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Title page for ETD etd-05252017-102146

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Heritage, Allan James
Author's Email Address a.heritage@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-05252017-102146
Title Interactive Cognitive-Affective Deficits: A Theory of the Psychopathic Personality
Degree PhD
Department Psychology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Geoffrey F. Woodman Committee Chair
David H. Zald Committee Member
Owen D. Jones Committee Member
Sohee Park Committee Member
  • Emotion
  • Psychopathy
  • ERP
  • Attention
Date of Defense 2016-06-13
Availability unrestricted
Psychopathy is a pervasive and persistent personality disorder comprised of combination of a broad range of personality traits. These traits include low fear, diminished empathy, and a propensity to be manipulative, mixed with impulsivity, aggression, and reward seeking. These traits are associated with increased rates of substance abuse, interpersonal violence, and criminal behavior, all of which result in significant costs to society. Until very recently it has been hypothesized that the psychopathic personality is the result of either an underlying cognitive or affective deficit. The affective hypotheses have proposed an inability to experience fear, and by extension to learn from punishment, and to recognize fear in others, as the primary underlying deficit. The cognitive hypotheses have proposed impaired shifting attention from goal relevant or rewarding stimuli to contextual cues as the primary underlying deficit. More recently the Impaired Integration (II) hypothesis attempted to account for both cognitive and affective deficits in psychopathy and proposed deficient or altered connections between brain areas, leading to impaired integration of affective and perceptual information as the primary underlying deficit. However, the II hypothesis is still one primarily based in attentional differences and does not provide an adequate explanation for the unique behavioral and psychophysiological correlates associated with different psychopathy factors. Therefore, I put forth here an interactive theory of psychopathy that proposes a bi-directional interactive relationship between cognitive and affective deficits in psychopathy and accounts for differences between psychopathy factors by allowing for specific unitary deficits to be related to each factor. The two studies that make up this dissertation are first attempts to test this theory and demonstrate the bi-directional nature of these cognitive-affective interactions, as well as the differences in their expression between factors. Study One tested this theory by investigating the effect of potential rewards on attention and working memory as a function of psychopathic traits. Study Two investigated the influence of processing emotional faces on attention and working memory as a function of psychopathic traits. Both studies took advantage of the temporal resolution provided by event-related potentials (ERPS) to measure cognitive and affective processes during task performance. Overall, the evidence provided by these two studies provides initial support for the cognitive-affective interaction hypothesis of psychopathy. This evidence suggests specific relationships between cognitive processes and the impulsive antisocial factors of psychopathy, and between affective processes and the more interpersonal affective factors of psychopathy. Factors that measure callousness and lack of empathy were related to both cognitive and affective processes. These results also suggest broader interactions with both positive and negative affect, and not interactions that are fear specific. Furthermore, these results indicate that the interactive deficits underlying psychopathic traits may be limited to human emotions, and may not extend to affective reward processes. Finally, because of their relationship with both cognitive and affective processes, it may be those factors related most strongly to problematic interpersonal relationships such as meanness and coldheartedness that hold the key to truly understanding the etiology of the psychopathic personality.
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