Psychopathic traits and theory of mind task performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Zhaorong Song, Andrew Jones, Rhiannon Corcoran, Natasha Daly, Ahmad Abu-Akel, Steven M. Gillespie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This meta-analysis aims to examine the relationship between psychopathic traits and theory of mind (ToM), which is classically and broadly defined as competency in representing and attributing mental states such as emotions, intentions, and beliefs to others. Our search strategy gathered 142 effect sizes from 42 studies, with a total sample size of 7463 participants. Random effects models were used to analyze the data. Our findings suggested that psychopathic traits are associated with impaired ToM task performance. This relationship was not moderated by factors such as age, population, psychopathy measurement (self-report versus clinical checklist) or conceptualization, or ToM task type (cognitive versus affective). The effect also remained significant after excluding tasks that did not require the participant to 1) mentalize or 2) differentiate between self and other perspectives. However, interpersonal/affective traits were associated with a more pronounced impairment in ToM task performance compared to lifestyle/antisocial traits. Future research should investigate the effects of distinct psychopathy facets that will allow for a more precise understanding of the social-cognitive bases of relevant clinical presentations in psychopathy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105231
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


  • Antisocial personality
  • Cognitive empathy
  • Mentalization
  • Psychopathy
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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