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Brain abnormalities in antisocial, psychopathic


Yaling Yang and Adrian Raine

Since the 19th century it has been speculated that structural and functional
impairment of the prefrontal cortex predisposes to antisocial, psychopathic
behaviour, but it is only in the last few years that brain imaging research
has been utilised to scientifically test this hypothesis. This review sum-
marises findings from brain imaging research on antisocial, psychopathic,
and aggressive individuals. It is concluded that impairments in a frontal-
temporal circuit (i.e. the ventral and lateral regions of the prefrontal cortex,
superior temporal gyrus, amygdala-hippocampal complex, and the anterior
cingulate cortex) may be associated with antisocial personality disorder and
psychopathy. It is hypothesised that abnormalities in frontal-temporal-sub-
cortical circuits may contribute, at least in part, to antisocial and psycho-
pathic features including poor inhibitory control, reward dominance, lack of
remorse, fearlessness, shallow affect, and impaired moral judgment. Stud-
ies with larger and more homogeneous antisocial groups are needed to fur-
ther examine this hypothesis. (Netherlands Journal of Psychology, 63, 156-

Keywords: Antisocial; psychopathy; brain imaging

Before Partridge introduced the term sociopa- cial behaviour, the search for the biological foun-
thy in the 1930s, the concept of psychopathy had dation of psychopathy only began after a tragic
been characterised as derangement of the moral accident happened over 150 years ago. Phineas
faculties (Rush, 1812) and moral insanity (Prit- Gage was a railway construction worker who was
chard, 1835). Such descriptions remain today as viewed as trustworthy, responsible, and well-
the most vivid portraits of those individuals who liked until an accident damaged his prefrontal
suffer from psychopathy. Although many social cortex. He almost completely recovered from the
and behavioural studies have been devoted to accident physically and had little trouble ambu-
the understanding of psychopathic and antiso- lating and communicating. However, his person-
ality underwent a radical change and became
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Programme,
psychopathic-like, irresponsible, profane, and
University of Southern California, USA
indifferent to social situations, so much so that
Correspondence to: A. Raine, Department of Psychology and
his family and friends described him as no
Neuroscience Programme, University of Southern California,
longer Gage. After his death, a careful examina-
USA, e-mail:
tion of his skull revealed damage to several pre-
Submitted 12 April 2007; revision accepted 30 July 2007.
Brain abnormalities in antisocial, psychopathic individuals 157

