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Throwing light on the dark side of personality: reinforcement sensitivity theory and primary/secondary psychopathy in a student population

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In a student sample, we examined two major issues in relation to primary/secondary subtypes of psychopathy and the reinforcement sensitivity theory of personality: the roles played by (a) fear (related to the fight-flight-freeze system, FFFS) and anxiety (related to the behavioural inhibition system, BIS), and (b) different aspects of the behavioural approach system (BAS). Largely consistent with Corr’s (2010a) proposal concerning the neuropsychological deficits associated with the psychoticism–psychopathy continuum, results confirmed that low BIS activity was associated with both primary and secondary psychopathy; whereas low FFFS activity was associated with only primary psychopathy. In relation to the BAS, reward sensitivity and drive were positively related to primary psychopathy; whereas Fun Seeking was negatively related to primary psychopathy but positively related to secondary psychopathy. These results represent a more nuanced picture of FFFS/BIS/BAS and dispositional psychopathy in a student sample. Specifically, they challenge the view that low BIS is preferentially associated with primary psychopathy and a high BAS is preferentially associated with secondary psychopathy. Further work is needed to confirm that these findings extend to clinical and forensic psychopathy populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)532-536
Number of pages5
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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