Upregulating Empathy: An EEG Study in Undergraduates with Psychopathic Traits
Danielle diFilipo1,2, Alexandra Bueno2, Lissete Gimenez-Arce2, Kayla Talbot2, Taylor Valentin2, Denice Vidals2, Jill Grose-Fifer1,2; 1The Graduate Center - CUNY, 2John Jay College of Criminal Justice - CUNY
Psychopathy is characterized by shallow emotion and a lack of empathy. We sought to determine whether deficiencies in the mirror neuron system are related to the empathy deficits found in psychopathy. We measured psychopathic traits using the Psychopathy Personality Inventory—Revised (PPI-R). In the first of two tasks, participants passively viewed happy, fearful, and sad faces from the NimStim set of emotional faces while completing a simple attention task. In the second task, participants were instructed to upregulate their emotional response to the same pictures. EEGs were recorded using 64 scalp electrodes in both tasks. We measured mu rhythm suppression, a marker of mirror neuron activity; the N170; and the LPP. All participants showed significantly increased mu suppression from the first to the second task. There was no relationship between psychopathic traits and mu suppression in either task. Participants with low and medium PPI-R Coldheartedness scores showed significantly more negative N170 amplitudes in the second task versus the first task, but those with high scores did not. Additionally, only participants with low Coldheartedness scores had significantly larger LPP amplitudes (400-600 ms) in the second task compared to first task for happy faces. These results suggest that people with higher levels of Coldheartedness have deficits in regulating their attention to emotionally salient information, even when explicitly instructed to do so. Yet, it appears that mirror neuron function is intact among those with psychopathic traits, at least in a non-forensic sample.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions