Error-related brain activity in relation to psychopathic traits in multi-problem young adults: An ERP study

J. Zijlmans, F. Bevaart, L. van Duin, M. J. A. Luijks, A. Popma, R. Marhe

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One of the most prominent issues in psychopathy is the inability to adequately monitor one's performance and learn from one's mistakes. We investigated the relationship between psychopathic traits, as measured with the Youth Psychopathy Inventory – Short Version, and both early and late error-related brain activity in an at-risk sample of male young adults. These multi-problem young adults (age 18–27) are severely dysfunctional in society and suffer from multiple problems including financial problems, delinquency, psychological problems, and drug use. Our final sample consisted of 115 multi-problem young adults and 26 controls. Participants performed an Eriksen-Flanker task during EEG measurements. We used the difference wave of the error-related negativity (ΔERN) as a measure of early error processing and the error positivity (Pe) as a measure of late error processing. Multi-problem young adults showed reduced ERN amplitudes compared to controls, but did not differ in Pe amplitude. We found no statistically significant relation between psychopathic traits and ERN and Pe amplitudes within the multi-problem group. Thus, we found evidence for dysfunctional error-processing in multi-problem young adults compared to controls. However, within the multi-problem sample we did not find evidence for a relationship between psychopathic traits and dysfunctional error-processing. One explanation may be that this is due to the specific developmental stage of our young adult participants in which a transition between error-processing deficits, as present in adolescents high in psychopathic traits, and error-processing overcompensation, as present in adults high in psychopathic traits, may occur.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-53
JournalBiological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019

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