frontal regions, including the ventromedial pre- reward-tagged information is then output from
frontal and orbitofrontal cortices (Damasio, the ventral prefrontal regions to the dorsolateral
1994). and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices for final
Since then, the study of the human brain has decision-making (Goldman-Rakic, 1995; Fuster,
moved beyond the clinical arena and into the 1997). Lesion studies have found that patients
experimental laboratory. Functionally, positron with damage to the ventral prefrontal regions
emission tomography (PET) is used to measure demonstrate a significant alteration in personal-
brain glucose metabolism, single photon emis- ity described as the acquired sociopathic syn-
sion computerised tomography (SPECT) assesses drome, a syndrome that includes social disinhi-
regional blood flow, and functional magnetic bition, shallow affect, decreased empathy, and
resonance imaging (fMRI) measures real-time poor ability to predict the future consequences
blood flow and blood oxygenation level changes of their actions (Bechara & Damasio, 2000; Be-
in response to external stimuli. In terms of struc- chara, Dolan & Hindes, 2002; Damasio, 1994).
tural imaging, anatomical MRI (aMRI) is em- Although patients with adult-acquired lesions to
ployed most commonly to detect regional volu- the ventral prefrontal regions show no disrup-
metric abnormalities. In the past few years, accu- tion in moral reasoning, those with similar dam-
mulating knowledge supports the existence of a ages acquired early in life fail to learn factual
relationship between brain deficits and psycho- knowledge about accepted standards of moral
pathic behaviour. While prefrontal deficits seem behaviour, leading to both severely impaired
to be the most replicable finding in antisocial social behaviour and defective social and moral
psychopathic individuals (i.e. Dolan, Deakin, reasoning (Anderson, Bechara & Damasio, 1999).
Roberts & Anderson, 2002; Raine, Lencz, Bihrle,
LaCasse & Colletti, 2000; Yang, Raine, Lencz, With the increasing use of brain imaging in cog-
Bihrle, LaCasse & Colletti, 2005), recent studies nitive psychological research, evidence collected
have begun to reveal the involvement of several from healthy subjects has begun to confirm the
localised brain regions (ventral and lateral pre- involvement of the OFC and VMPFC in a com-
frontal areas, the superior temporal cortex, the plex chain of cognitive processes beginning with
amygdala-hippocampal complex, corpus callo- information receiving, followed by reward cod-
sum, anterior cingulate) that may represent risk ing and ending with ultimate decision-making.
factors for psychopathy (i.e. Laakso, Gunning- Recent fMRI studies have shown that the ventral
Dixon, Vaurio, Repo, Soininen & Tiihonen, 2002; prefrontal regions, particularly the VMPFC, are
Kiehl et al., 2001; Kiehl, Smith, Mendrek, For- activated during tasks in which participants are
ster, Hare & Liddle, 2004; Kruesi, Casanova, asked to attribute the mental states of others and
Mannheim & Johnson-Bilder, 2004; Vllm et al., make ethical decisions. For example, Greene,
2004). It is also worth clarifying that psychop- Sommerville, Nystrom, Darley and Cohen (2001)
athy and antisocial personality disorder (APD) found that reasoning about emotionally engag-
are different but related constructs; the majority ing ethical dilemmas (compared with dilemmas
of psychopaths have APD, but not everyone with that are less emotionally engaging) activates the
APD is psychopathic. To provide a more compre- medial prefrontal, posterior cingulate, and pos-
hensive review, this article will outline empirical terior superior temporal cortices. Similar find-
findings on individuals with antisocial, psycho- ings were reported by Moll et al. (2002) showing
pathic features to illustrate how structural and activation in the OFC and posterior superior
functional brain abnormalities may predispose temporal gyrus during passive viewing of scenes
to one to these disorders. Throughout this re- that evoke moral emotions (emotions involving
view article, if not otherwise stated, these indi- the interests or welfare of either society or
viduals have either a diagnosis of APD and/or others). Heekeren, Wartenburger, Schmidt,
psychopathy or have antisocial-related features Schwintowski and Villringer (2003) showed acti-
(e.g. aggression). The term antisocial, psycho- vation in bilateral VMPFC, left lateral PFC, and
pathic individuals will be used to refer to this temporal cortex during simple moral decisions
broad group. compared with semantic decisions. One conclu-
sion that could be drawn from these functional
imaging studies is that the functions of the OFC
Ventral prefrontal regions orbitofrontal and VMPFC are most directly involved in the
and ventromedial prefrontal cortex moral decision-making process, particularly
when it involves affective cues.
The ventral regions of the prefrontal cortex in-
clude the orbitofrontal (OFC) and ventromedial Only one study has been published to date exam-
prefrontal cortex (VMPFC, also known as the ining localised structural deficits in antisocial
rectal gyrus), and are densely connected with psychopathic individuals within the prefrontal
many brain regions including associated pre- cortex. Laakso et al. (2002) found reduced grey
frontal areas, the amygdala, and the basal gan- matter volumes in the OFC and left dorsolateral
glia. Such connectivity allows these regions to prefrontal cortex in antisocial individuals with
receive inputs on emotional information and alcoholism compared with controls. The authors
assign these inputs with reward values. The argued that the effects were abolished after con-
158 Netherlands Journal of Psychology

