Distinct neuronal patterns of positive and negative moral processing in psychopathy


S J Fede, J S Borg, P K Nyalakanti, C L Harenski, L M Cope, W Sinnott-Armstrong, M Koenigs, V D Calhoun, K A Kiehl.


Psychopathy is a disorder characterized by severe and frequent moral violations in multiple domains of life. Numerous studies have shown psychopathy-related limbic brain abnormalities during moral processing; however, these studies only examined negatively valenced moral stimuli. Here, we aimed to replicate prior psychopathy research on negative moral judgments and to extend this work by examining psychopathy-related abnormalities in the processing of controversial moral stimuli and positive moral processing. Incarcerated adult males (N = 245) completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging protocol on a mobile imaging system stationed at the prison. Psychopathy was assessed using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). Participants were then shown words describing three types of moral stimuli: wrong (e.g., stealing), not wrong (e.g., charity), and controversial (e.g., euthanasia). Participants rated each stimulus as either wrong or not wrong. PCL-R total scores were correlated with not wrong behavioral responses to wrong moral stimuli, and were inversely related to hemodynamic activity in the anterior cingulate cortex in the contrast of wrong textgreater not wrong. In the controversial textgreater noncontroversial comparison, psychopathy was inversely associated with activity in the temporal parietal junction and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These results indicate that psychopathy-related abnormalities are observed during the processing of complex, negative, and positive moral stimuli.

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