Psychopathy and resting state EEG (theta/beta) in adolescent offenders
Psychopathy is a personality disorder that is underpinned by three factors including grandiose-manipulative, callous-unemotional, and daring-impulsive traits. Recently, researchers have turned to investigating the physiological correlates of psychopathy to more fully understand the etiology and neuronal functioning of the condition. However, few studies exist on the neurocorrelates of psychopathy within adolescent samples and little information is provided on the underlying dimensions of psychopathy. The aim of this study was to test neural functioning of 50 adolescents with varying degrees of psychopathic traits using EEG spectra analysis. Theta/beta ratio was examined in an 8-minute resting state task during which participants had their eyes-open (4 minutes) and eyes-closed (4 minutes). In addition, a go/no-go task paradigm was implemented to measure response inhibition which was indexed by percent error, mean response time, and post-error slowing. It was hypothesized that (1) total psychopathy scores and daring-impulsive (DI) subscale scores would be positively correlated with theta/beta ratio; (2) grandiose-manipulative (GM) and callous-unemotional (CU) subscale scores would be negligibly correlated with theta/beta ratio; (3) total psychopathy scores and DI subscale scores, would be negatively correlated with mean reaction time and post-error slowing on the go/no-go task; (4) GM subscale scores would be weakly positively correlated with mean reaction time and post-error slowing; and (5) CU subscale scores would be negligibly correlated with mean reaction time and post-error slowing on the go/no-go task. All study hypotheses were non-significant aside from one: total psychopathy scores were negatively correlated with post-error slowing on the go/no-go task. Overall, the findings show that those with elevated psychopathic traits do not differ from those with low levels of psychopathic traits in terms of their neuronal functioning at least based on theta and beta waves readings during a common EEG resting state task. This is an interesting finding as the theta and beta waves have been key markers linked to other related externalizing psychiatric conditions (i.e., ADHD). These findings show a point of departure from research in ADHD literature. Rather, findings may indicate individuals higher in psychopathic traits show similar levels of regulatory behavior as non-psychopathic individuals as indexed by theta and beta waves, although they did show less behavioral modulation as evidenced by the lack of post-error slowing on the go/no-go task.