Brain Abnormalities in Psychopaths: A Meta-Analysis

By Nickerson, Sherry D. | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Brain Abnormalities in Psychopaths: A Meta-Analysis

Nickerson, Sherry D., North American Journal of Psychology

Yang and Raine (2009) provided a meta-analytic evaluation of 43 studies, dating from 1994 through 2007, involving brain imaging in antisocial, violent and psychopathic individuals. These studies reported significant impairments in the prefrontal cortex of antisocial individuals; specifically, impairments were shown in the right orbitofrontal cortex, right anterior cingulate cortex, and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to evaluate recent studies (2009-present) that assessed differences in functional imaging variables in the prefrontal cortex and their relationship to antisocial or psychopathic behavior.

Why is it important to study the relationship between brain physiology and psychopathy? First, it is necessary to find the cause of psychopathy in order to understand, diagnose, and formulate a program of treatment for these individuals. Second, the burgeoning field of brain imaging technology provides a more expansive look into the human brain in search of a biological basis for psychopathy. Third, the implications of these studies could advance the understanding of other related neuropsychiatric conditions such as sociopathic behavior, bipolar conditions, or aggressive tendency. Finally, it may be argued that, much like those with severe mental disabilities, the physiological determinants which cause psychopathy may diminish an individual's responsibility for criminal conduct (Hagerty, 2010).

The term psychopath has been described by Hare (1999) as a "self-centered, callous, and remorseless person profoundly lacking in empathy and the ability to form warm emotional relationships with others, a person who functions without the restraints of conscience" (p. 2). Psychopathy is considered a personality disorder and was specifically included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until it was conceptually merged in the DSM-III with antisocial personality disorder (APD). Researchers have criticized the DSM-IV's definition of antisocial personality disorder for its overemphasis on behavioral outcomes such as criminality and under-emphasis of the core personality features such as affective deficits (Hare, 1999). Recent changes in the DSM-V, however, seem to address this issue by listing the criteria for APD as a person having "significant impairments in the personality functioning manifest by: impairments in both self-functioning and interpersonal functioning as well as pathological personality traits in the domains of antagonism and disinhibition." (pp. 659-663). Unlike previous versions, this criterion takes into consideration the personality traits that are present in a psychopathic individual in addition to the antisocial behaviors.

Hare and Harpur (1991), provided the most widely used scale to measure psychopathy, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist--Revised (PCL-R). The PCL-R is a diagnostic tool created in the early 1990s for use in clinical, legal, and research settings to determine an individuals' level of psychopathic tendencies. The PCL-R assesses the following traits: "glib and superficial charm, exaggerated grandiosity, need for stimulation, pathological lying, cunning and manipulativeness, lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness), callousness and lack of empathy, parasitic lifestyle, poor behavioral controls, sexual promiscuity, early behavior problems, lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, failure to accept responsibility for own actions, many short-term marital relationships, juvenile delinquency, revocation of conditional release, and criminal versatility" (Hare & Harpur, 1991). Each of these characteristics is scored on a 3-point scale by an experienced rater during a semi-structured interview; additional materials are extracted from the subjects' institutional records. A score of 0 indicates that the item definitely does not describe the person; 1 that it describes somewhat or only in a limited sense; and 2 that it definitely does describe the individual. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Brain Abnormalities in Psychopaths: A Meta-Analysis


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.