Extending the construct of psychopathy to childhood: Testing associations with heart rate, skin conductance, and startle reactivity

Kostas A. Fanti, Ioannis Mavrommatis, Giorgos Georgiou, Melina Nicole Kyranides, Henrik Andershed, Olivier F. Colins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Previous studies have revealed associations between grandiosity, callous unemotionality, and impulsive dimensions of psychopathy with psychophysiological measures during adolescence and young adulthood. However, it is largely unknown if such associations can be identified earlier in life. The main aim of the current study was to investigate the associations between diverse psychophysiological measurements (heart rate, skin conductance, and startle reflex) assessed at rest and during exposure to emotional stimuli with the three dimensions of psychopathy. This was done in a sample of 147 children (Mage = 7.30, SD = 1.42; 44.2% girls) selected from a large screening sample (N = 1652). Participants watched video scenes and pictures eliciting different emotions, while their physiological reactions were monitored. Regarding baseline measures, results showed a negative relation between the impulsive dimension with baseline skin conductance. Hierarchical regression models controlling for age, gender, conduct problems, and the inter-relation between psychopathic traits, revealed several important associations. Lower heart-rate reactivity in response to sad video scenes and fearful pictures was uniquely associated with the callous-unemotional dimension. High startle reactivity in response to fearful emotional stimuli was associated with the grandiose (fearful pictures) and impulsive (fearful videos) dimensions. The present study provides new evidence and adds to existing knowledge regarding the distinct physiological processes associated with each dimension of psychopathy assessed in childhood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-38
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of psychopathology and behavioral assessment
Issue number1
Early online date10 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • psychopathic traits
  • psychophysiology
  • heart rate
  • skin conductance
  • startle reflex
  • children


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