Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Gibb, Brandon E.

Second Advisor

Donovick, Peter J.

Third Advisor

Inhoff, Albrecht; Wright, Kevin

Abstract

Researchers have described psychopaths as callous, cold-hearted individuals who show reduced empathic response to their victims. It is suggested that the inability to identify negative emotions, specifically fear, in individuals is what allows psychopaths to offend/take advantage of other people as they do not recognize the fear in victims that may otherwise deter victimization. This is the first study to examine how non-incarcerated individuals high on psychopathic personality traits process emotions. Additionally, eye-tracking technology was used to provide a more fine-grained assessment of attention. In contrast to hypotheses, the high psychopathic group did not differ from the low psychopathic or anxious control groups on any of the emotion processing tasks. This said, exploratory analyses revealed potentially interesting sex moderation effects. For example, men high on psychopathic personality spent more time looking at fearful eyes compared to men low on psychopathic personality and anxious men. Additionally, men low on psychopathic personality had more errors in identifying angry faces compared to men high on psychopathic personality and anxious men. Possible reasons for these findings as well as suggested areas of future research are discussed.

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