Chosen and summarized by Nathalie Y. Gauthier

 

Drayton, L. A., Santos, L. R., & Baskin-Sommers, A. (2018). Psychopaths fail to automatically

 take the perspective of others. PNAS, 115, 3302-3307.

 

Corresponding author: Arielle Baskin-Sommers ([email protected]), Yale University

 This study examined the ability to understand others’ thoughts and beliefs (Theory of Mind) in a sample of 108 incarcerated male offenders. The study looked at automatic ToM as well as controlled ToM processes, given recent research that has found these 2 types of ToM are distinct. Participants were assessed using the PCL-R, as well as given a task where they were asked to take their own perspective (the view of the entire scene), or take the perspective of the avatar on screen (who could only see one side of the scene), and judge if the number displayed matched the amount of dots “seen” by the perspective they were assigned.

 

Some key findings:

·          Psychopathy was unrelated with accuracy in the task (consistent with previous research using traditional ToM tasks)

 

·          Psychopathy was associated with lower altercentric interference (psychopaths were less distracted by inconsistent numbers between the avatar and their own perspective on trials where they were told to take their own perspective)

 

·         There was no association between psychopathy and egocentric interference (both groups were equally likely to be distracted by inconsistencies between theirs and the avatar’s perspective on trials where they were deliberately told to take the avatar’s perspective).

 

·         Findings demonstrate that both groups (psychopaths and non-psychopaths) are able to deliberately take the perspective of the other when instructed to do so, but psychopaths were less likely to consider the perspective of the other automatically (as measured by altercentric interference).

 

·         Interaction between psychopathy score and each type of ToM deficit (as measured by low levels of altercentric and egocentric interference) was associated with higher numbers of assault charges (but the authors note that only altercentric interference was associated directly with psychopathy).

 

Important implications:

·         These results can help explain some of the inconsistent findings in previous research, with many finding that while psychopaths have deficits in understanding what others are feeling emotionally, they seem to have no deficits in ToM tasks, which traditionally only look at controlled ToM.

 

·         These findings also are consistent with research that finds that psychopathy is associated with goal-directed selective attention, and less likely to be deterred by others’ perspective (and empathy) if this is not consistent with their goal.