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

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.
Everyday Health
You may have heard about the upcoming Olivia Wilde–directed thriller, Don’t Worry Darling, because of its promising reviews. (It will be released September 23, but premiered at the Venice International Film Festival [PDF] earlier this month.) Or it may be on your radar because of the off-camera drama around the cast’s and crew’s purported feuds, snubs, bad blood, and affairs of the heart (including a romance between director, Wilde, and star, Harry Styles).
K.N.P.R. News
In the last two months Las Vegas has gone through the fear and panic of mass shootings, even though the shootings never happened.
K.L.A.S. T.V. 8 News Now
The public’s reaction to Thursday night’s strip shooting was something experts call – priming effect. 8 News Now spoke to a UNLV psychologist about this and how dangerous it can be because of social media.

Articles Featuring Stephen D. Benning

UNLV cheerleaders during 2022 homecoming
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.