Self-Centered Impulsivity, nor the other PPI-R Factor Score, Fearless Dominance predicted performance on any of the other tasks of executive function. In Study 2, individuals at familial risk for FTLD who were either symptomatic or asymptomatic for the disease completed the PPI-R, depression and anxiety questionnaires and a battery of tasks measuring attention and executive function. Results indicate that symptomatic individuals perform significantly worse on several measures of executive function than asymptomatic individuals but did not differ significantly with respect to mean levels of psychopathic personality traits. Partial correlational analysis demonstrated a significant negative relationship between Fearless Dominance and response latency on the Stroop task and ANT. Self-Centered Impulsivity was significantly positively related to total rule violations and negatively related to response time on Trail Making Test B. Fearless Dominance was significantly related to depressive symptoms and trait anxiety. Taken together, these results partially support the position that individuals with high levels of impulsive personality traits exhibit reduced executive function performance. It also contributes to the growing literature that suggests the factors comprising psychopathic personality relate differently to executive functions.

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