Psychopathic tendencies are selectively associated with reduced emotional awareness in the context of early adversity

Ryan Smith, Anne E. Chuning, Colin A. Tidwell, John J.B. Allen, Richard D. Lane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


It is unclear at present whether psychopathic tendencies are associated with lower or higher levels of emotional awareness (EA). Given that psychopathy includes a proficiency for manipulating others, one might expect an elevated ability to identify and use information about others’ emotions. On the other hand, empathic deficits in psychopathy could arise from reduced emotional awareness. Further, heterogeneity in psychopathy may also play a role, wherein ‘secondary’ psychopathy is associated with early adversity and high negative affect, while ‘primary’ psychopathy is not. In this paper, we tested the relationship between EA and psychopathic tendencies in 177 undergraduate students (40 males) who completed the levels of emotional awareness scale (LEAS), the triarchic psychopathy measure (TPM), the affective (empathy-related) subscales of the interpersonal reactivity index (IRI), and two measures of early adversity: the childhood experiences of care and abuse questionnaire (CECA) and the childhood trauma questionnaire (CTQ). We found that lower LEAS scores were associated with higher TPM and lower IRI empathy scores, but these relationships were primarily present in those with early adversity and high negative affect. This suggests that lower EA may be selectively associated with higher levels of secondary psychopathy, while those with higher levels of primary psychopathy remain capable of higher EA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0277475
JournalPloS one
Issue number12 December
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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