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Psychopathy and language processing: an event-related potential (ERP) investigation Kiehl, Kent Anthony


Three experiments tested the hypothesis that psychopathy is associated with abnormal processing of semantic and affective verbal information. Experiments 1 and 2 investigated the ability of psychopaths to show behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) differentiation for concrete and abstract words. The relevant ERP components of the nonpsychopaths differentiated concrete and abstract words in a pattern consistent to that found with noncriminals. In contrast, psychopaths were less accurate than nonpsychopaths when categorizing abstract words and they failed to demonstrate the appropriate neural differentiation between concrete and abstract words. Experiment 3 explored the ability of psychopaths and nonpsychopaths to discriminate between words that differed in emotional polarity. Both groups responded faster to positive than to negative words. However, in nonpsychopaths the early (P200) and late components (P300 and Late Positive Complex) of the ERP were larger for the negative words than positive words. Psychopaths failed to show any ERP differentiation between positive and negative words. Additionally, in all three experiments, the ERPs of the psychopaths were characterized by a large centro-frontal negative-going wave in the 300 - 500 ms time window (N350). The functional significance of this large negative wave and related findings for understanding psychopathy are discussed.

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