Stephen D. Benning

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

October 1, 2019
UNLV professor offers advice for those grieving over One October.
Las Vegas Sun
October 1, 2019
Meghan Earley loves her retired life in Laughlin. She often goes out to lunch with friends, participates in trivia nights and takes monthly trips to Sunset Station in Henderson and Springs Preserve in Las Vegas with other members of her senior center.
KLAS-TV: 8 News Now
October 1, 2019
Last year, we profiled a UNLV professor who started tracking the trauma of 1 October survivors and the Las Vegas community. As we enter the two-year anniversary, it’s clear many people are still recovering.
KSNV-TV: News 3
September 20, 2019
Las Vegas has clubs, music events, even people coming together to "see them, aliens." However, is Las Vegas the right place to find your perfect person? Why is dating such a struggle here?

Articles Featuring Stephen D. Benning

group with candles
ResearchSeptember 28, 2018
After the Oct. 1 shooting, UNLV researcher Stephen Benning found increases in stress and gratitude. Here, he shares perspective on his findings.
Campus NewsOctober 20, 2017
Study focused on understanding how people are reacting emotionally to the tragedy at the Route 91 country music festival Oct. 1.