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Sensation-seeking in two groups of psychopaths differentiated on the basis of E. E. G. patterns Johnston, William Elsworth


A review of the literature on psychopathy indicated that the concept has been defined in many different ways, causing confusion among those attempting to understand and treat the disorder. Studies were reviewed which showed there is a high frequency of E.E.G. abnormality among psychopaths. These abnormalities usually consist of an excess of bilateral theta activity of a non-specific kind, but they may be focal, especially in the posterior temporal regions. Studies indicated that these abnormalities disappear over time. Various autonomic correlates of psychopathy were examined, and the theory evolved that psychopaths are chronically cortically underaroused, since much of the data indicated that the psychopath's optimal level of stimulation tends to be significantly higher than that which is considered normal. Psychopaths with E.E.G. abnormalities tend to behave in a more socially acceptable manner as they get older, whereas the prognosis for psychopaths in general is poor. The central hypothesis of this study was that psychopaths with E.E.G. abnormalities manifest asocial behaviour because of their pathological need for stimulation, while psychopaths with normal E.E.G.s manifest asocial behaviour due to factors unrelated to pathological stimulation seeking. Ss were 39 male inmates of three correctional institutions. All Ss were volunteers. Ss were placed in four groups; psychopaths with E.E.G. abnormalities, psychopaths with normal E.E.G.'s, non-psychopaths with E.E.G. abnormalities and non-psychopaths with normal E.E.G's. Due to sampling problems, the fourth group had only 9 Ss, while the other three groups contained 10 Ss each. M.M.P.I. scores were used to assign the diagnosis of psychopathy, while E.E.G. recordings were made and analysed by two competent technicians. Standard criteria were used in the diagnosis of psychopathy using the M.M.P.I.; tests used for analysis of E.E.G. configurations were also standard. Both are described in the study. The Sensation Seeking Scale was used as a measure of need for stimulation. All Ss completed the standard S.S.S. as well as a short form of the M.M.P.I. Activity Preference Questionnaire data was also obtained, but was not used in the analysis, as S.S.S. scores rendered this information redundant. The results supported the central hypothesis that psychopaths with abnormally slow E.E.G.s have stronger needs for varied sensory experience than do psychopaths with normal E.E.G.s or non-psychopaths. The results have important implications for diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of psychopaths. It appears logical to diag-nostically separate psychopaths with E.E.G. abnormalities from those with normal E.E.G.'s. Prognosis for the former group is good, and normalization of E.E.G. patterns could be speeded up through the use of biofeedback techniques. Suggestions for future research were made.

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