Impaired processing of threat in psychopathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of factorial data in male offender populations

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Abstract

Background
Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by two underlying factors. Factor 1 (affective and interpersonal deficits) captures affective deficits, whilst Factor 2 (antisocial and impulsive/disorganised behaviours) captures life course persistent antisocial behaviours. Impaired processing of threat has been proposed as an aetiologically salient factor in the development of psychopathy, but the relationship of this impairment to the factorial structure of the disorder in adult male offenders is unclear.
Objectives
To investigate whether threat processing deficits are characteristic of psychopathy as a unitary construct or whether such deficits are specifically linked to higher scores on individual factors.
Data Sources
A systematic review of the literature was conducted by searching PubMed, Web of Science and PsycINFO.
Methods
Studies were included if they (1) reported physiological measures of threat response as the primary outcome measure (2) indexed psychopathy using a well-validated clinician rated instrument such as the PCL-R (3) investigated male offenders between 18 and 60 years of age (4) reported threat processing analyses using both Factor 1 and Factor 2 scores (5) provided sufficient data to calculate effect sizes and (6) were published in English-language peer-reviewed journals. We identified twelve studies with data on 1112 participants for the meta-analysis of the relationship with Factor 1 scores, and nine studies with data on 801 participants for the meta-analysis of the relationship with Factor 2 scores. We conducted the meta-analyses to calculate correlations using random-effects models.
Results
PCL-R/SV Factor 1 scores were significantly and negatively related to threat processing indices (r = -0.22, (95%CI [-0.28, -.017]). Neither PCL-R/SV Factor 2 scores (r = -0.005, 95%CI [-0.10, 0.09]), nor PCL-R total score (r = -0.05, (95%CI [-0.15, -0.04]) were related to threat processing indices. No significant heterogeneity was detected for the Factor score results.

Conclusions
The meta-analyses of the distinct psychopathy factors suggest that the threat processing deficits observed in male offenders with psychopathy are significantly associated with higher scores on Factor 1. A similar relationship does not exist with Factor 2 scores. Our findings highlight the importance of investigating the potentially discrete relationships between aetiological variables and the two factor constructs in the disorder.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLOS One
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Dec 2019

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