What is it about?

People with psychopathy have difficulty empathizing with other people and are notorious for emotionally and physically harming other people. Past research has shown that people with psychopathy do not label another person's facial expressions - for example, "this person is afraid" or "this person is angry" - in the same way that healthy people do. Could this be because people with psychopathy do not automatically mimic another person's facial expressions or do not feel other bodily responses to facial expressions (as healthy people tend to)? We tested this question in a sample of incarcerated people with varying levels of psychopathic traits. But, contrary to our predictions, we found psychopathic traits were unrelated to how people labeled facial expressions, judged the degree of pleasantness the other person felt, mimicked the other person's face, or experienced other bodily responses (for example changes in heart rate).

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Why is it important?

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that takes a substantial toll on society, creating huge costs to the criminal justice system and emotional and physical trauma to victims. Lack of empathy is considered to be a core feature of psychopathy and a potential target for treatment. This study contributes to our understanding of how people with psychopathy use information from another person's facial expression, as well as information from their own body, to guess the other person's emotions (in other words, to empathize with the other person).


The data did not fit our predictions, but we still learned from the study. This study has led me to ask new questions about how people with psychopathy integrate information from their own bodies with information from their social environment in order to guide their behavior.

Dr. Philip Deming
Northeastern University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: An examination of autonomic and facial responses to prototypical facial emotion expressions in psychopathy, PLoS ONE, July 2022, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270713.
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