trolling for duration of alcoholism. However, (Dolan & Park, 2002). However, these regions,
due to the fact that this covariate (alcoholism especially the DLPFC, have been shown to be
duration) correlated very strongly with group linked to executive functions which have been
membership (i.e. all controls had zero onset age, found to be impaired in antisocial individuals as
all antisocial participants had some onset age), reported in several studies and reviews (Brower
this argument does not seem entirely warranted. & Price, 2001; Morgan & Lilienfeld, 2000; Gian-
The finding of reduced OFC volume is consis- cola & Mezzich, 2000; Fishbein, 2000; Stevens,
tent with several studies which tested the rela- Kaplan & Hesselbrock, 2003; Dolan & Park,
tionship between widespread prefrontal grey 2002). Debate does remain, though, as to
matter volume and antisocial, psychopathic in- whether executive functions are impaired spe-
dividuals (Laakso et al., 2002; Raine et al., 2000; cifically in psychopathic antisocial individuals.
Yang et al., 2005). Several fMRI studies on psy-
chopaths have also revealed OFC and/or VMPFC In order to investigate the possible involvement
dysfunction such as inability to inhibit re- of the DLPFC and VLPFC in antisocial, psycho-
sponses and abnormal affective information pro- pathic behaviour, information gathered from
cessing. One study showed different patterns of functional imaging studies on healthy subjects is
activation between antisocial individuals and essential in order to better understand the func-
normal controls during an inhibition task; the tional properties of these regions. First, several
control group showed right DLPFC and left OFC studies have tested the cognitive function of in-
activation, while individuals with APD showed a hibitory control, speculated to be influenced by
more bilateral and extended activation pattern these lateral prefrontal regions. Using fMRI,
across frontal regions (Vllm et al., 2004). An- Konishi, Nakajima, Uchida, Schihara and Mi-
other study showed greater activation of the yashita (1998) suggested that the right DLPFC
OFC during response inhibition in impulsive constitutes the neural underpinnings of re-
individuals, and suggested that this region is sponse inhibition. A more complicated neural
required in order to sustain behavioural inhibi- network was revealed by Garavan et al. (1999)
tion, and that greater engagement of the right who showed involvement of the DLPFC and
OFC was needed to maintain inhibition in im- VLPFC in response inhibition. Again, Liddle,
pulsive individuals (Horn, Dolan, Elliott, Deakin Kiehl and Smith (2001) showed significant acti-
& Woodruff, 2003). vation in the DLPFC and VLPFC during re-
sponse inhibition trials. A similar result was
Regarding abnormal affective information pro- found in a more recent study showing increased
cessing in psychopathy, Mller et al. (2003) re- activation in the DLPFC, the lateral OFC,
ported increased activation in right prefrontal anterior-medial prefrontal cortex, superior tem-
regions and the amygdala when viewing nega- poral gyrus and cingulate gyrus during the re-
tive pictures and the left OFC during viewing of sponse inhibition (Horn et al., 2003). These are
positive pictures in psychopathic individuals. among the many studies that indicate a strong
Using a fear-conditioning task, Birbaumer et al. connection between the inhibition control and
(2005) also showed deactivation in the OFC and the lateral prefrontal regions.
anterior cingulate cortex in psychopathic indi-
viduals compared with controls. Overall, these Another new perspective has associated the
studies indicate that functional and structural DLPFC and VLPFC to a more complex cognitive
deficits to the OFC and VMPFC may play a cru- function commonly seen in human interaction
cial role in psychopathic features such as impul- and communication: deception (the act of lying,
sivity, shallow affect, and indifference to moral cheating and manipulating others). This as-
rules. sumed connection is supported by several recent
fMRI studies using healthy individuals to per-
form deception tasks. For example, Spence, Far-
Lateral prefrontal regions dorsolateral and row, Herford, Wilkinson, Zheng and Woodruff
ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (2001) showed that lying about autobiographical
events was associated with increased activation
The lateral section of the prefrontal cortex con- in the bilateral VLPFC. Similarly, by asking the
tains two major functional areas the dorsolat- participants to fake memory loss, Lee et al. (2002)
eral and ventrolateral prefrontal regions. Ana- found a frontal-parietal-subcortical circuit in-
tomically, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex cluding the DLPFC to be activated during the
(DLPFC) covers most of the superior and middle deception task. Phan, Magalhaes, Ziemlewicz,
frontal cortices while the ventrolateral prefron- Fitzgerald, Green and Smith (2005) demon-
tal cortex (VLPFC) overlaps with the inferior strated to subjects before scanning that their
frontal cortex. The importance of the roles they performance and brain activity would be moni-
may play in predisposing to antisocial psycho- tored in real time to evoke performance anxiety
pathic behaviour remains debatable due to the about generating lies. In this study, they found
fact that lesions localised to these specific re- strong associations between increased activation
gions have been argued by some to not predis- in the DLPFC and VLPFC, as well as the dorso-
pose to antisocial, psychopathic personality medial prefrontal and superior temporal cortices
Brain abnormalities in antisocial, psychopathic individuals 159

