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Effects of co-occurring psychotic experiences and psychopathic tendencies on social cognitive functioning

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, May 05, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

This project will identify the consequences of co-occurring psychotic experiences and psychopathic tendencies for social cognitive functioning, a known risk factor for violence among patients with a mental disorder.

Although the majority of individuals with a mental disorder are never violent, epidemiological evidence suggests that those with psychosis are at an increased risk for violence compared with the general population. Disturbances in social cognition, for example, theory of mind and emotion recognition, represent a major risk factor for violence among those with psychosis. However, a large proportion of men who are violent and experience psychosis also present with co-occurring antisocial personality pathology or psychopathic tendencies. A lack of knowledge about the effects of these co-occurring disorders may account for mixed findings in the literature, and impacts negatively on the development of effective interventions for reducing violence and subsequent distress among patients with a mental illness.
A potential explanation for the increased risk of violence among patients with psychosis and co-occurring psychopathic tendencies is that these patients experience a ‘double dose’ of deficit leading to greater cognitive impairment. However, our recent work is intriguing in that it highlights benefits of co-occurring psychosis and psychopathic tendencies on understanding of others’ mental states in a sample of community adults (Gillespie et al., 2017), and among patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and a history of violence (Abu-Akel et al., 2015). Although seemingly paradoxical, these findings make more sense if one considers that an increased understanding of others’ mental states may facilitate more predatory and instrumental forms of aggression (Gillespie et al., 2018).

In order to understand precisely how these effects are mediated, we need to know what the effects of co-occurring psychosis and psychopathic tendencies are on social cognitive functioning (e.g., theory of mind); we need to know whether these effects extend beyond social-cognition to other operations that are important for successful social interaction (e.g., response inhibition and saliency processing); and we need to know what the effects of this co-occurrence are on clinician rated levels of social, occupational, and psychological functioning in a forensic patient sample.

This project will use computerised paradigms to examine social-cognitive and related abilities in forensic and non-forensic samples. Part of the PhD research will involve periods of travel to secure establishments for the purposes of recruitment and date collection with men who have convictions for violence. The studentship includes fees and a basic living allowance.

Applications should be addressed to Dr Steven Gillespie () and should include a CV and cover letter, highlighting why you are interested in this opportunity and relevant skills and experience.

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the School of Psychology, University of Liverpool.


Abu-Akel, A., Heinke, D., Gillespie, S. M., Mitchell, I. J., & Bo, S. (2015). Metacognitive impairments in schizophrenia are arrested at extreme levels of psychopathy: The cut-off effect. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 124(4), 1102-1109. doi:
Gillespie, S. M., Mitchell, I. J., & Abu-Akel, A. M. (2017). Autistic traits and positive psychotic experiences modulate the association of psychopathic tendencies with theory of mind in opposite directions. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 6485. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-06995-2
Gillespie, S. M., Kongerslev, M. T., Sharp, C., Bo, S., & Abu-Akel, A. M. (2018). Does affective theory of mind contribute to proactive aggression in boys with conduct problems and psychopathic tendencies? Child Psychiatry & Human Development. doi:

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