Coercive power has different effects on individuals, and which were unable to be fully addressed in Milgram’s famous studies on obedience to authority. While some individuals exhibited high levels of guilt-related anxiety and refused orders to harm, others followed coercive orders throughout the whole event. The lack of guilt is a well-known characteristic of psychopathy, and recent evidence portrays psychopathic personalities on a continuum of clustered traits, while being pervasive in a significant proportion in the population. To investigate whether psychopathic traits better explain discrepancies in antisocial behavior under coercion, we applied a virtual obedience paradigm, in which an experimenter ordered subjects to press a handheld button to initiate successive actions that carry different moral consequences, during fMRI scanning. Psychopathic traits modulated the association between harming actions and guilt feelings on both behavioral and brain levels. This study sheds light on the individual variability in response to coercive power.
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