A selective impairment in the processing of sad and fearful expressions in children with psychopathic tendencies

R. J.R. Blair, E. Colledge, L. Murray, D. G.V. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

580 Scopus citations


The processing of emotional expressions is fundamental for normal socialisation and interaction. Reduced responsiveness to the expressions of sadness and fear has been implicated in the development of psychopathy (R. J. R. Blair, 1995). The current study investigates the sensitivity of children with psychopathic tendencies to facial expressions. Children with psychopathic tendencies and a comparison group, as defined by the Psychopathy Screening Device (PSD; P. J. Frick & R. D. Hare, in press), were presented with a cinematic display of a standardised set of facial expressions that depicted sadness, happiness, anger, disgust, fear, and surprise. Participants observed as these facial expressions slowly evolved through 20 successive frames of increasing intensity. The children with psychopathic tendencies presented with selective impairments; they needed significantly more stages before they could successfully recognise the sad expressions and even when the fearful expressions were at full intensity were significantly more likely to mistake them for another expression. These results are interpreted with reference to an amygdala and empathy impairment explanation of psychopathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-498
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala
  • Psychopathic tendencies
  • Psychopathy
  • Violence inhibition mechanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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