Development and Psychopathology


Reduced activity within the dorsal endogenous orienting of attention network to fearful expressions in youth with disruptive behavior disorders and psychopathic traits

Stuart F. Whitea1, W. Craig Williamsa1, Sarah J. Brislina1, Stephen Sinclaira1, Karina S. Blaira1, Katherine A. Fowlera1, Daniel S. Pinea1, Kayla Popea1 and R. James Blaira1 c1

a1 National Institute of Mental Health


Using behavioral and blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response indices through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the current study investigated whether youths with disruptive behavior disorders (conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder) plus psychopathic traits (DBD + PT) show aberrant sensitivity to eye gaze information generally and/or whether they show particular insensitivity to eye gaze information in the context of fearful expressions. The participants were 36 children and adolescents (ages 10–17 years); 17 had DBD + PT and 19 were healthy comparison subjects. Participants performed a spatial attention paradigm where spatial attention was cued by eye gaze in faces displaying fearful, angry, or neutral affect. Eye gaze sensitivity was indexed both behaviorally and as BOLD response. There were no group differences in behavioral response: both groups showed significantly faster responses if the target was in the congruent spatial direction indicated by eye gaze. Neither group showed a Congruence × Emotion interaction; neither group showed an advantage from the displayer's emotional expression behaviorally. However, the BOLD response revealed a significant Group × Congruence × Emotion interaction. The comparison youth showed increased activity within the dorsal endogenous orienting network (superior parietal lobule and inferior parietal sulcus) for fearful congruent relative to incongruent trials relative to the youth with DBD + PT. The results are discussed with reference to current models of DBD + PT and possible treatment innovations.

(Online publication July 11 2012)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: R. James Blair, Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Building 15K, Room 206, Bethesda, MD 20892; E-mail:


This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute of Mental Health.