Antisocial Behavior: the Impact of Psychopathic Traits, Heart Rate Variability, and Gender

Lauren A. Delk, Derek P. Spangler, Roberto Guerra, Vincent Ly, Bradley A. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Psychopathic traits and emotion regulation (ER) deficits increase vulnerability to engage in antisocial behavior (ASB), even in community contexts (e.g., college students engaging in risky driving, plagiarism, assaults, etc.). These behaviors are often illegal and risk harm to others, motivating research to understand and manage them. However, the potential moderating role of ER on the relationship between psychopathy and ASB, and how this may vary by gender, is unknown. The present study examined this question using vagally mediated high frequency heart rate variability (HRV) as an autonomic nervous system correlate of ER. We hypothesized that meanness and disinhibition traits influence on ASB would be buffered by high resting HRV, and further vary by gender. Undergraduate students (n = 122, 65% female, ages 18–24 years, 71% Caucasian) reported on psychopathic traits and ASB prior to baseline HRV assessment. Psychopathic disinhibition uniquely predicted ASB in men and women. The role of meanness was qualified by gender and HRV. Specifically, high HRV in women buffered against high meanness expression as ASB, while the relationship was not significant for men. Findings suggest that expression of certain psychopathic traits as ASB may depend upon one’s gender and cardiac vagal ER processes. Thus, it may be helpful to consider biological factors in assessment and treatment of personality traits and antisocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)637-646
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


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