Stephen D. Benning

Assistant Professor, Psychology
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

KSNV-TV: News 3
June 18, 2020
Washing your hands less. Leaving the mask at home. Giving out handshakes and hugs. In the midst of the pandemic, more people are becoming less diligent with their health precautions, alarming doctors.
Las Vegas Review Journal
May 18, 2020
When those of us who haven’t been on the front lines finally emerge from our homes — staring curiously at new faces for the first time in weeks, many of us clad in sweatpants and pajama bottoms because our work clothes no longer fit — how will we behave?
Las Vegas Review Journal
May 17, 2020
Across the country, young adult professionals and college students have returned in greater numbers to live with their parents in recent years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The trend has been particularly noticeable in those in the 25-34 age bracket, where the percentage has risen from a low of 13.5 percent for males and 7 percent for females in 2003 to 20.4 and 13.1 percent, respectively, in 2019. Many experts say the new coronavirus pandemic will only accelerate that trend.
April 23, 2020
For most people, modern life has gotten more stressful. The usual grind of working hard and paying the bills has been upended by a global health crisis and the resulting economic troubles.

Articles Featuring Stephen D. Benning

Campus NewsApril 9, 2020
A collection of news stories highlighting UNLV’s response to COVID-19 and faculty experts who have helped the community make sense of the pandemic and its impact to daily life.
woman rubbing eyes
ResearchMarch 19, 2020
Advice from UNLV experts on breaking the itch-scratch cycle that leads to the spread of germs.
two people sitting on couch interact with someone via video call on a laptop
Business and CommunityMarch 17, 2020
UNLV psychology professor Stephen D. Benning offers tips on staying safe and sane during the coronavirus pandemic.
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.
Campus NewsMarch 10, 2020
As coronavirus concerns grow, UNLV researchers available to provide expertise.