Award Date

8-1-2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Committee Member

Stephen Benning

Second Committee Member

Kimberly Barchard

Third Committee Member

Andrew Freeman

Fourth Committee Member

Peter Gray

Number of Pages

149

Abstract

Psychopathy is a distinctive personality disorder with an array of interpersonal and affective deficits. In particular, deficits in affective and cognitive empathy skills are noted to be a central feature of psychopathy. Specifically, the construct of psychopathic meanness, which is conceptualized as a tendency to act aggressively without regard for others, is preferentially related to deficient empathy. To elucidate the relationship between psychopathic meanness and empathy, three studies were conducted utilizing the Meanness in Psychopathy-Self Report (MiP- SR). The MiP-SR is a new measure that parses apart the construct of psychopathic meanness into three factors: Malice, Coldness, and Imperviousness. MiP-SR also includes several empathy subscales that capture positive and negative emotional contagion, cognitive empathy, and emotional perception abilities; together they allow for a comprehensive examination of empathy.

The first study established the construct validity of the MiP-SR’s empathy subscales in a large community sample. In Study 2, an undergraduate student sample underwent a laboratory stressor while in the presence of a friend. As captured by the postauricular and startle blink reflexes, psychopathic meanness was not implicated in deficits with emotional reactivity. In Study 3, undergraduate students underwent a behavioral laboratory task designed to elicit aggression while psychophysiological data was recorded. While there were no significant findings with the psychophysiological measures, Imperviousness was related to and predicted instrumental behavioral aggression. Furthermore, empathy was largely unrelated to behavioral aggression. Overall, this dissertation brings forth questions regarding the role of empathy within the construct of psychopathic meanness. Given that the MiP-SR’s empathy subscales do indeed appear to be capturing empathy, the null finding from Study 2 raises questions regarding the distinction in one’s ability to provide and benefit from receiving empathy. Study 3 elucidates the role of maladaptive boldness (i.e., Imperviousness) in aggressive behaviors, but also suggests that empathy and aggression are unrelated. These findings have important implications for understanding of how empathy deficits within psychopathic meanness manifest.

Keywords

Aggression; Empathy; Personality; Psychopathy; Psychophysiology

Disciplines

Biological Psychology | Clinical Psychology | Personality and Social Contexts

Language

English


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