when subjects provided false answers. Again, Superior temporal gyrus

Nunez, Casey, Egner, Hare and Hirsch (2005) re-
ported increased activation in the DLPFC, anter- The superior temporal gyrus (STG), including
ior cingulate cortex, caudate, and thalamic nu- Brodmann areas 41/42 (the primary auditory cor-
clei during deception. Overall, the above studies tex) and 22 (Wernickes area), is closely connected
provided some initial evidence supporting the with frontal, parietal, occipital and limbic re-
association between the lateral prefrontal re- gions. Not surprisingly, therefore, this region
gions and deception. has long been considered a key structure for pro-
cessing auditory information and comprehend-
Although it represents an intriguing issue, very ing sound-based language presentation. More
few studies have attempted to explore the struc- recently, however, researchers have also discov-
tural or functional integrity of the lateral pre- ered another functional role of the STG. It is a
frontal regions in psychopathic individuals. major player in the brain circuits that function
Structurally, only one aMRI has been conducted as the social brain along with the amygdala and
on antisocial personality disorder (Laakso et al., the OFC (Zilbovicius, Meresse, Chabane,
2002). As described above, the results indicated Brunelle, Samson & Boddaert, 2006). It has been
reduced grey matter volume in the left DLPFC proposed that the STG is involved in facial ex-
and the OFC in alcoholics with antisocial per- pression processing, while the amygdala and the
sonalities compared with controls. Regarding OFC link sensory representation of stimuli to
function, one recent fMRI study showed that their motivational value (Adolphs, 2003). Work-
patients found to have APD activated a different ing together, these regions facilitate efficient
neural network involving the DLPFC, VLPFC performance in social behavior such as coopera-
and anterior cingulate cortex during a response tive and altruism as well as coercion, deception
inhibition task compared with normal controls and manipulation towards others (Adolphs,
who instead activated the right DLPFC and OFC 1999, 2003; Byrne & Whiten, 1988; Dunbar,
(Vllm et al., 2004). Several studies have also 2003).
found a link between dysfunction in the lateral
prefrontal regions and impairments in process- An increasing number of functional studies on
ing affective stimuli in psychopathy. Schneider, healthy individuals are starting to provide evi-
Habel, Kessler, Posse, Grodd & Mller-Gartner dence confirming the involvement of the STG in
(2000) found increased activation in the DLPFC several social cognition functions, including
in individuals with APD during aversive classical moral decision-making and theory of mind (see
conditioning compared with decreased activa- Frith & Frith, 1999; Greene & Haidt, 2002; Alli-
tion in normal controls. Gordon, Baird & End son, Puce, & McCarthy, 2000 for reviews). For
(2004) showed increased activation in the right example, Heekeren, Wartenburger, Schmidt,
DLPFC but decreased right VLPFC activation in Prehn, Schwintowski and Villringer (2005)
individuals with high psychopathy scores com- found increased activation in the posterior STG,
pared with those with low scores during an af- several frontal regions, and the amygdala during
fect recognition task. However, inconsistent con- moral decision-making compared with semantic
clusions have also been raised in several neuro- decisions. Similarly, Moll et al. (2002) observed
psychological studies on the existence of the elevated activation in the STG as well as the OFC
DLPFC and VLPFC dysfunction in psychopathic and medial prefrontal regions during the view-
individuals (Hart, Forth & Hare (1990); Lapierre, ing of scenes that evoke moral emotions. Robert-
Braun & Hodgins (1995); Gorenstein, 1982). It is son et al. (2007) again demonstrated that sensi-
worth mentioning that the absence of normal tivity to moral issues is associated with increased
controls in some of these studies (i.e. Hart et al., activation in the posterior STG, medial prefron-
1990) makes it difficult to interpret whether tal region and posterior cingulate cortex. On the
DLPFC and VLPFC functioning is indeed associ- other hand, theory of mind (ToM) has been re-
ated with psychopathic behaviour. Most of the ferred to as the ability to attribute mental states
above functional imaging results support the (e.g. desires, intentions, and beliefs) to others,
hypothesis that the core personality features of and is another function linked to the STG as well
psychopathy may be a result of OFC dysfunc- as several other brain regions (e.g. the medial
tion, but that the additional involvement of prefrontal cortex, temporal poles). Vllm et al.
DLPFC dysfunction may additionally contribute (2006) revealed increased activation in the STG,
to the externalising behaviour problems seen in lateral OFC, and middle frontal gyrus in re-
antisocial, psychopathic individuals such as poor sponse to ToM stimuli. Brunet, Sarfati, Hardy-
planning, disorganisation, and difficulty keep- Bayle and Decety (2000) showed increased blood
ing in mind future consequences (Dinn & Harris, flow in the STG and prefrontal regions during
2000). the attribution of intention to others. Castelli,
Happe, Frith and Frith (2000) reported similar
results, showing that increased activation in the
STG and medial prefrontal cortex is associated
with mental state attribution. Vogeley et al.
(2001) again reported increased STG and anterior
160 Netherlands Journal of Psychology

