2012. Vol.3, No.3, 284-288
Published Online March 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.33040
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Lack of Family Support and Psychopathy Facilitates Antisocial
Punishment Behavior in College Students
Keita Masui1*, Shouichi Iriguchi2, Miki Terada1, Michio Nomura3, Mitsuhiro Ura1
1Department of Human Sciences, Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Science,
Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan
2Faculty of Integrated Arts and Science, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan
3Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
Received December 28th, 2011; revised January 19th, 2012; accepted February 23rd, 2012
Both a lack of social support and psychopathy show a positive association with aggressive behavior. This
study investigated whether a perceived lack of family support and psychopathy would facilitate “antiso-
cial punishment behavior,” which was defined as punishment behavior to cooperators in a trust game. The
participants were four groups of university students with low or high levels of psychopathy who had also
reported low or high levels of family support (N = 48). In a trust game played on a computer, participants
were given the chance to reduce the compensation as a punishment of their (simulated) partners based on
whether they were cooperators or non-cooperators. We found that high-psychopathy participants with low
family support gave cooperators significantly more punishment than did participants with low psychopa-
thy and high family support. The study indicates that an interaction between a lack of family support and
psychopathy contributes to aggressive behavior, such as antisocial punishment behavior.
Keywords: Family Support; Psychopathy; Aggression; Antisocial Punishment; Decision-Making
Social support is necessary because people are social animals
and live in mutual interaction with other people. Effective so-
cial support is able not only to buffer psychological distress
after terrible natural disasters (Lowe, Chan, & Rhodes, 2010),
but also to protect people from mental disorder, disease, and
even death (e.g., Broadhead et al., 1983). Conversely, lack of
social support has been associated with increased risk for mor-
bidity, mortality, and psychological distress (e.g., Hawkley,
Masi, Berry, & Cacioppo, 2006; House, Landis, & Umberson,
1988). Moreover, perceptions of low parental support predicted
childhood aggression, particularly for boys (Garbarino, 1999;
Patterson, Kupersmidt, & Griesler, 1990).
One reason why a lack of parental support facilitates aggres-
sion may be that it is assumed to be social rejection. Previous
research has indicated that interpersonal rejection affected not
only aggressive behavior but also mediators of aggression, such
as anger and the derogation of other people (for a review, see
Leary, Twenge, & Quinlivan, 2006). Because support from fa-
mily or close friends is generally anticipated and socially nor-
mative (Inaba, 1998), the lack of such support could be taken as
social rejection for the lateral receiver of the support.
A lack of parental support facilitates aggressive behavior.
This effect is possibly accentuated for people with high disposi-
tional aggressiveness. Among dispositions relevant for aggres-
siveness, psychopathy is one of the most studied (e.g., Coyne &
Thomas, 2008). Psychopathy is defined as a constellation of
affective, interpersonal, and behavioral characteristics, includ-
ing a lack of empathy, guilt, or remorse, egocentricity, irre-
sponsibility, shallow emotions, and impulsivity (Hare, 1998).
There are two related but distinct components of psychopathy:
primary and secondary. Primary psychopathy is predominantly
characterized by interpersonal and affective problems, such as
cruelty and a lack of fear or empathy, while secondary psycho-
pathy is characterized by features such as impulsivity and neu-
roticism (e.g., Hare, Harpur, Hakstian, Forth, & Hart, 1990;
Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick, 1995; Lykken, 1957). In a pre-
vious study, primary and secondary psychopathy in non-clinical
adolescents showed significant positive associations with both
direct and indirect aggression (Coyne & Thomas, 2008). Fur-
thermore, hostile/reactive aggression, which has been described
as an emotion-driven, impulsive, defensive response to a per-
ceived threat (Berkowitz, 1989) was related to each component
of psychopathy (Reidy, Zeichner, Miller, & Martinez, 2007).
Thus, an interaction between a lack of social support and
psychopathy might be expected to facilitate aggressive behavior.
However, a link has not been clarified between a lack of social
support, psychopathy, and aggressive behavior in a non-clinical
population. In this study, we use family support as the principal
social support because it has the highest expected influence in
the contextual model of social support (Inaba, 1998), and low
levels of parental support predict childhood aggression (Gar-
barino, 1999; Patterson et al., 1990).
In this study, the measures of participants’ aggressive be-
havior were their responses in series of trust games played with
a (simulated) partner over a computer connection (de Quervain
et al., 2004; Masui, Iriguchi, Nomura, & Ura, 2011). In the trust
games, participants were given the chance to “punish” by re-
ducing the payout for partners who were cooperators or non-
cooperators. In a previous study, punishing a cooperator was
said to represent “antisocial punishment behavior” (Rand, Ar-
mao, Nakamaru, & Ohtsuki, 2010). In the present study, we
used antisocial punishment behavior as an index of the partici-
K. MASUI ET AL.
pants’ aggressive behavior.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the association
between a perceived lack of family support, psychopathy, and
aggressive behavior in a non-clinical population. Earlier find-
ings led to the following hypothesis: participants with high
psychopathy who also have less family support should give
cooperators more punishment, as compared to participants with
high family support or low psychopathy.
