Psychopathy, frustration, and reactive aggression: The role of ventromedial prefrontal cortex

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Psychopathy is a developmental disorder marked by emotional hyporesponsiveness and an increased risk for instrumental and reactive aggression. The increased risk for reactive aggression is the focus of the current paper. It will be argued that the increased risk for reactive aggression does not relate to an increased sensitivity to threatening stimuli since psychopathy is associated with a reduced sensitivity to threat. Instead, it is argued that the increased risk for reactive aggression relates to an increased risk for frustration; i.e., the emotional state following the performance of an action in the expectation of a particular reward and not receiving this reward. Two impairments seen in psychopathy would increase the risk for frustration and consequent potential reactive aggression; impairments in stimulus-reinforcement learning and reversal learning. It is argued that both are known consequences of impairment in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, one of the regions principally implicated in psychopathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-399
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2010


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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