Electrophysiological correlates of empathic processing and its relation to psychopathic meanness.

Objective: A lack of empathy and the presence of predatory tendencies are considered key features of psychopathic meanness. Previous electrophysiological studies on empathy in relation to psychopathic traits have focused mainly on empathy for pain; therefore, little is known about the electrophysiological correlates of empathy in aggressive situations that are particularly relevant for psychopathic meanness. Method: We employed electroencephalography in a community sample (n = 70), the majority of whom had attained a higher level of education. All participants were screened for not having psychiatric conditions or criminal history. The P3 and late positive potential (LPP) event-related potentials and mu rhythm suppression were examined as indices of empathic processing during the observation of situations in which victims of aggression were depicted. Results: As predicted, it was found that persons with elevated levels of psychopathic meanness scored lower on trait empathy and assigned higher positive valence to the aggression scenes. It is interesting that those scoring higher on meanness also scored higher on empathy for the perpetrator. In addition, it was found that psychopathic meanness was negatively related to LPP amplitudes following pictures of aggressive situations. No significant associations were found between meanness and the P3 or between meanness and mu suppression. Conclusions: This study was the first to assess the electrophysiological signature of empathy during the processing of pictures depicting aggressive situations and the relationships with psychopathic meanness. The outcomes highlight the need for more integrative approaches to further study the complex pattern of relationships between empathy and psychopathic meanness. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)