Psychopathy and Aggression: Examining the Role of Empathy
Hosker-Field, Ashley M.
MetadataShow full item record
Empirical research has consistently demonstrated a positive association between psychopathic traits and physical aggression (Campbell, Porter, & Santor, 2004; Gretton, Hare, & Catchpole, 2004; Raine et aI., 2006; Spain, Douglas, Poythress, & Epstein, 2004). Moreover, research has also found that the emotional/interpersonal (Factor 1) psychopathy traits tend to be more closely associated with goal oriented, proactive aggression, whereas the social deviance (Factor 2) psychopathy characteristics have been more closely linked to reactive aggression, which is perpetrated in response to threat or provocation (Flight & Forth, 2007). Blair (2004; 2005; 2006) has recently proposed the Integrated Emotions Systems Model (lES), which posits that the association between Factor 1 psychopathy traits and proactive aggression is due to amygdala dysfunction leading to failed moral socialization. Consequently, individuals who exhibit Factor 1 psychopathy traits do not experience affective empathy in response to distress cues exhibited by others, thus, preventing the inhibition of proactive aggression. The current investigation sought to test this model by examining the associations among the emotional/interpersonal (Factor 1) psychopathy traits, proactive aggression, and affective empathy. After accounting for head injury, Factor 2 psychopathy traits, reactive aggression, and cognitive empathy, it was hypothesized that 1) Factor 1 psychopathy traits would predict proactive aggression, and 2) that affective empathy is a common cause of Factor 1 psychopathy traits, proactive aggression, and of the relationship between these two constructs. This hypothesis assumed that (a) affective empathy would uniquely predict Factor 1 psychopathy traits, (b) that affective empathy would uniquely predict proactive aggression, and (c) that affective empathy would account for the relationship between Factor I psychopathy traits and proactive aggression. The total sample consisted of 137 male undergraduate students. Participants completed measures of psychopathy (SRP III; Paulhus, Hemphill, & Hare, in press), aggression (PCS; Marsee, Kimonis, & Frick, 2004; RPQ; Raine et at, 2006), dispositional cognitive and affective empathy (BES; Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006; TES; Spreng, McKinnon, Mar, & Levine, 2009), and situational cognitive and affective empathy in response to neutral and empathy eliciting video clips. Physiological indices (heart rate & electrodermal activity) of affective empathy were also obtained while participants viewed the neutral and empathy eliciting videos. Findings indicated that Factor I psychopathy traits predicted proactive aggression. In addition, results demonstrated that affective empathy predicted both Factor I psychopathy traits and proactive aggression. However, the association between affective empathy and proactive aggression appeared to be dependent on the conceptualization and measurement of affective empathy. Conversely, affective empathy did not appear to account for the relationship between Factor I psychopathy traits and proactive aggression. Overall, results demonstrated partial support for the IES model. Implications of the results, limitations of the study and future research directions are discussed.