cingulate cortex activation during modelling the tion, receives inputs from the temporal cortex,
mental states of others. Therefore, it may be con- the OFC and the hippocampus, and the central
cluded from these functional imaging studies part of the amygdala, and sends efferents back to
that this region may contribute crucially to so- the surrounding projection sites. Patients who
cial cognition in general and to efficient inter- have isolated lesions to the amygdala usually
personal communication in particular. show symptoms such as the inability to recogn-
ise fear from facial expressions and poor recollec-
Early computed tomographic studies of anti- tion of emotional events (i.e. Adolphs, Tranel &
social psychopathic adults found temporal lobe Denburg, 2000). On the other hand, the hippo-
abnormalities in some cases, although method- campus receives inputs from the prefrontal cor-
ological limitations and inconsistent findings tex, amygdala, and the cingulate cortex, and out-
make drawing conclusions difficult (Bassarath, puts information to several regions including
2001). Since then, studies conducted mainly on the fornix and the hypothalamus. When the hip-
aggressive and violent patients and offenders pocampus is damaged, patients usually show
have observed reduced temporal lobe volumes symptoms such as profound memory distur-
(Volkow et al., 1995; Amen, Stubblefield, Car- bance and impaired aversive classical condition-
michael & Thisted (1996), Wong et al., 1997; Hi- ing (Holscher, 2003; Otto & Poon, 2006).
rono, Mega, Dinov, Mishkin & Cummings
(2000); Dolan, Deakin, Roberts & Anderson As mentioned above, the amygdala and hippo-
(2002). One structural MRI study observed a sig- campus have long been considered part of the
nificant and widespread reduction in temporal brain circuitry implicated in processing, storing
grey matter volume in early onset conduct dis- and recollecting affective information. More spe-
order (Kruesi et al., 2004). However, no study to cifically, the amygdala is particularly responsive
date has revealed localised abnormalities in the to affective stimuli such as threat, fear and anx-
superior portion of the temporal lobe in anti- iety (Davidson & Irwin, 1999), while the hippo-
social psychopathic individuals. Functionally, campus is thought by some to play an important
one study found increased bilateral blood flow role in the processing of moral cognition (Moll,
in the frontotemporal regions during the pro- de Oliveira-Souze & Eslinger, 2003) and may fa-
cessing of emotional words (Intrator et al., 1997). cilitate conscious recollection of memories that
Alternatively, significant negative correlations allow past events to influence current decisions
were found between psychopathy (particularly (Casebeer, 2003). Recent fMRI studies using
the Factor 1 interpersonal features) and fronto- more specific affective stimuli have provided
temporal perfusion (Soderstrom, Hultin, Tull- confirmation indicating that the amygdala and
berg, Wikkelso, Ekholm & Forsman, 2002). the hippocampus are associated with negative
Using a working memory task, Raine et al. (2001) emotions such as fear and threat in healthy sub-
found reduced activation in the right temporal jects. For example, Whalen et al. (1998) first
lobe in violent offenders who had suffered child showed significantly increased amygdala activa-
abuse compared with non-violent but abused tion in response to masked fearful faces (which
individuals and normal controls. Another fMRI the subjects were unaware of consciously) and a
study conducted on psychopaths found that psy- decrease in amygdala activation when viewing
chopathic individuals fail to show the appropri- masked happy faces. Using threatening pictures,
ate neural differentiation between abstract and increased activation in the bilateral amygdala
concrete stimuli in the right STG, left VLPFC, was found when the pictures induced subjects
middle temporal cortex, and anterior cingulate fearful responses (Hariri, Mattay, Tessitore, Fera
cortex during a semantic task (Kiehl et al., 2004). & Weinberger, 2002). Similarly, by using fear-
Most of the above studies that reported temporal inducing pictures, Schienle et al. (2005) found a
lobe structural and functional abnormalities similar activation pattern including the
have also found co-existing frontal deficits. amygdala, the right hippocampus, and the right
Therefore, it is plausible that the findings of DLPFC in phobic patients compared with con-
temporal lobe deficits in antisocial psychopathic trols. Kuchinke, Jacobs, Grubich, Vo, Conrad and
individuals may in part reflect frontotemporal Herrmann (2005) also showed a distinct activa-
dysfunction. Still, the possibility remains that tion pattern including the hippocampus, the
additional structural or functional deficits to the cingulate cortex, and lingual gyrus during pre-
temporal lobe, especially the superior section, sentation of negative words. In conclusion, the
may be present in psychopathic individuals. amygdala-hippocampal complex is likely to be
responsible for the processing of emotion infor-
mation such as threat-related emotional re-
Amygdala-hippocampal complex sponding, fear conditioning, the appraisal of
fearful facial expressions (Hariri et al., 2002;
The amygdala is located adjacent to the hippo- Wehner et al., 1997), remembering the declara-
campus in the medial temporal lobe and is tive facts of negative stimuli, and the establish-
densely interconnected with the hippocampus, ment of their context (Schienle et al., 2005;
forming the amygdala-hippocampal complex. Wehner et al., 1997).
The amygdala, particularly the basolateral sec-
Brain abnormalities in antisocial, psychopathic individuals 161

