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

Psych Central
Psychopathy has been a Hollywood favorite character trait for years. Determine fact from fiction amidst the entertainment aspects can help you better identify non-verbal cues.
Las Vegas Sun
Donald Trump’s ability to dodge scandals and maintain favorability among his base is a testament to the support he’s been able to coagulate since coming onto the national political scene in 2015, when he announced his first bid for the White House, said Sondra Cosgrove, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada.
Depression is a mental thief that can steal joy, hope, motivation and, in worst-case scenarios, the will to live. For decades, doctors and pharmaceutical companies have implicated serotonin deficiency as depression's primary cause, pushing serotonin-modulating medications as a first-line treatment. And yet the evidence in support of the so-called serotonin hypothesis—or the efficacy of serotonin-modulating drugs—is paltry, at best.
Looking for the perfect Halloween costume to wear this year? While you might think costumes are about hiding behind another identity, they can also be a way to channel your own personality or interests.

Articles Featuring Stephen D. Benning

Scarlet and Gray, “REB's Glitter Squad”, Lester Cruz and Isabel Ferguson, take pictures and hype up students and families during the October 2022 homecoming football game.
Campus News | November 8, 2022

A collection of news stories highlighting UNLV students and faculty who made headlines locally, regionally, and internationally.

a female student sits in the grass by a tree reading a book
Campus News | September 1, 2022

A roundup of prominent news stories highlighting university pride, research, and community collaboration.

nurse administers shot to woman
Campus News | December 29, 2021

A collection of news stories from 2021 highlighting UNLV’s continuing response to COVID-19 and faculty experts who have helped make sense of the pandemic and its impact to daily life.