Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Response Modulation Deficits: Implications for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Psychopathy

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Response Modulation Deficits: Implications for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Psychopathy

Article excerpt

Laboratory evidence indicates that a specific information-processing deficiency underlies the behavioral manifestations of psychopathy. Specifically, the automatic direction of attention and controlled processing to stimuli or information that are peripheral to ongoing goal-directed behavior or a current response set occurs less readily in psychopathic individuals. We describe how this deficiency constitutes an impairment of the response modulation process, which, in turn, impedes adaptive self-regulatory functioning. This hypothesis is contrasted with the view that antisocial behavior is the essential or core feature of psychopathy, as well as with the position that psychopathy reflects a specific deficit in the processing of affective stimuli. Finally, implications of this hypothesis for the effectiveness of cognitive and behavioral interventions are discussed.

In recent years, the psychopathy construct has become increasingly prominent in the field of criminal justice. This circumstance is due largely to the demonstrated validity of a widely recognized measure of psychopathy-the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 1991). Incarcerated offenders who attain high PCL-R scores commit more than twice as many crimes and are two to five times more likely to reoffend compared to other prisoners (Hare, 1996; Kosson, Smith, & Newman, 1990; Serin, 1996). However, in contrast to the prominent role of the psychopathy construct in the criminal justice system, psychopathy is not currently recognized as a unique psychiatric diagnosis. Rather, individuals who meet the PCL-R criteria for psychopathy are likely to be diagnosed as suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD).

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition of the American Psychiatric Association (1994), characteristics or behaviors associated with APD include the repeated commission of illegal acts, deceitfulness, impulsivity, irritability and aggressiveness, disregard for the safety of self or others, irresponsibility, and lack of remorse. Nonetheless, as will be emphasized below, (a) although a psychopathic individual (P) may manifest these traits, the APD category includes many individuals who are not Ps (Hare, 1996), and (b) Ps should be considered distinct from other APD individuals for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment.

Fundamental to our theoretical perspective on psychopathy is the concept of response modulation, which we have defined as entailing brief and relatively automatic shifts of attention from the organization and implementation of goal-directed behavior to the evaluation of the behavior or response set. This shifting of attention is considered to be automatic in the sense that it is a "fast, parallel, fairly effortless process that is not limited by short-term memory (STM) capacity, is not under direct subject control, and is responsible for the performance of well-developed skilled behaviors" (Schneider, Dumais, & Shiffrin, 1984, p. 1). This type of process is 'activated automatically without the necessity of active control or attention by the subject" (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977, p. 2).

Although response modulation involves a process that is primarily automatic, it is responsible for the initiation of higher-order cognitive processing, which ultimately provides the context for exercising adaptive self-regulation (see Patterson & Newman, 1993). Kanfer and Gaelick (1986) identified three phases or processes associated with self regulation: (a) self-monitoring, or carefully observing one's own behavior, (b) self-evaluation, or comparing one's observed performance with one's performance standards, and (c) self-reinforcement, or one's positive or negative reactions to the self-evaluation. According to Kanfer and Gaelick (1986), self-regulatory processes are dependent upon controlled information processing, which differs qualitatively from automatic information processing, and is "a slow, generally serial, effortful, capacity-limited, subject-regulated processing mode that must be used to deal with novel or inconsistent information" (Schneider et al. …

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