Relationships between abnormalities in the matter volume, increased callosal length, and
amygdala-hippocampal complex and individu- increased functional interhemispheric connec-
als with antisocial, psychopathic behaviour have tivity compared with controls. The authors also
been found in several imaging studies. Laakso, argued that larger callosal volumes were associ-
Vaurio, Savolainen, Repo, Soininen and Tiihonen ated with affective and interpersonal deficits and
(2000) demonstrated reduced right hippocampal low spatial ability.
volume reductions in violent offenders with
APD who were also early-onset alcoholics com- Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) dysfunction has
pared with controls. Again, in 2001, Laakso et al. been linked to antisocial and psychopathic be-
found reduced posterior hippocampus volumes haviour in several functional imaging studies.
to be associated with increased psychopathy Kiehl et al. (2001) found that criminal psycho-
scores in antisocial alcoholics. Raine et al. (2004) paths showed significantly less affect-related
found that unsuccessful (caught) psychopaths activity in the ACC, posterior cingulate cortex,
showed an exaggerated anterior hippocampal amygdala, hippocampus, and parahippocampus
asymmetry (right > left) relative to both success- gyrus. Similarly, Sterzer et al. (2005) observed
ful psychopaths (not caught) and controls. Re- reduced activation in the right dorsal ACC and
garding the amygdala, one abstract has reported left amygdala during viewing of negative pic-
reduced volume in this structure to be associated tures in adolescents with severe conduct dis-
with increased psychopathy scores within a order. Recently, Kumari et al. (2006) revealed re-
sample of violent offenders (Tiihonen, Hodgins duced activation in the ACC in patients with
& Vaurio, 2000). Functionally, one study on mur- APD compared with controls during a working
derers found abnormal asymmetries of function- memory task. Although these studies on the ACC
ing, with murderers showing lower left and in- have provided some initial evidence for impair-
creased right functioning in both the amygdala ments in this region in antisocial individuals,
and hippocampus compared with controls more studies are needed to thoroughly examine
(Raine, Buchsbaum & LaCasse, 1997). Similarly, the involvement of other brain regions in predis-
Soderstrom et al. (2000) also found bilaterally posing antisocial psychopathic behaviour.
reduced hippocampal functioning in a group of
violent offenders. More recently, by using affec-
tive pictures as stimuli, a growing number of Limitations
fMRI studies have found abnormal amygdala
activation in psychopathic individuals and ado- This review inevitably has several limitations.
lescents with conduct disorders compared with Due to the fact that all studies conducted to date
normal controls (Schneider, Habel, Kessler, are cross-sectional, the causal relationship be-
Posse, Grodd & Mller-Gartner, 2000; Kiehl, et tween the brain pathology and antisocial, psy-
al. 2001; Mller et al., 2003; Veit et al., 2002; chopathic behavior remains in question. Al-
Sterzer, Stadler, Krebs, Kleinschmidt & Poustka, though it is possible that the observed structural
2005). These findings from functional imaging and functional deficits in these individuals rep-
studies suggest that while prefrontal deficits resent a consequence of their antisocial, psycho-
may play a major role in psychopathy traits such pathic features, it is likely that brain impairment
