Psychopathy is characterized by a general antisocial lifestyle with behaviors including being selfish, manipulative, impulsive, fearless, callous, possibly domineering, and particularly lacking in empathy. Contagious yawning in our species has been strongly linked to empathy.
We exposed 135 students, male and female, who completed the Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised (PPI-R), to a yawning paradigm intended to induce a reactionary yawn. Further, we exposed males to an emotion-related startle paradigm meant to assess peripheral amygdalar reactivity.
We found that scores on the PPI-R subscale Coldheartedness significantly predicted a reduced chance of yawning. Further, we found that emotion-related startle amplitudes were predictive of frequency of contagious yawning.
These data suggest that psychopathic traits may be related to the empathic nature of contagious yawning in our species.