The study of empathy at a neurological level has provided insight into the component processes that enable us to share each other's emotions, resonate with a person in need, and act in ways that benefit the other before the self. Individuals who act with blatant disregard for the well-being of others and behave as if they do not experience empathy are often characterized as psychopaths. Compared to other psychiatric disorders, little is known about the neurocognitive systems implicated in psychopathy, and there are currently no effective treatment protocols. Attention to the disorder is urgent: psychopathic criminals tend to be recidivistic and violent offenders, and the cost of their crimes to society reaches hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Determination of the nature of empathic deficits in psychopathic individuals will further guide intervention and treatment strategies in the clinical arena. The goal of this project is to explore the neurological mechanisms that underpin the function and dysfunction of the component processes of empathy and implicit emotion processing in 120 incarcerated offenders stratified into low, medium, and high scorers on Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R, 1991), along with 40 matched controls from the community. This project utilizes a mobile MRI system, which is brought to prisons to collect functional magnetic resonance imaging, structural and diffusion tensor imaging, autonomic nervous system measurements, and behavioral responses on-site at the correctional facilities. The tasks collected in the scanner will target the subjects'perception and interpretation of pain and emotions in others. Preliminary pilot data indicate that current theories, such as those hypothesizing chronic hypofunctioning of the amygdala or other limbic structures, may not be an accurate representation of actual deficits in psychopathy, since different patterns of activation, including amygdala and striatum activity, are so far seen in the psychopath group in response to our emotional stimuli. As well as shedding light onto the nature of empathy dysfunction within psychopathy, this project will provide a direct assessment for a model of empathy that relies on distributed information processing networks. A better knowledge of the mechanisms involved in empathy offers important implications for the examination and understanding of individuals with antisocial behavioral disorders, but complementarily, understanding which neural components of empathy are still intact and which differ in populations that are defined by patterns of counter-empathic behavior will help crystallize the understanding of the component processes which contribute to empathic behaviors in healthy adults. This translational project bridges social psychology and cognitive and affective neuroscience to bring to light the neural underpinnings of a costly societal problem at a systems and behavioral level. The findings of this research will expand our knowledge on the processes and mechanisms involved in the experience, expression, and regulation of emotion.
Psychopathy is a personality disorder with considerable negative impact on the welfare of society at large. Recently, interest in understanding and treating the disorder has surged, but without proper access and methods to ascertain the underlying biological and psychological differences behind psychopathy, treatments and interventions may be poorly informed. The proposed translational project investigates the component processes underlying empathy (a core feature of healthy interpersonal sensitivity that is deficient in psychopathy) and implicit emotion processing to examine these core faculties in incarcerated psychopaths, using magnetic resonance imaging. It marks the beginning of a systematic and empirical course of study designed to pinpoint the nature of empathic deficits in psychopathy such that directed targets for intervention and therapy can be effectively designed and implemented.
|Deming, Philip; Philippi, Carissa L; Wolf, Richard C et al. (2018) Psychopathic traits linked to alterations in neural activity during personality judgments of self and others. Neuroimage Clin 18:575-581|
|Espinoza, Flor A; Vergara, Victor M; Reyes, Daisy et al. (2018) Aberrant functional network connectivity in psychopathy from a large (N = 985) forensic sample. Hum Brain Mapp 39:2624-2634|
|Korponay, Cole; Pujara, Maia; Deming, Philip et al. (2017) Impulsive-antisocial psychopathic traits linked to increased volume and functional connectivity within prefrontal cortex. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 12:1169-1178|
|Korponay, Cole; Kosson, David S; Decety, Jean et al. (2017) Brain Volume Correlates with Duration of Abstinence from Substance Abuse in a Region-Specific and Substance-Specific Manner. Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging 2:626-635|
|Korponay, Cole; Pujara, Maia; Deming, Philip et al. (2017) Impulsive-antisocial dimension of psychopathy linked to enlargement and abnormal functional connectivity of the striatum. Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging 2:149-157|
|Smith, Karen E; Norman, Greg J; Decety, Jean (2017) The complexity of empathy during medical school training: evidence for positive changes. Med Educ 51:1146-1159|
|Anderson, Nathaniel E; Steele, Vaughn R; Maurer, J Michael et al. (2017) Differentiating emotional processing and attention in psychopathy with functional neuroimaging. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 17:491-515|
|Yoder, Keith J; Lahey, Benjamin B; Decety, Jean (2016) Callous traits in children with and without conduct problems predict reduced connectivity when viewing harm to others. Sci Rep 6:20216|
|Michalska, Kalina J; Zeffiro, Thomas A; Decety, Jean (2016) Brain response to viewing others being harmed in children with conduct disorder symptoms. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 57:510-9|
|Decety, Jean; Yoder, Keith J (2016) Empathy and motivation for justice: Cognitive empathy and concern, but not emotional empathy, predict sensitivity to injustice for others. Soc Neurosci 11:1-14|
Showing the most recent 10 out of 27 publications