Participants (N = 48; 20 men and 28 women) were recruited
for the present experiment from a total initial sample of 111
Japanese university students (52 men and 59 women) who
completed the Quality of Relationship Inventory (QRI; Pierce,
Sarason, & Sarason, 1991) and the Levenson Self-Report Psy-
chopathy scale (LSRP; Levenson et al., 1995); their mean age
was 18.85 years (SD = 0.55). Participants gave written in-
formed consent prior to taking the questionnaires and partici-
pating in the experiment. The Ethics and Safety Committee of
Hiroshima University approved the study protocol.
The participants were divided into four groups according to
the medians of the distribution of scores on the QRI (median =
28) and the LSRP (median = 48): low support (low score on
QRI) & low psychopathy (low score on LSRP); low support &
high psychopathy; high support & low psychopathy; high sup-
port & high psychopathy.
Family support. Family support was assessed by the QRI.
The QRI is a questionnaire which assesses the perceived avail-
ability of social support from specific relationships. It has three
subscales: social support, conflict, and depth of specific relation-
ships. We revised the social support factor in a Japanese ver-
sion of the QRI developed by Ura and Takano (1995). The QRI
in this study consisted of 7 items rated on a 5-point scale (from
disagree to agree), which had adequate reliability (α = 0.72).
Psychopathy. The LSRP scale is a 26-item questionnaire
designed to measure psychopathic traits in noon-clinical popu-
lations. Each item is a statement rated on a 4-point scale (from
disagree strongly to agree strongly). The LSRP scale has two
subscales: primary and secondary psychopathy. The primary
psychopathy subscale consists of 16 items pertaining to ma-
nipulation, egocentricity, lack of empathy, and remorse. The
secondary psychopathy subscale consists of 10 items relating to
impulsivity, quick-temperedness, and poor behavioral control.
A Japanese version of the LSRP scale was developed through
back translation of the items (Sugiura & Sato, 2005). It demon-
strated the same factor structure as the original, with adequate
test-retest reliability and construct validity (Osumi, Kanayama,
Sugiura, & Ohira, 2007). The coefficient alphas for this study
were 0.78 for the total LSRP scale, 0.80 for the primary psy-
chopathy scale, and 0.57 for the secondary psychopathy scale;
these values are approximately equivalent to those provided by
Masui and Nomura (2011).
The QRI scores were significantly different between the high
support and the low support groups, and the scores of the total
LSRP, primary psychopathy, and secondary psychopathy were
also significantly different between the high psychopathy and
the low psychopathy groups (see Table 1).
Demographic variables. Sex and age of all participants were
investigated as demographic variables.
The paradigm used in the present study was a computerized
trust game designed to assess punishment behavior during both
“fair” and “unfair” rounds. Similar to previous studies (de Quer-
vain et al., 2004; Masui et al., 2011), participants were told that
this study was examining economic decision-making. They
would be playing a point distribution game on the computer
against four different human players (in reality, all participants
were playing against the computer). One participant per session
arrived at the laboratory and was seated in front of a laptop
computer. To ensure that the participants believed they were
playing against other people, we communicated with a collabo-
rator via a wireless transceiver, as if to suggest that other par-
ticipants were playing the game at the same time but in a dif-
Participants were told that they would be playing with one
partner per round, and that they could earn points based on their
decisions during the experiment. They were also told that the
points earned during the experiment would be converted into
money at the end of the experiment (10 points = 30 yen).
The trust game itself consisted of three steps. At the begin-
ning of the experiment, the participant and the “partner” re-
ceived an endowment of 10 points. During the first step, the
participant decided whether to transfer the allotment of 10
points to the partner or transfer nothing at all. If the participant
transferred the 10 points, the points were quadrupled, meaning
that the partner received 40 points in addition to the original
10-point endowment. If the participant transferred nothing, both
players remained at 10 points. During the second step, the part-
ner decided whether to transfer half of their points (either 5 or
25) to the participant. If the partner transferred half of their
points, then the participant received exactly the same number of
points transferred. After that, both players received an addi-
tional endowment of 20 points. During the third step, the par-
ticipant got the option of assigning penalty points to the partner,
such that the partner lost double the points assigned as a penalty.
