9th Annual Scholarship (April 2008)

​             made to  Dr. Jenny Yiend from England

on the subject of Emotion Regulation and Interpretation in Psychopathic Offenders

Report Abstract (773 words):

This study is part of a wider project looking at emotional engagement in group psychotherapy and its relationship with emotion processing in offenders undergoing treatment on a Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD) unit. DSPD is a recently defined political category (Howells et al, 2007) using clinical and psychological constructs including diagnosed DSM-IV personality diagnoses and levels of psychopathy (Hare, 1991). The unit on which our research is conducted provides a programme of group and individual psychotherapy for violent offenders who meet DSPD criteria. The study provides a unique opportunity to examine a rare sample which includes both Factor 1 and Factor 2 psychopaths. Factor 1 psychopathy describes the classic callous, arrogant, manipulative and unemotional individual and is often considered the affective dimension of psychopathy. Factor 2 psychopathy reflects the more behavioural aspects including reactive anger, impulsive violence and proneness to boredom.

The overall aim of the study is to investigate the degree to which emotion processing impairments mediate engagement in therapy. Our aim for the section of the study supported by the Eysenck award is to assess whether psychopathy level predicts participants’ ability to i) regulate emotions and ii) benignly interpret emotional ambiguity, when other individual difference variables are controlled. We predict that higher psychopathy level will predict greater impairment in emotion processing ability on both tasks beyond the effects of depression, anxiety, extraversion/introversion and psychoticism. We further predict that Factor 1, but not Factor 2, psychopathy will be related to greater negative interpretation of emotional ambiguity, whereas Factor 2, but not Factor 1, psychopathy will be related to poorer emotion regulation ability. 

In our sample (N=52) level of psychopathy correlated negatively with STAI anxiety (r =.34 p<0.05). No significant correlations were found with extraversion/introversion, neuroticism, psychoticism, (EPQ), empathy, impulsivity (IVE subscales), or depressiveness (BDI-II), ps > 0.2. Regression analyses confirmed that STAI trait anxiety was the only significant predictor of psychopathy scores and explained a significant amount of the variance, (R2 = .27), F (1,38) = 13.8, p<.005 [Degrees of freedom may vary due to data still being collected]. A group comparison of high and low psychopathy based on a median split (high = PCL-R >25, low = PCL-R ≤ 25) demonstrated that low psychopaths were significantly more trait anxious [t(48) = 2.7, p < 0.01] and had more empathy [t(48) = 2.0, p=0.05] than high psychopaths and displayed a trend to be less depressed [t(48) = 1.8, p < 0.07]. These data show that in our sample higher psychopathy was primarily associated with lower trait anxiety and less empathy. 

Factor 1 and Factor 2 subscales were examined separately. Higher Factor1 (affective component) scores were associated with lower levels of extraversion (r =.34 p<0.05), impulsivity (r =.37 p<0.05), neuroticism (r =.52 p<0.01), STAI anxiety (r =.53 p<0.01), and depression (r =.35 <0.05). Regression analyses confirmed that STAI trait anxiety remained the only significant predictor, R2 = .32, F (1,28) = 13.2, p<.005.

Higher factor 2 scores were significantly correlated with the lie scale (r =Higher Factor 2 scores were associated with lower neuroticism (r =.36, p<0.05) and lower anxiety (r =.35, p <0.05) although the strength of the association was less than for Factor1. Higher Factor2 scores were associated with lower levels of depression (r =.43, p <0.05). Regression analyses showed that BDI depression scores were the only significant predictors of Factor 2 psychopathy, R2 = .27, F (1,28) = 9.8, p<.005.

There was no association between level of psychopathy and the EPQ lie scale (ps > 0.2) (mean score = 8). Similarly, Factor 1 and Factor 2 subscales showed no significant correlation with the lie scale (p>0.1)

In our sample higher overall level of psychopathy was associated with lower trait anxiety.  The affective component of psychopathy (Factor 1) was most strongly associated (negatively) with STAI anxiety, whereas the behavioural component (Factor 2) was most strongly associated (negatively) with BDI depression.  This suggests that within the relatively high psychopathy range of our sample those who were the most emotionally callous tended to be the least anxious, whereas those who were the most behaviourally aggressive tended to be the least depressed. It will therefore be important to assess the variance in performance attributable to anxiety and depression when examining the effects of psychopathy on emotion regulation and interpretation in the next phase of data gathering and analysis.

This is a preliminary report and the main task data will follow later when the final report will be presented.


Howells, K. Krishnnan, G. & Daffern, M., (2007). Challenges in the treatment of dangerous and severe personality disorder. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 13, 325-332.

Hare, R. D. (1991). The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.


Scholarship 9