Background : Resonance is the phenomenon of unconsciously mirroring the motor actions of another person. Beside autism and schizophrenia psychopathic personality traits are associated with empathy dysfunction.
Methods: We explore empathic resonance in terms of contagion by laughing and yawning in a group of offenders with psychopathic traits. Offenders with psychopathic traits (n = 12) and matched controls (n = 10) were video-taped while watching short video sequences of yawning, laughing or neutral faces. They were rated regarding contagion. Further, we assessed a self-report on psychopathy and on empathic tendencies.
Results: Compared to the control group, the offenders showed significantly less contagion and less self-reported empathic tendencies. Individuals who rated themselves as more empathic showed more contagion.
Conclusions: The observed reduced resonance in terms of contagion may illuminate the cold-heartedness, with which some psychopathic offenders treat their victims: When embodied experiencing of other’s physical and emotional situation is missing, a natural inhibition of violence may be overcome. The small sample size limits the generalisability of these findings.