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Examining the Relationship between Psychopathic Traits and Response Modulation Deficits among Adult and Adolescent Offenders


According to Newman's response modulation hypothesis, psychopathy is underpinned by a cognitive processing deficit that interferes with the ability to attend to peripheral information. However, recent research and theory suggests that externalizing traits are also associated with performance deficits on response modulation tasks. This confusion over the specificity of response modulation deficits has been extended downward to adolescent populations during a time when normal development processes may account for observed deficits. In this study of 84 adult and 98 adolescent offenders, I examined whether the association between response modulation deficits and psychopathy is driven by specific underlying affective, interpersonal, and externalizing traits or an interaction between traits (assessed by the PCL-R/PCL:YV and PPI/YPI). Results indicate that affective features of psychopathy (PCL-R Affective and PPI Coldheartedness) were independently associated with response modulation deficits among adults. In contrast, externalizing traits (PCL:YV Antisocial; trend for YPI Lifestyle) were associated with enhanced response modulation among adolescents whereas scales assessing affective-interpersonal features of psychopathy manifested less of a relationship with response modulation deficits (trend for YPI Interpersonal). These findings raise questions about the generalizability of response modulation and the assessment of psychopathy across developmental phases. 

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