The relationship between respiratory sinus arrhythmia, affective decision-making and psychopathic traits in aggressive youth

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The current study, which is a secondary data analysis from a larger grant-funded intervention research project, attempted to elucidate the relationship between psychopathic traits, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and performance on the Iowa Gambling Task. Approximately 120 10- and 11- year-old children were initially assessed at baseline, and 111 participants (67% male) comprised the final sample. Parents reported on observed behaviors indicative of psychopathic traits, as measured by the Antisocial Process Screening Device (i.e., impulsivity/conduct problems, callous-unemotional traits, and boldness). Children also completed the computerized version of the Iowa Gambling Task, an affective decision-making task with risky and advantageous decks of cards. During the task, electrodes measured interbeat interval, from which respiratory sinus arrhythmia was derived. While none of the analyses examining the influence of RSA, psychopathic traits, and their interaction was significant, a developmental trend was observed with regard to performance on the IGT and CU traits. Specifically, the correlation between CU traits and IGT performance in block five was significant for the oldest third of the sample, which suggests that affective decision-making is influenced by developmental level. This finding suggests that examining the construct of affective decision making in young samples is valid, but perhaps only in older youth (i.e., at least 10.5 years old in this sample).

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