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Genetic covariance between psychopathic traits and anticipatory skin conductance responses to threat: Evidence for a potential endophenotype

  • Pan Wang (a1), Yu Gao (a2), Joshua Isen (a3), Catherine Tuvblad (a1), Adrian Raine (a4) and Laura A. Baker (a1)...


The genetic architecture of the association between psychopathic traits and reduced skin conductance responses (SCRs) is poorly understood. By using 752 twins aged 9–10 years, this study investigated the heritability of two SCR measures (anticipatory SCRs to impending aversive stimuli and unconditioned SCRs to the aversive stimuli themselves) in a countdown task. The study also investigated the genetic and environmental sources of the covariance between these SCR measures and two psychopathic personality traits: impulsive/disinhibited (reflecting impulsive–antisocial tendencies) and manipulative/deceitful (reflecting the affective–interpersonal features). For anticipatory SCRs, 27%, 14%, and 59% of the variation was due to genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental effects, respectively, while the percentages for unconditioned SCRs were 44%, 2%, and 54%. The manipulative/deceitful (not impulsive/disinhibited) traits were negatively associated with both anticipatory SCRs (r = –.14, p < .05) and unconditioned SCRs (r = –.17, p < .05) in males only, with the former association significantly accounted for by genetic influences (r g = –.72). Reduced anticipatory SCRs represent a candidate endophenotype for the affective–interpersonal facets of psychopathic traits in males.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Pan Wang, University of Southern California, 3620 South McClintock Avenue, SGM 501, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061; E-mail:


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