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Detection threshold and tolerance level for electric shock in psychopaths Thorvaldson, Sveinn Albert


Detection threshold (DT) for electric shock under both incentive (IDT; cigarettes) and no-incentive (NIDT) conditions was determined in psychopathic and nonpsychopathic criminals and noncriminal controls (N=14 each group). A modified forced-choice procedure permitted E to vary stimulus intensity from trial to trial in an attempt to counteract boredom or inattentiveness. The use of a constant-current stimulator, a concentric electrode, and monitoring of skin/electrode impedance allowed reasonably precise control over current intensity. There were no differences between groups in NIDT or IDT, a result not consistent with previous findings of relatively high DTs in psychopaths. The result was interpreted in terms of the concept of arousal. An additional result was that IDT was lower than NIDT for all groups. Tolerance level (TL) for shock was also determined in the same groups under both no-incentive (NITL) and incentive (ITL; cigarettes) conditions. Although there was no difference between groups in NITL, psychopaths had a significantly higher ITL than the other groups. The result supported the hypothesis of relatively high stimulus tolerance in psychopaths. An additional result noted was that TL did not correlate with DT, a finding which appears consistent with evidence suggesting that the two parameters have somewhat different response determinants.

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