Brain structural correlates of emotion recognition in psychopaths

Vanessa Pera-Guardiola, Oren Contreras-Rodríguez, Iolanda Batalla, David Kosson, José M. Menchón, Josep Pifarré, Javier Bosque, Narcís Cardoner, Carles Soriano-Mas

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© 2016 Pera-Guardiola et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Individuals with psychopathy present deficits in the recognition of facial emotional expressions. However, the nature and extent of these alterations are not fully understood. Furthermore, available data on the functional neural correlates of emotional face recognition deficits in adult psychopaths have provided mixed results. In this context, emotional face morphing tasks may be suitable for clarifying mild and emotion-specific impairments in psychopaths. Likewise, studies exploring corresponding anatomical correlates may be useful for disentangling available neurofunctional evidence based on the alleged neurodevelopmental roots of psychopathic traits. We used Voxel-Based Morphometry and a morphed emotional face expression recognition task to evaluate the relationship between regional gray matter (GM) volumes and facial emotion recognition deficits in male psychopaths. In comparison to male healthy controls, psychopaths showed deficits in the recognition of sad, happy and fear emotional expressions. In subsequent brain imaging analyses psychopaths with better recognition of facial emotional expressions showed higher volume in the prefrontal cortex (orbitofrontal, inferior frontal and dorsomedial prefrontal cortices), somatosensory cortex, anterior insula, cingulate cortex and the posterior lobe of the cerebellum. Amygdala and temporal lobe volumes contributed to better emotional face recognition in controls only. These findings provide evidence suggesting that variability in brain morphometry plays a role in accounting for psychopaths' impaired ability to recognize emotional face expressions, and may have implications for comprehensively characterizing the empathy and social cognition dysfunctions typically observed in this population of subjects.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0149807
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


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