Neuroticism and psychopathy predict brain activation during moral and nonmoral emotion regulation

Carla L. Harenski, Hee Kim Sang, Stephan Hamann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


Functional neuroimaging has identified brain regions associated with voluntary regulation of emotion, including the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. The neural mechanisms underlying individual differences in emotion regulation have not been extensively studied. We investigated the neural correlates of neuroticism and psychopathic personality traits in the context of an emotion regulation task. Results showed that amygdala activity elicited by unpleasant pictures was positively correlated with neuroticism and negatively correlated with a specific psychopathic trait related to emotional underreactivity. During active attempts to decrease emotional responses to unpleasant pictures, superior and ventrolateral prefrontal activity was positively correlated with psychopathy, but not with neuroticism. In contrast, dorsolateral prefrontal activity was positively correlated with neuroticism, but not with psychopathy. Psychopathy was also negatively correlated with medial prefrontal activity in response to pictures depicting moral violations, suggesting reduced emotional responses to moral stimuli in individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits. These results demonstrate dissociable influences of different personality traits on neural activity associated with responses to emotional stimuli and on the recruitment of regulationrelated brain activity during the active down-regulation of responses to negative emotional stimuli. These results have implications for the etiology of trait-based psychopathology involving emotional dysregulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Mar
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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