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The development of psychopathy

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The current review focuses on the construct of psychopathy, conceptualized as a clinical entity that is fundamentally distinct from a heterogeneous collection of syndromes encompassed by the term ‘conduct disorder’. We will provide an account of the development of psychopathy at multiple levels: ultimate causal (the genetic or social primary cause), molecular, neural, cognitive and behavioral. The following main claims will be made: (1) that there is a stronger genetic as opposed to social ultimate cause to this disorder. The types of social causes proposed (e.g., childhood sexual/physical abuse) should elevate emotional responsiveness, not lead to the specific form of reduced responsiveness seen in psychopathy; (2) The genetic influence leads to the emotional dysfunction that is the core of psychopathy; (3) The genetic influence at the molecular level remains unknown. However, it appears to impact the functional integrity of the amygdala and orbital/ventrolateral frontal cortex (and possibly additional systems); (4) Disruption within these two neural systems leads to impairment in the ability to form stimulus–reinforcement associations and to alter stimulus–response associations as a function of contingency change. These impairments disrupt the impact of standard socialization techniques and increase the risk for frustration-induced reactive aggression respectively.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Heath, Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MD, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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