Disrupted neural processing of emotional faces in psychopathy
Harrison, Ben J.
Ibern Regàs, Immaculada
Deus Yela, Juan
Menchón, José M.
Cardoner, N. (Narcís)
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Psychopaths show a reduced ability to recognize emotion facial expressions, which may disturb the interpersonal relationship development and successful social adaptation. Behavioral hypotheses point toward an association between emotion recognition deficits in psychopathy and amygdala dysfunction.
Our prediction was that amygdala dysfunction would combine deficient activation with disturbances in functional connectivity with cortical regions of the face-processing network. Twenty-two psychopaths and 22 control subjects were assessed and functional magnetic resonance maps were generated to identify both brain activation and task-induced functional connectivity using psychophysiological interaction analysis during an emotional face-matching task. Results showed significant amygdala activation in control subjects only, but differences between study groups did not reach statistical significance. In contrast, psychopaths showed significantly increased activation in visual and prefrontal areas, with this latest activation being associated with psychopaths affective–interpersonal disturbances. Psychophysiological interaction analyses revealed a reciprocal reduction in functional connectivity between the left amygdala and visual and prefrontal cortices. Our results suggest that emotional stimulation may evoke a relevant cortical response in psychopaths, but a disruption in the processing of emotional faces exists involving the reciprocal functional interaction between the amygdala and neocortex, consistent with the notion of a failure to integrate emotion into cognition in psychopathic individuals.