Stephen D. Benning

Associate Professor, Psychology
Director, Psychophysiology of Emotion and Personality Laboratory (PEPlab)
Expertise: Clinical psychology, Psychopathy, Emotion, Personality


Stephen Benning's research focuses on the personality disorder of psychopathy. He explains psychopathy as the combinations of two extremes of normal-range personality traits, not as a separate category of monstrous people who are completely different from everyone else. The part of psychopathy he calls fearless dominance captures the charm, anxiety-free, and thrill-seeking features of psychopathy that make individuals with psychopathic traits seem so interesting. Impulsive antisociality is the part that is responsible for the aggression, lack of planfulness, and mistrust of others that causes so many behavioral and social problems in this disorder.

Additionally, Benning researches basic emotional processes using biological measures. To measure positive emotions, he developed the postauricular reflex to assess wanting, liking, and reward-learning across a number of psychological disorders (including psychopathy). He uses the startle-blink reflex to measure negative emotions, particularly those related to protecting one's self from physical threat. These two measures are unrelated to each other, suggesting that positive and negative emotions arise from fundamentally separate systems instead of a single pleasant-unpleasant dimension of emotional experience.

His interests in psychopathy and positive emotion, led to further investigation of how basic emotional processes and personality traits affect the willingness of people to take risks. His lab has developed a computerized task to assess how willing people are to continue in physically risky activities. Performance in this task is related to how risky people perceive various kinds of behavior to be, suggesting that it may tap a basic preference for risk independent of how often people actually do risky things.


  • Ph.D., Clinical Science and Psychopathology Research, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • M.A., Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • B.A., Psychology, Biology, and Religious Studies, Rice University

Stephen D. Benning In The News

Ask Erin Mantz why she loves personality tests, and she’ll tell you she’s a Pisces, an only child, and an introvert prone to self-reflection. “I’m constantly craving and searching for insights into why I do what I do, and what makes me tick,” she says. Since discovering them at her college career center, she’s taken many different kinds, but the most transformative was the one she took with her coworkers at AOL in her 30s. A new manager instructed Mantz and her colleagues to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which revealed she’s an INFJ: intuitive, enthusiastic, impulsive, and prone to improvisation.
Las Vegas Review Journal
As UNLV prepares to bring operations back to a new normal this week, a psychology professor is studying the immediate emotional effects of last month's campus shooting on the community.
Las Vegas Review Journal
As UNLV prepares to bring operations back to a new normal next week, a psychology professor is studying the immediate emotional effects last month’s campus shooting had on the community.
Biba Magazine
It's not a bluff. Find out here how to (almost definitely) spot a psychopath by looking at their eyes.

Articles Featuring Stephen D. Benning

Spring Flowers (Becca Schwartz)
Campus News | April 1, 2024

A roundup of the top news stories featuring UNLV students and faculty.

Spooky season at UNLV (Becca Schwartz\UNLV).
Campus News | November 1, 2023

A collection of news stories focused on research, expert insights, and academic achievement.

The Sphere on the Las Vegas Strip.
Campus News | October 2, 2023

A collection of news stories highlighting expert insights, research, and academic achievement.

Graduation surprise
Campus News | August 1, 2023

News stories from the summer featuring UNLV students and faculty.