The participants punished their partners in either a costly or a
non-costly situation. In the costly situation, for example, if the
participant assigned 5 points as a penalty, then 5 points were
deducted from the participant and 10 points were deducted
from the partner. In the non-costly situation, for example, if the
participant assigned 5 points as a penalty, then no points were
deducted from the participant and 10 points were deducted
from the partner. In all situations, participants could assign their
partner between 0 and 20 penalty points, and they wrote down
the penalty points they assigned on a paper. During two of the
four rounds of the game, participants were treated in a fair
manner (receiving half of the points back), whereas for the
other two rounds, they were treated unfairly (receiving no
points back). During two of the four rounds, participants per-
formed in the costly situation, and for the other two rounds they
performed in the non-costly situation. The partner’s choice
(fair/unfair) and situation (costly/non-costly) were randomly
determined on a per-trial basis, and different random orders
were administered to each participant. None of the partici-
pants had prior knowledge of the rules at any step.
Following each round, following participants completed a
questionnaire that measured how they felt in terms of fairness,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 285
K. MASUI ET AL.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Demographic data, QRI scores, and LSRP scores.
Low support High support
(n = 7)
(n = 18)
(n = 16)
(n = 7)
Mean S.D. Mean S.D. Mean S.D. Mean S.D.
Age 18.86 0.69 18.83 0.62 18.88 0.50 18.86 0.38 0.02 N.S.
QRI 24.29 2.63 31.89 2.25 25.06 1.73 31.86 2.80 40.12 <.001a
LSRP total score 42.71 3.15 41.67 3.82 54.69 5.40 56.71 9.03 25.65 <.001b
LSRP primary psychopathy score 26.86 2.91 24.83 3.09 33.19 4.48 34.57 10.15 10.85 <.001b
LSRP secondy psychopathy score 15.86 1.86 16.83 3.02 21.50 3.88 22.14 3.98 9.54 <.001b
Note: QRI = Quality of Relationship Inventory; LSRP = Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy scale; alow support < high support; blow psychopathy < high psychopathy.
gratification, kindness, hostility, anger, and irritation with re-
gards to the partner’s choice, on an analogue rating scale rang-
ing from 1 (not at all) to 7 (strongly). This questionnaire was a
modified version of an emotional questionnaire used in previ-
ous studies (de Quervain et al., 2004; Masui et al., 2011). Par-
ticipants subsequently completed another questionnaire that
measured how they felt regret, pity, pleasure, or feelings of
gloating after they had punished a partner, each rated on a
seven-point scale. This questionnaire was a modified version of
a questionnaire measuring empathy or taking pleasure in other’s
unhappiness used in a previous study (Sawada, 2008).
After all four rounds, participants were debriefed and were
paid 500 Yen (approximately 7 US$) for their participation in
We carried out a correlation analysis and repeated and mixed
model analyses of variance (ANOVAs) with Support (high/low)
and Psychopathy (high/low) as the between-subjects factor, and
partner Fairness (fair/unfair) and Situation (costly/non-costly)
as within-subject factors. The amount of punishment admini-
stered was the dependent variable. Bonferroni test was used for
Compared to the unfair partner, participants rated the fair
partner as more likely to make them feel like the situation was
fair (Ms 6.00 vs. 2.84), feel satisfaction with the situation (Ms
6.55 vs. 2.48), and feel kindness toward the partner (Ms 5.94 vs.
2.65, ps < 0.001, 2
> 0.72). Participants also rated the unfair
partner as more likely to make them feel hostile (Ms 1.19 vs.
3.56), angry (Ms 1.19 vs. 3.85), and irritated (Ms 1.18 vs. 3.72,
ps < 0.001, 2
> 0.57). There were no significant main effects
of Support, or Psychopathy, or Situation (ps > 0.11, 2
Correlation of Family Support, Psychopathy, and the
Amount of Punishment
Table 2 shows the Pearson’s correlation coefficients for fa-
mily support, psychopathy, and the amount of punishment. There
was a marginal negative correlation between family support and
primary psychopathy (r = –0.28, p = 0.06). Furthermore, pri-
mary psychopathy was positively associated with the number of
penalty points allocated to unfair partnerss in the costly situa-
tion (r = 0.35, p < 0.05).
Analysis of Antisocial Punishment Behavior
Figure 1 shows the mean amount of punishment adminis-
tered for each participant group. Repeated measures ANOVAs
revealed significant main effects of partner Fairness and Situa-
tion, Fs (1, 44) > 25.03, ps < 0.001, 2
> 0.36, and a signifi-
cant interaction effect between partner Fairness and Situation
F(1, 44) = 13.30, p < 0.01, 2
= 0.23. Participants punished
the unfair partner rather than the fair partner both in costly and
non-costly situations (p < .001).
