Psychopathic individuals can feel fear, but face trouble while detecting threats and responding to it, a new study has found.
According to the study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, the researchers reviewed theoretical and empirical brain and behavioural data pertaining to fear and psychopathy and found that psychopathic individuals have trouble detecting threats.
There was little evidence that the conscious experience of fear was affected, indicating that the experience of fear may not be completely impaired in psychopathy.
The study provided empirical evidence that the automatic and conscious processes can be independently affected within one psychiatric disorder.
The researchers reviewed the relationship between fear and psychopathy in adult individuals and generated a model that separates brain mechanisms involved in automatic detection and responding to threats from those involved in the conscious experience of fear as an emotion.
The evidence for impairments in brain areas involved in the experience of fear was less consistent than is often assumed, indicating that the experience of fear may not be completely impaired in psychopathy.
The researchers showed that psychopathic individuals have trouble in the automatic detection and responsivity to threat but may in fact feel fear, providing direct empirical support that the conscious experience of fear may not be impaired in these individuals.
An additional meta-analysis examining the five other basic emotions found that there may also be impairments in the experience of happiness and anger, but the lack of consistency in the current literature precluded the generation of strong claims.
"As a consequence of our research, some very influential theories that assign prominent roles to fearlessness in the aetiology of psychopathy will need to be reconsidered and made consistent with current neuroscientific evidence," said Sylco Hoppenbrouwers, Researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.