|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on May 2, 2013 at 3:45 PM||comments (0)|
Twenty years ago, when brain imaging made it possible for researchers to study the minds of violent criminals and compare them to the brain imaging of "normal" people, a whole new field of research — neurocriminology — opened up.
Adrian Raine was the first person to conduct a brain imaging study on murderers and has since continued to study the brains of violent criminals and psychopaths. His research has convinced him that while there is a social and environmental element to violent behavior, there's another side of the coin, and that side is biology.
"Just as there's a biological basis for schizophrenia and anxiety disorders and depression, I'm saying here there's a biological basis also to recidivistic violent offending," Raine, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the new book The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.
Raine says this re-visioning of violent criminals could potentially help direct how we approach crime prevention and rehabilitation.
"I think prisoners ... [are] not motivated to change, really," he says, " ... because they just think they're a bad, evil person. If we reconceptualized recidivistic crime as a criminal disorder, would we make them more amenable to treatment?"
The key question that preoccupies Raine, however, is that of punishment and the question of the death penalty.
"Simply put," he says, "if bad brains do cause bad behavior, if brain dysfunction raises the odds that somebody will become a criminal offender — a violent offender — and if the causes of the brain dysfunction come relatively early in life ... should we fully hold that adult individual responsible?"
"I've got to be careful here. There's no destiny here. Biology is not destiny, and it's more than biology, and there's lots of factors that we're talking about there, and one factor like prefrontal dysfunction or low heart rate doesn't make you a criminal offender. But what if all the boxes were checked? What if you had birth complications and you were exposed to toxins and you had a low resting heart rate and you had the gene that raises the odds of violence, et cetera, et cetera, stuff happening early on in life. I mean, you're not responsible for that. Then how in the name of justice can we really hold that individual as responsible as we do ... and punish them as much as we do — including death?"
On studying psychopaths
"The most striking thing I found working one-to-one with psychopaths is ... how I really liked being with them, which is shocking and at the time surprising to me but, gosh, I loved dealing with the psychopaths because they were great storytellers. They were always fun. They were always interesting, and I was fascinated most of all with how they could con and manipulate me."
On the possible correlation between lead exposure and violence
"In the '70s, '80s and '90s, violence went up in America. What was causing that? Well, one hypothesis: It was the increase in environmental lead in the '50s, '60s and '70s. You know, lead in gas, for example. So, in the 1950s, little toddlers were playing outside, putting their fingers in dirt, putting their fingers in their mouths and absorbing the lead. Twenty years later, they became the next generation of violent criminal offenders because violence peaks at about 19 or 20. Then what happens is in the 1990s violence begins to come down, as it's been doing. What's partly explaining that? The reduction in lead in the environment. In fact, if you map environmental lead levels over time like that and map it onto the change in violence over time, lead can explain 91 percent of those changes. And to me, it's the only single cause that can both explain the precipitous rise in violence from the '70s, '80s and '90s and also the drop that we've been experiencing."
On what the fact that he has a brain scan similar to that of serial killer Randy Kraft means to him
"It makes you wonder, you know, what put me on one side of the bars in those four years in top-security prison when I was interviewing someone, when maybe with a different life course and other factors in my life, it could have flipped just the other way around? I've got a low resting heart rate. I'm a bit of a stimulation seeker, and, yes, I've got a brain scan like a serial killer. I had poor nutrition as a kid. ... What stopped me [from] becoming a killer, for example, or becoming a violent offender? I was anti-social from the age of 9 to 11. I was in a gang, smoking cigarettes, setting fire to mail, letting car tires down. ... But I've been intrigued: Why didn't I stay on that pathway? And it's an area that we need to do so much more on: protective factors. What protects some people who have some of the risk factors from actually becoming an offender? I think in my life, for example, I had parents who sort of loved me. I always felt loved. There was always a roof over my head. There was always a secure environment. And I got on with my brothers and sisters. You know, and maybe that's the critical ingredient: some love."
On changing his mind about the death penalty after being the victim of a violent crime
"At that point in time, I'd always been against the death penalty. I mean, I'm from England. We don't have the death penalty there, you know. You just think, 'That's crazy, having the death penalty.' After being that victim, I changed my mind about that because it made me feel more about victims' experience and how maybe — maybe in some cases — it could give them a sense of closure. Now I would not be ruled out of the jury on a death penalty case, but I'm not proud of that."
On reconciling the victim part of him with the criminologist part of him
"I'm a Jekyll and Hyde. So there's a Dr. Jekyll inside of me that's done the research, seen these risk factors, done longitudinal studies, documented these early risk factors beyond the individual's control that moves them into a criminal way of life, and that Dr. Jekyll is saying, 'You know, you can't ignore this. You can't turn a blind eye to the biology of violence and the social factors, too.' But there's a Mr. Hyde inside of me ranting and raving and saying, 'Look, I don't want sob stories. I don't want excuses. There's a cause for all behavior. We can always find a cause for behavior. ... It comes from the brain: So what? We found the cause. OK, great.'
