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Reconceptualizing antisocial deviance in neurobehavioral terms

  • Christopher J. Patrick (a1), C. Emily Durbin (a2) and Jason S. Moser (a2)

We propose that neuroscientific understanding of antisocial behavior can be advanced by focusing programmatic efforts on neurobehavioral trait constructs, that is, individual difference constructs with direct referents in neurobiology as well as behavior. As specific examples, we highlight inhibitory control and defensive reactivity as two such constructs with clear relevance for understanding antisocial behavior in the context of development. Variations in inhibitory control are theorized to reflect individual differences in the functioning of brain systems that operate to guide and inhibit behavior and regulate emotional response in the service of nonimmediate goals. Variations in defensive reactivity are posited to reflect individual differences in the sensitivity of the brain's aversive motivational (fear) system. We describe how these constructs have been conceptualized in the adult and child literatures and review work pertaining to traditional psychometric (rating and behaviorally based) assessment of these constructs and their known physiological correlates at differing ages as well as evidence linking these constructs to antisocial behavior problems in children and adults. We outline a psychoneurometric approach, which entails systematic development of neurobiological measures of target trait constructs through reference to psychological phenotypes, as a paradigm for linking clinical disorders to neurobiological systems. We provide a concrete illustration of this approach in the domain of externalizing proneness and discuss its broader implications for research on conduct disorder, antisocial personality, and psychopathy.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Christopher J. Patrick, Department of Psychology, Florida State University, 1107 West Call Street, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4301; E-mail:
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