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Journal article Open Access

Turning a Deaf Ear to Fear: Impaired Recognition of Vocal Affect in Psychopathic Individuals

James R. Blair, R.; Mitchell, Derek G. V.; Richell, Rebecca A.; Kelly, Steve; Leonard, Alan; Newman, Chris; Scott, Sophie K.

The processing of emotional expressions is fundamental for normal socialization 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 ability of adult psychopathic individuals to process vocal affect. Psychopathic and nonpsychopathic adults, defined by the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; R. D. Hare, 1991), were presented with neutral words spoken with intonations conveying happiness, disgust, anger, sadness, and fear and were asked to identify the emotion of the speaker on the basis of prosody. The results indicated that psychopathic inmates were particularly impaired in the recognition of fearful vocal affect. These results are interpreted with reference to the low-fear and violence inhibition mechanism models of psychopathy.
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