Examining the effect of psychopathic traits on gray matter volume in a community substance abuse sample

Lora M. Cope, Matthew S. Shane, Judith M. Segall, Prashanth K. Nyalakanti, Michael C. Stevens, Godfrey D. Pearlson, Vince D. Calhoun, Kent A. Kiehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Psychopathy is believed to be associated with brain abnormalities in both paralimbic (i.e., orbitofrontal cortex, insula, temporal pole, parahippocampal gyrus, posterior cingulate) and limbic (i.e., amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate) regions. Recent structural imaging studies in both community and prison samples are beginning to support this view. Sixty-six participants, recruited from community corrections centers, were administered the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Voxel-based morphometry was used to test the hypothesis that psychopathic traits would be associated with gray matter reductions in limbic and paralimbic regions. Effects of lifetime drug and alcohol use on gray matter volume were covaried. Psychopathic traits were negatively associated with gray matter volumes in right insula and right hippocampus. Additionally, psychopathic traits were positively associated with gray matter volumes in bilateral orbital frontal cortex and right anterior cingulate. Exploratory regression analyses indicated that gray matter volumes within right hippocampus and left orbital frontal cortex combined to explain 21.8% of the variance in psychopathy scores. These results support the notion that psychopathic traits are associated with abnormal limbic and paralimbic gray matter volume. Furthermore, gray matter increases in areas shown to be functionally impaired suggest that the structure-function relationship may be more nuanced than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-100
Number of pages10
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Nov 30 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Limbic structures
  • Paralimbic cortex
  • Structural MRI
  • Substance use
  • Voxel-based morphometry (VBM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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