The mask of sanity: facial expressive, self-reported, and physiological consequences of emotion regulation in psychopathic offenders

L. Nentjes*, D.P. Bernstein, E. Meijer, A. Arntz, R.W. Wiers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study investigated the physiological, self-reported, and facial correlates of emotion regulation in psychopathy. Specifically, we compared psychopathic offenders (n = 42), nonpsychopathic offenders (n = 42), and nonoffender controls (n = 26) in their ability to inhibit and express emotion while watching affective films (fear, happy, and sad). Results showed that all participants were capable of drastically diminishing facial emotions under inhibition instructions. Contrary to expectation, psychopaths were not superior in adopting such a "poker face." Further, the inhibition of emotion was associated with cardiovascular changes, an effect that was also not dependent on psychopathy (or its factors), suggesting emotion inhibition to be an effortful process in psychopaths as well. Interestingly, psychopathic offenders did not differ from nonpsychopaths in the capacity to show content-appropriate facial emotions during the expression condition. Taken together, these data challenge the view that psychopathy is associated with either superior emotional inhibitory capacities or a generalized impairment in showing facial affect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)828-847
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Personality Disorders
Issue number6
Early online date24 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016



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