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Face affect recognition deficits in personality-disordered offenders: association with psychopathy



Background. There is a limited literature examining face affect recognition in offenders. In line with the Integrated Emotion Systems (IES) model, existing studies suggest a psychopathy-related deficit in sad/fear recognition. However, many of these studies have small samples, and few include a healthy control group in order to examine the contribution of criminality.

Method. We compared the performance of male criminals with dissocial (antisocial) personality disorder (PD group) and healthy male IQ-matched controls, on a morphed face affect-processing task and examined the relationship between psychopathy (assessed using the Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version, PCL: SV), score and performance on this task in the PD sample.

Results. The PD group had a specific deficit in the recognition of sad facial affect that was present even at 100% expression intensity. This deficit could not be attributed to impulsive responding as the PD group generally had longer mean reaction times than healthy controls. Within the PD group, those with high scores on the PCL: SV were less accurate than low scorers at classifying sad facial affect. There was also a significant negative correlation between total psychopathy score and sad affect recognition accuracy. There were no specific relationships between affect recognition and the subcomponents of psychopathy.

Conclusions. The findings suggest that criminality/antisocial personality may be associated with a deficit in the recognition of aversive cues in others, and that this deficit is more severe in psychopathic offenders. The findings lend further support to the IES model.


Corresponding author

Edenfield Centre, Bolton, Salford and Trafford Mental Health Trust, Bury New Road, Manchester M25 3BL, UK. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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