Frontal alpha asymmetry and emotional processing in youth with psychopathic traits
Emotional processing deficits are often considered central to psychopathy. There is evidence that those high in psychopathy pay less attention to emotional stimuli, and it is possible that these individuals experience diminished withdrawal motivation or heightened approach motivation in response to emotional stimuli. Studying emotional processing abnormalities, especially among youth, may be essential for better understanding psychopathy’s development and for informing early intervention efforts. However, relatively few studies on psychopathy have experimentally manipulated emotional processing, and despite the growing literature on neuroscience and psychopathy, there are aspects of neural activity that have yet to be investigated. The current study used a sample of justice-involved youth to examine how psychopathy relates to frontal alpha asymmetry, a neural correlate of approach and withdrawal motivation, during different emotional processing tasks. Youth were asked to process emotional stimuli spontaneously as well as to increase and decrease their responses to emotional stimuli. The study’s results indicate that total psychopathy and callous-unemotional traits are associated with greater approach motivation (i.e. greater relative left cortical activity) at rest and during emotional processing. Youth high in callous-unemotional traits also appear to have some ability to modulate their emotional responding. These findings may have treatment implications for youth high in psychopathic traits.