Elucidating the Relationship between Psychopathic Personality Traits and Fearlessness: A Reconsideration of the Low-fear Hypothesis
Deficits in fear have long been posited as an important etiological factor in the development of psychopathy, a personality disorder characterized by severe interpersonal and social impairments masked by an outward appearance of superficial affability. While there has been much empirical evidence establishing a link between psychopathy and deficits in fear, there are still many questions regarding the nature of this association and much ongoing debate surrounding the conceptualization of psychopathy and demarcation of fear into conscious and unconscious components. The current study examined the association between various theoretical models of psychopathy and different dimensons of fear in order to elucidate the relationship between psychopathic traits and fearlessness. Self-report and informant-report responses were collected on a battery of psychopathy and fear related measures in a mixed student and community sample (N = 305). Analysis of the fear measures revealed two higher order dimensions labeled ‘Danger Seeking’ and ‘Affective Fearlessness’, which were differently associated with different psychopathy trait domains. Overall, Danger Seeking was associated with most psychopathy domains across conceptual models, but Affective Fearlessness was only significantly associated with emotional stability features, suggesting that fear deficits in psychopathy may not extend to reduced emotional experience of fear. The current findings have implications for etiological theories of psychopathy, and future research should investigate further the relationship between psychopathy and different components of fear.
Advisor: Sellbom, Martin
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: psychopathy; fearlessness; low-fear hypothesis; emotion
Research Type: Thesis