There was also a significant interaction between Support,
Psychopathy, and partner Fairness, F (1, 44) = 5.65, p < 0.05,
= 0.11. A post-hoc test showed that participants in the low
support & high psychopathy group punished the fair partner
significantly more than participants in the high support & high
psychopathy, and low support & low psychopathy groups (low
support & high psychopathy, M = 4.00; high support & high
psychopathy; M = 0.64, low support & low psychopathy, M =
0.36, p < 0.05). On the other hand, there was no main effect of
Support or Psychopathy, and no significant interaction between
Support and partner Fairness, Psychopathy and partner Fairness,
and Support, Psychopathy, partner Fairness, and Situation, Fs
(1, 44) < 1.92, ps > 0.17.
The goal of the present study was to examine whether a lack
of family support and psychopathy would facilitate antisocial
punishment behavior in college students. We recruited partici-
pants who had low and high levels of perceived family support
with low and high psychopathy, and conducted an experiment
using a series of trust games. The results of correlation analyses
showed that a lack of family support was marginally related to
primary psychopathy. Moreover, repeated measures ANOVAs
showed a significant interaction between family Support, Psy-
chopathy, and partner Fairness. A post-hoc test revealed that
high-psychopathy participants with low family support exhi-
bited significantly greater levels of antisocial punishment be-
havior, as compared to low-psychopathy participants with high
Some previous research has indicated a relationship between
a lack of social support and aggressive behavior (e.g., Kirk-
patrick, Waugh, Valencia, & Webster, 2002; Twenge, Baumei-
ster, Tice, & Stucke, 2001; Warburton, Williams, & Cairns,
K. MASUI ET AL.
Correlation of family support, psychopathy, and amount of punishment.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. QRI -
2. Primary psychopathy –.28† -
3. Secondary psychopathy –.10 .24 -
4. Penalty points (FC) –.14 .04 –.13 -
5. Penalty points (FN) –.22 .24 .07 .34* -
6. Penalty points (UC) –.12 .35* .17 .20 .04 -
7. Penalty points (UN) –.18 .23 .07 .07 .08 .06 -
Notes: F = fair partner; U = unfair partner; C = costly situation; N = no-costly situation. Significance levels of correla-
tions are denoted by *p < 0.05 and †p = 0.06.
(a) Penalty points allocated to fair partners; (b) Penalty points allocated to unfair partners. Low-psychopathy
participants are represented on the left side and high-psychopathy participants on the right. The white bar in-
dicates the low-family-support participants, and the black bar indicates the high-family-support participants.
The statistical result for the between-groups comparison is given for each condition (*p < 0.05).
2003). For example, Warburton et al. (2003) showed a link
between social rejection and aggression. Participants experi-
enced rejection or inclusion in a virtual ball-tossing game and
also experienced control (or no control) over unpleasant noise.
Participants then had the opportunity to aggress against an in-
nocent target. They were told that the target person did not like
spicy foods and that they could assign him or her to eat hot
sauce. The results showed that rejected participants who had no
control over the noise were the most aggressive, assigning the
target person to eat four times as much hot sauce as participants
in the other conditions. Thus, when rejected participants could
not control an aversive situation, they were more aggressive
toward an innocent target. Similarly, a lack of parental support
predicted childhood aggression for boys (Garbarino, 1999;
Patterson et al., 1990). Furthermore, there are positive correla-
tions between psychopathy and various forms of aggression
such as direct, indirect, and hostile/reactive aggression (Coyne
& Thomas, 2008; Reidy et al., 2007). The findings in our pre-
sent study are consistent with these previous findings. Overall,
the present study offers a unique insight that an interaction
between a lack of family support and psychopathy would fa-
cilitate or amplify aggressive behavior, such as antisocial pu-
The results of the present study are limited because the sam-
ple size is small and limited to college students. We only inves-
tigated the relationship between a lack of family support, psy-
chopathy, and antisocial punishment behavior. Because there is
a positive correlation between family support and support from
friends (Ura & Takano, 1995), it is possible that the perceived
support from other relationships would also affect antisocial
punishment behavior. Furthermore, it is possible that other so-
cial support (e.g., close friends or a romantic partner) would
buffer the lack of family support. We did not assess the psy-
chological effect of lack of family support. Leary et al. (2006)
proposed possible reasons why interpersonal rejection leads to
anger and aggression: interpersonal rejection is a source of pain
or frustration, a threat to self-esteem, and there is mood im-
provement following aggression. Further research that involves
a larger or more diverse sample and looks at various types of
social support would be required to provide additional support
for our proposition about the relationship between a lack of
social support, psychopathy, and antisocial punishment behav-
In summary, the present study is the first to indicate that lack
of social support, such as family support and psychopathy in-
teract with each other to facilitate antisocial punishment behavior
in a non-clinical population. The current findings provide fur-
ther insights into aggressive and antisocial behavior.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 287
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