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Title: Components of empathy and impulsivity : Functional neuroanatomy and implications for psychopathy
Author: Reniers, Renate Lucia Elisabeth Petronella
ISNI:       0000 0004 2685 6472
Awarding Body: The University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2010
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Empathy and impulsivity are defining characteristics of a psychopathic personality and constitute aspects of normal behaviour. This thesis examined these personality traits and their components in non-clinical samples to increase understanding of their underlying neurobehavioural mechanisms. The first study offered new definitions of cognitive and affective empathy. Based on these definitions, the Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy (QCAE) was developed using exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses. Reliability and factor structure were verified, and convergent and construct validity were demonstrated. The second study used structural equation modelling procedures to examine the relationships between empathy, impulsivity, primary and secondary psychopathy using self-report measures in a non-clinical sample. It was suggested that a psychopathic personality is not fundamentally different from a normal personality but exists at the extremes of common traits. Reviewing psychopathy through its relationships with adaptive personality traits in non-clinical and clinical populations may therefore be a promising approach for investigating the mechanisms underlying normal and pathological behaviour. The next study used fMRI to investigate the functional neuroanatomy of empathic perspective taking. This study directly compared different types of perspective taking and their modulation by emotional context. Areas previously implicated in empathy and ToM were reported for empathic perspective taking with the different forms of perspective taking revealing distinct roles for key structures. It was concluded that there is not one single mechanism that can account for empathic perspective taking per se. The fourth study used fMRI to investigate the neuronal correlates of impulsive and self-controlled choices in a context where each choice affected subsequent delay contingencies. Examination of the impact of strategic factors on neuronal correlates of intertemporal choice revealed two levels of inhibitory control: inhibition of an instinctive preference for short delay on any trial (mediated by VLPFC) and inhibition of single trial strategy to fit with a longer term, cross-trial strategy aimed at obtaining maximum money in minimum time (mediated by DLPFC). Strategic factors over a series of trials were concluded to critically modulate the neuronal basis of intertemporal choice. The final study examined the functional neuroanatomy of impulsive responding in the context of response inhibition. Examination of neural responses to commission errors and correct inhibitions associated with motor and attentional impulsivity revealed a central role for right inferior frontal gyrus. It was concluded that while different inhibition tasks depend on shared mechanisms, important differences can also be observed, reflecting the exact nature of the inhibitory process. It is argued that the new definitions and measure of empathy, the models on personality traits associated with psychopathy, combined with the functional imaging findings, have important implications for understanding normal behaviour as well as the traits, behaviours and underlying neural mechanisms of individuals with psychopathic personality.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available