Reduced laughter contagion in boys at risk for psychopathy

O'Nions, Elizabeth, Lima, César F, Scott, Sophie, Roberts, Ruth, McCrory, Eamon and Viding, Essi (2017) Reduced laughter contagion in boys at risk for psychopathy. Current Biology, 27 (19). pp. 3049-3055. ISSN 0960-9822 Full text available

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Humans are intrinsically social animals, forming enduring affiliative bonds [1]. However, a striking minority with psychopathic traits, who present with violent and antisocial behaviours, tend to value other people only insofar as they contribute to their own advancement [2, 3]. Extant research has addressed the neurocognitive processes associated with aggression in such individuals, but we know remarkably little about processes underlying their atypical social affiliation. This is surprising, given the importance of affiliation and bonding in promoting social order and reducing aggression [4, 5]. Human laughter engages brain areas that facilitate social reciprocity and emotional resonance, consistent with its established role in promoting affiliation and social cohesion [6, 7, 8]. We show that, compared with typically developing boys, those at risk for antisocial behaviour in general (irrespective of their risk of psychopathy) display reduced neural response to laughter in the supplementary motor area, a premotor region thought to facilitate motor readiness to join in during social behavior [9, 10, 11]. Those at highest risk for developing psychopathy additionally show reduced neural responses to laughter in the anterior insula. This region is implicated in auditory-motor processing and in linking action tendencies with emotional experience and subjective feelings [10, 12, 13]. Furthermore, this same group reports reduced desire to join in with the laughter of others—a behavioural profile in part accounted for by the attenuated anterior insula response. These findings suggest that atypical processing of laughter could represent a novel mechanism that impoverishes social relationships and increases risk for psychopathy and antisocial behaviour.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (
Subjects: Disabilities & Disorders (mental & physical) > Behaviour Disorders
Sex Psychology > Males/Men
Department/People: Research

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