Studies that investigate the differences between high and low psychopathic persons in brain activity during emotional facial expression processing are rare and commonly focus on males. The current study assessed whether previously reported behavioral differences would be reflected in differential brain activity in a sample of female offenders. The participants included 23 female forensic inpatients with high and low scores on the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R). ERPs were recorded during presentation of emotional facial expressions (i.e., fear, angry, and happy). Results revealed no differences in N170, P3 and late positive potential components between groups, but a significant difference in N2 only for angry and fear facial expressions, with high psychopathic participants showing lower reactivity. This N2 effect was found to be related to Factor 2 but not Factor 1 of the PCL-R. In time frequency analysis, theta activity underlying N2 best reflected these differences. Findings in this female sample are consistent with a cortical deficit in processing facial expression of negative emotions in psychopathic men. In addition, differences in processing seem to appear relatively early.
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