Phonological processing in psychopathic offenders

Kathleen M. Montry, Molly Simmonite, Vaughn R. Steele, Michael A. Brook, Kent A. Kiehl, David S. Kosson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Recent research has demonstrated that psychopathic offenders exhibit dynamic cognitive and behavioral deficits on a variety of lab tasks that differentially activate left hemisphere resources. The Left Hemisphere Activation (LHA) hypothesis is a cognitive perspective that aims to address these deficits by conceptualizing psychopathy as a disorder in which behavior and cognitive processing change dynamically as a function of the differential taxation of left hemisphere resources. This study aimed to investigate whether psychopathic traits are associated with electrophysiological anomalies under conditions that place differential demands on left hemisphere language processing systems. We examined in a sample of 43 incarcerated indivdiuals the evocation of the N320, an event-related potential (ERP) elicited by nontarget stimuli during a phonological/phonetic decision task that has been shown to elicit greater activation and cognitive processing within the left hemisphere than the right hemisphere. Findings for a subsample of 18 offenders low in psychopathic traits were generally consistent with previous findings in healthy individuals, suggesting similar electrophysiological activity during phonological processing. However, psychopathic traits impacted the amplitude of the N320. Higher levels of psychopathic traits were associated with reduced left-lateralization in phonological processing as well as enhanced ERP differentiation between pronounceable and nonpronounceable stimuli. These findings provide physiological evidence of a relationship between psychopathic traits and anomalous language processing at the phonological level of word processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-51
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Event-related potential (ERP)
  • Language
  • Left Hemisphere Activation (LHA) hypothesis
  • N320
  • Psychopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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