Neural correlates of moral evaluation and psychopathic traits in male multi-problem young adults

Josjan Zijlmans*, Reshmi Marhe, Floor Bevaart, Marie Jolette A. Luijks, Laura van Duin, Henning Tiemeier, Arne Popma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Multi-problem young adults (18-27 years) present with a plethora of problems, including varying degrees of psychopathic traits. The amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) have been implicated in moral dysfunction in psychopathy in adolescents and adults, but no studies have been performed in populations in the transitional period to adulthood. We tested in multi-problem young adults the hypothesis that psychopathic traits are related to amygdala and vmPFC activity during moral evaluation. Additionally, we explored the relation between psychopathic traits and other regions consistently implicated in moral evaluation. Our final sample consisted of 100 multi-problem young adults and 22 healthy controls. During fMRI scanning, participants judged whether pictures showed a moral violation on a 1-4 scale. Whole brain analysis revealed neural correlates of moral evaluation consistent with the literature. Region of interest analyses revealed positive associations between the affective callous-unemotional dimension of psychopathy and activation in the left vmPFC, left superior temporal gyrus, and left cingulate. Our results are consistent with altered vmPFC function during moral evaluation in psychopathy, but we did not find evidence for amygdala involvement. Our findings indicate the affective callous-unemotional trait of psychopathy may be related to widespread altered activation patterns during moral evaluation in multi-problem young adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number248
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

This research project is funded by De Verre Bergen Foundation.
De Verre Bergen Foundation is a venture philanthropy
organization that aims to build a better Rotterdam through
substantial investments in innovative, impactful social ventures.
The financer was not involved in the design of the study nor
the drafting of the manuscript. Furthermore, the financer was
not involved in the process of data collection, analysis, and
interpretation. Contact information: Nanne Boonstra, Parklaan
22, 3016 BB Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Tel: 0031 10 209 2000;

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Zijlmans, Marhe, Bevaart, Luijks, van Duin, Tiemeier and Popma.

Research programs

  • EMC NIHES-01-64-01


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