University of Wisconsin–Madison

Fearlessness in Psychopathy

Fearlessness is a core clinical feature of Psychopathy. Many assume that this fear deficit results from impairment in the limbic system. We have convincingly demonstrated that reduced fear in Psychopathy is secondary to deficits in early selective attention. Specifically, psychopaths display deficient fear only when their attention is engaged early by goal-relevant stimuli that prevent subsequent attention and elaboration of threats. Conversely, when threats are goal-relevant or otherwise in the focus of attention, psychopaths exhibit robust, normative fear. More recently, Baskin-Sommers, Curtin, & Newman (2015) have provided preliminary evidence on how cognitive retraining tasks predicated on these deficits can serve to ameliorate this fear deficit and associated behavioral dysregulation.


  • Baskin-Sommers AR, Curtin JJ, Newman JP (2015). Altering the Cognitive-Affective Dysfunctions of Psychopathic and Externalizing Offender Subtypes with Cognitive Remediation. Clinical Psychological Science, 3, 45-57. PMC4426343 PDF
  • Baskin-Sommers AR, Curtin JJ, Newman JP (2013). Emotion-modulated startle in psychopathy: Clarifying familiar effects. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122, 458-468. PMC3640755. PDF
  • Baskin-Sommers AR, Curtin JJ, Newman JP (2011). Specifying the attentional selection that moderates the fearlessness of psychopathic offenders. Psychological Science, 22, 226-234. PMC3358698. PDF
  • Newman JP, Curtin JJ, Bertsch JD, Baskin-Sommers AR (2010). Attention moderates the fearlessness of psychopathic offenders. Biological Psychiatry, 67, 66-70. PMC2795048. PDF