Aggressive and psychopathic traits are linked to the acquisition of stable but imprecise hostile expectations

Macià Buades-Rotger*, Danique Smeijers, David Gallardo-Pujol, Ulrike M. Krämer, Inti A. Brazil*

*Corresponding author for this work


Individuals with hostile expectations (HEX) anticipate harm from seemingly neutral or ambiguous stimuli. However, it is unclear how HEX are acquired, and whether specific components of HEX learning can predict antisocial thought, conduct, and personality. In an online sample of healthy young individuals (n = 256, 69% women), we administered a virtual shooting task and applied computational modelling of behaviour to investigate HEX learning and its constellation of correlates. HEX acquisition was best explained by a hierarchical reinforcement learning mechanism. Crucially, we found that individuals with relatively higher self-reported aggressiveness and psychopathy developed stronger and less accurate hostile beliefs as well as larger prediction errors. Moreover, aggressive and psychopathic traits were associated with more temporally stable hostility representations. Our study thus shows that aggressiveness and psychopathy are linked with the acquisition of robust yet imprecise hostile beliefs through reinforcement learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number197
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12.2023

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