Psychopathic traits and anticipatory application of executive control in a blocked Stroop paradigm
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Background: Research concerning executive functioning in psychopathic individuals currently yields ambiguous findings (Blair et al., 2006). There is evidence to suggest that primary psychopaths have intact and sometimes superior cognitive functioning (Ross et al., 2007) with secondary psychopaths displaying executive dysfunction (Sadeh & Verona, 2008). Furthermore, primary psychopaths have been shown to utilise cheating behaviour (Coyne & Thomas, 2008) and adaptive strategies to complete cognitive tasks (Belmore & Quinsey, 1994). Due to the findings that psychopathic individuals consistently demonstrate a comparable or reduced Stroop interference (e.g. Hiatt et al., 2004) it is suggested that application of cognitive control may have an intimate relationship with utilisation of strategies in primary psychopathic individuals Aim: The aim of the present study was to explore the use of strategic and anticipatory application of cognitive control between high and low subtypes of psychopathy using an optimally sensitive Stroop task. Method: Data from 29 participants was collected using a convenience sampling method. Participants completed a blocked version of the Stroop task and a self-report psychopathy measure (Levenson et al., 1995). Seven analyses were conducted on the highest 10 scorers for each subtype (overall, primary, and secondary psychopathy) against the lowest 10 scorers. The first three analyses utilised an experimental mixed factorial design and compared mean reaction times across the entire Stroop task. The fourth and fifth analyses employed an experimental between subjects design and examined Stroop interference between groups. Finally, the sixth and seventh analyses used an experimental mixed factorial design and compared reaction times to congruent trial 4 with reaction times to congruent trials 5, 6, and 7. Results: Individuals with higher levels of primary psychopathic traits demonstrated significantly faster reaction times across the Stroop task (p<0.05). No differences were found between any of the groups in terms of Stroop interference. Further, a significant interaction between the high primary group and time was found on the analyses concerning congruent trial 4 versus congruent trials 5, 6, and 7. Conclusion: The findings are discussed and interpreted as highlighting the strategic and anticipatory cognitive control utilised by high primary psychopathic individuals.
BSc (Hons) Psychology
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