Psychopathic traits and facial expression recognition – scientific fact

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Face recognition is a basic component of interpersonal communication and paying attention to these non-verbal cues enables the viewer to infer the thoughts, emotional state and intentions of others [15]. If social cues are not attended to or incorrectly recognized they will misguide the observer from understanding the intention and actions that might follow. Several theories of psychopathy suggest that individuals with psychopathic traits process emotions differently than typically developing individuals, which is thought to contribute to their development of persistent antisocial behavior [16]. For example, Blair’s [16] violence inhibition mechanism (VIM) posits that individuals with psychopathic traits fail to experience the fear and sadness of others as aversive, leading to greater engagement in antisocial behavior.

There is robust evidence that adults [1718] and children with psychopathic and CU traits [459] show facial affect recognition impairments. However, there is controversy over whether this impairment is a general recognition deficit for all emotions [1920] or specifically in response to others’ fear [24521] or sadness [2223]. In line with this idea, Martin-Key and colleagues [2] found that higher levels of CP alone and CU-traits alone were linked to reduced fear recognition, whereas interactive effect between CP and CU-traits was associated with better fear recognition. This inconsistency in findings might reflect a failure to consider heterogeneity among individuals with psychopathic traits as preliminary research suggests that primary and secondary CU variants differ in their facial affect recognition and emotional attention processing [92223]. A recent study conducted with children with behavioral problems [9] taking anxiety into account found that emotion recognition deficits were more characteristic of primary CU traits. In contrast, Gillespie and colleagues [23] found no relationship between primary and secondary psychopathic traits and emotion recognition accuracy. However, the study conducted by Gillespie and colleagues [23] used a sample of young adults and did not take anxiety into account

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