as poor inhibition control and chronic lying, im- is a key risk factor that could lead to the develop-
pairments in the amygdala-hippocampal com- ment of APD or psychopathy. Another limitation
plex may contribute crucially to key antisocial, concerns the heterogeneity in the antisocial and
psychopathic personality traits such as lack of psychopathic groups reviewed. In the literature,
empathy and shallow affect. individuals with multiple antisocial behavioural
patterns and psychopathic features are often
mixed together to form one subject group. In
Other brain areas corpus callosum and addition, many of the antisocial, psychopathic
anterior cingulate cortex individuals studied have comorbid psychiatric
disorders such as alcohol or drug abuse, which
Although the majority of studies on antisocial, may contribute to the brain deficits found. These
psychopathic individuals have been focusing on factors may influence the findings of these stud-
the prefrontal cortex and the temporal regions ies. Thus, future studies using well-defined anti-
(the STG and the amygdala-hippocampal com- social or psychopathic groups for which comor-
plex in particular), several studies have also re- bidities are carefully controlled are needed for a
vealed additional brain deficits in other brain more in-depth understanding of the biological
regions in psychopathic individuals such as the pathologies underlying these disorders.
corpus callosum and the anterior cingulate cor-
tex. Regarding the corpus callosum, Raine et al.
(1997) found that murderers exhibited decreased Conclusions
metabolic activity in the corpus callosum com-
pared with normal controls. Again, in a group of Psychopathic and antisocial individuals have
psychopathic antisocial individuals, Raine et al. been found to have abnormalities in the prefron-
(2003) found significant increased callosal white tal cortex, superior temporal cortex, the
162 Netherlands Journal of Psychology

amygdala-hippocampal complex, the corpus sum facilitates interhemispheric communica-

callosum, and the anterior cingulate cortex. The tion. Surrounding the corpus callosum, the ante-
functional significance of impairments in these rior cingulate cortex is centrally involved in
regions can be best understood by considering emotional processing and social behaviour.
findings from imaging studies on healthy indi- Given the evidence reviewed in this article, it is
viduals. Regarding the prefrontal cortex, the hypothesised that the structural and functional
ventral prefrontal regions (the OFC and VMPFC) abnormalities in the frontal-temporal circuit
are involved in decision-making processing that may contribute, at least in part, to antisocial and
involve reward or moral values, while the lateral psychopathic features including poor inhibition
regions (the DLPFC and VLPFC) mediate execu- control, reward dominance, lack of remorse,
tive function including response inhibition and fearlessness, shallow affect, and impaired moral
deception. The superior temporal gyrus is more judgment. Future research investigating loca-
involved in social cognition such as moral lised structural and functional deficits in these
decision-making and theory of mind. Sub- areas on a larger and more homogeneous sample
cortically, the amygdala-hippocampal complex of antisocial, psychopathic individuals is needed
plays a central role in processing and recollect- to examine this hypothesis.
ing affective information, while the corpus callo-


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