Fear processing deficit in violent offenders: Intact attentional guidance but impaired explicit categorization.

Objective: Impaired recognition of fearful expressions has been documented across a wide range of antisocial populations but it remains unresolved whether this deficit reflects impaired attention to fearful expressions or is restricted to categorization. Here, we used visual search to investigate the relationship between impaired visual attention and emotion recognition in a group of violent offenders and healthy controls. Method: Task 1 measured attentional guidance by physical and affective saliency. Participants indicated the gender of a face identity singleton in an array of neutral distractor faces with a different identity. Singletons were paired with additional physical (color) or affective (happy, angry, fearful expression) task-irrelevant features. Task 2 used similar search displays but required participants to categorize the emotional expression of a happy, angry, or fearful target face in an array of neutral distractors. Results: In Task 1, both groups’ visual search was aided by both physical and affective features, providing no evidence for impaired incidental processing of affective or physical saliency in violent offenders. In Task 2, violent offenders showed impaired explicit categorization performance, particularly for fearful expressions. Visual search performance was not correlated with self-reported psychopathy. Conclusion: Impaired processing of affective stimuli in antisociality results from later processing stages related to explicit recognition and categorization. These deficits are not restricted to individuals with elevated psychopathic traits but are linked to antisociality more generally. These findings represent a first step in localizing the fear processing deficit along the processing hierarchy in violent offenders, demonstrating intact attentional guidance but impaired categorization. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)