Psychopathy is a personality disorder associated with severely antisocial behavior and a host of cognitive and affective deficits. The neuropathological basis of the disorder has not been clearly established. Cortical thickness is a sensitive measure of brain structure that has been used to identify neurobiological abnormalities in a number of psychiatric disorders. The authors assessed cortical thickness and corresponding functional connectivity in psychopathic prison inmates.
Using T1 MRI data, the authors computed cortical thickness maps in a sample of adult male prison inmates selected on the basis of psychopathy diagnosis (21 psychopathic inmates and 31 nonpsychopathic inmates). Using resting-state functional MRI data from a subset of these inmates (20 psychopathic inmates and 20 nonpsychopathic inmates), the authors then computed functional connectivity within networks exhibiting significant thinning among psychopaths.
Relative to nonpsychopaths, psychopaths had significantly thinner cortex in a number of regions, including the left insula and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the left and right precentral gyri, the left and right anterior temporal cortices, and the right inferior frontal gyrus. These neurostructural differences were not due to differences in age, IQ, or substance use. Psychopaths also exhibited a corresponding reduction in functional connectivity between the left insula and the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.
Psychopathy is associated with a distinct pattern of cortical thinning and reduced functional connectivity.