The Two Factors of Psychopathy as Predictors of Autonomic Reactivity in Intimate Partner Abusers
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Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has emerged as a correlate of antisocial, impulsive, and violent behavior, including intimate partner violence (IPV). Several studies have found that psychopathic and/or criminal individuals tend to experience a blunted physiological response to stress-inducing stimuli and two competing theories have been offered as to the origins of this hypoarousal. One argues that psychopaths exhibit a dysfunctional fear learning response and the other argues instead that psychopaths experience chronic underarousal that leads them to engage in problematic sensation-seeking behavior. Although these two theories have been viewed as competing, in this paper we hypothesized that each theory could prove useful when applied to underlying factors of psychopathy. Specifically, we predicted that PPI-I (the interpersonal-affective component of psychopathy) would be positively correlated with IPV and negatively correlated with psychophysiological reactivity in a marital conflict task. Additionally, we predicted that PPI-II (the overt antisocial behavioral component of psychopathy) would be positively correlated with IPV and negatively correlated with baseline heart rate and skin conductance level. The results demonstrated a positive correlation between psychopathy and IPV only for PPI-I. None of the correlations between each of the factors of psychopathy and measures of physiological responding were significant. The current study also explored the moderating effect of severity of violence and conviction status in the relationships between psychopathy and psychophysiological responding, but found no significant moderators. These results suggest that future IPV intervention efforts may do well to target individuals high in PPI-I, particularly when treating severe forms of IPV.