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Psychopathic personality traits and cortisol response to stress: the role of sex, type of stressor, and menstrual phase.

Author(s): O'Leary MM, Taylor J, Eckel L

Affiliation(s): Florida State University, Department of Psychology, 1107 W. Call Street, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4301, USA. oleary@psy.fsu.edu

Publication date & source: 2010-07, Horm Behav., 58(2):250-6. Epub 2010 Mar 17.

Publication type: Randomized Controlled Trial

Previous research indicates that psychopathic personality traits are associated with lower cortisol secretion in response to stress in men but not in women. The current study explored whether prior null results for women were related to the latency of the cortisol stress response to two different types of stressors. Additionally, accuracy of self-reported menstrual phase was explored via salivary progesterone levels. A mixed-sex sample of 145 participants characterized by high (36 men, 37 women) and low (34 men, 38 women) scores on a screening measure of psychopathic personality traits were randomly assigned to either a performance-based stressor task or a social rejection stressor task. Salivary hormone samples were taken just prior to task onset (baseline) and at 0, 20, 40, and 60 min post-stressor. Results indicated that both men and women characterized by psychopathic personality traits exhibited lower stress-induced cortisol levels to the performance-based task in comparison with controls at 20 min post-stressor. The social rejection task produced a cortisol response 20 min post-stressor in the male controls only. Removal of women with low progesterone from the analyses strengthened the psychopathy group differences. Results could suggest that deficient cortisol production in response to stress might be another important neurobiological feature associated with psychopathic traits, and that biological verification of menstrual phase is an important aspect to obtaining accurate cortisol results in women. Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Page last updated: 2010-10-05

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