Passive avoidance learning in individuals with psychopathy: Modulation by reward but not by punishment

R. J.R. Blair, D. G.V. Mitchell, A. Leonard, S. Budhani, K. S. Peschardt, C. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

84 Scopus citations


This study investigates the ability of individuals with psychopathy to perform passive avoidance learning and whether this ability is modulated by level of reinforcement/punishment. Nineteen psychopathic and 21 comparison individuals, as defined by the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (Hare, 1991), were given a passive avoidance task with a graded reinforcement schedule. Response to each rewarding number gained a point reward specific to that number (i.e., 1, 700, 1400 or 2000 points). Response to each punishing number lost a point punishment specific to that number (i.e., the loss of 1, 700, 1400 or 2000 points). In line with predictions, individuals with psychopathy made more passive avoidance errors than the comparison individuals. In addition, while the performance of both groups was modulated by level of reward, only the performance of the comparison population was modulated by level of punishment. The results are interpreted with reference to a computational account of the emotional learning impairment in individuals with psychopathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1179-1192
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 1 2004



  • Amygdala
  • Passive avoidance
  • Psychopathy
  • Punishment
  • Reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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