"You know, what about the victim? What about how they feel and what about that sense of retribution, you know? What about deterrence? So, I mean, I go backwards and forwards on this, and I bet I'll change my mind again at some point in time. ... The scientist inside of me says, 'You know, that deterrence aspect — especially to capital punishment — that's not working,' and I don't think the science really shows it, too, but ... there's a part of me that says, 'It's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a pound of flesh: My throat was slit, his throat should be slit.' I mean, that's just how you feel as a victim. ... Kids need to be socialized and punished for bad behavior, and doesn't that also apply as adults? If you buy into the argument, that Dr. Jekyll inside of me says then all bets are off: Nobody's responsible. You can't have that. That's what Mr. Hyde says."
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Research into the criminal mind took a different turn 20 years ago when brain imaging made it possible for researchers to study
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|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on May 2, 2013 at 3:40 PM||comments (0)|
Budding psychopaths? Study hints traits may be seen in kids' brains
By Brian Alexander, NBC News Contributor
Could little Johnny, that kid who always seems to be in trouble for hurting other children, be a psychopath in the making? Or is he just rambunctious? And if he’s at risk of becoming a future psychopath, could science catch it early, and head off a life of trouble?
A new study from British researchers suggests this may one day be possible.
Adult psychopaths are known to be unable to place themselves in the position of those they hurt. They have little or no empathy. They can’t “feel your pain."
But “there is a lot of variability among children with conduct problems,” one of the researchers, Essi Viding, professor of psychology at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, told NBCNews.com.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, gathered a sample of 37 boys verified by surveys completed by teachers and parents to have serious conduct problems such as causing harm to others and uncaring attitudes toward others, and a control group of 18 boys who did not. The boys were aged 10 to 16.
The boys were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine that depicts which areas of the brain are active in response to a stimulus. The boys were shown a series of 192 photos of hands and feet in pain, or no pain, situations. For example, an image might show a hand resting on a table top with a knife laying beside it, or the same hand on the table with the point of the knife blade about to pierce it.
As a group, the boys with serious conduct problems tended to show decreased activation in areas of the brain -- especially the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula -- that are critical for empathy for pain, in comparison to the control group of boys.
With lower empathy, they were less reactive to others’ pain. This could be the root of what the researchers call “callous traits.”
Reduced response to pain of other people, the researchers wrote, “could reflect an early neurobiological marker indexing risk for empathic deficits seen in adult psychopathy.”
If that sounds a little scary, like the Philip K. Dick novel “Minority Report” (made into a movie by Steven Spielberg in 2002), in which crime is predicted and future wrongdoers labeled and arrested before they offend, Viding and others in the field stress two points: any such future is a long way off, and that’s not the goal of the research.
For one thing, fMRI studies of psychopathy have yielded a variety of results, sometimes conflicting ones. Last month, for example, a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry by Jean Decety of the University of Chicago, a leading expert in the field of social neuroscience, found that incarcerated men with psychopathic traits had greater activation of the insula region in response to images of pain – the opposite of what Viding’s group found.
There could be a number of reasons for conflicting results, suggested Abigail Marsh, a Georgetown University professor of psychology. A recent Marsh study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry tracked with the Viding team’s results – reduced response from brain regions key to empathy. But, she said, “we found a very small change in instructions” – to imagine the person in a picture is one’s self versus another person – “made a very big difference in the patterns of brain activity we observed.”
Plus there are obvious age, developmental and life experience differences between an adult incarcerated population and children.
In order to clear the fog, Decey said, “we really need many more studies of this kind.”
Meanwhile, whatever the fine details, it is clear that the brains of psychopaths work differently than those of non-psychopaths. Psychopaths, for example, often show dysfunction in the amygdala, where fear is processed. As a result, psychopaths are bad at recognizing fear in others.
Viding agreed that “we are a very long way from reliably predicting future psychopathy by testing children. In fact, I am very skeptical about us ever being able to do so.”
But that’s not necessary to help children because the real goal is treatment, not pinpointing a future serial killer. “We are hoping that, as has been the case for autism, we are able to develop earlier identifiers that will allow us to begin treatment when children are young,” Marsh said.
Research shows that if such children can be identified, behavioral therapy, such as rewarding empathetic behavior toward others, and training parents in adopting a warmer parenting style, can work, though it’s still early and, Viding said, it may always be difficult to parent such children.
No child should ever be labeled a psychopath, Viding said, because their brains and life experiences are still developing and, especially if given intervention, they may never wind up psychopathic, but
callous traits are a real problem.
“Research clearly shows that not all children with conduct problems are alike. It may sound more politically correct not to acknowledge that, but ultimately that stance is not going to be helpful for the children and their families. In my own experience, parents of children with conduct problems and callous traits are often desperate for help
The study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, gathered a sample of 37 boys verified by surveys completed
|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on September 11, 2012 at 1:05 PM||comments (0)|
Home » News » Work and Career News » Psychopathic Boldness Tied to Presidential Success?
Psychopathic Boldness Tied to Presidential Success?
By Janice Wood Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on September 11, 2012 It’s not a phrase normally associated with the president of the United States, but “fearless dominance associated with psychopathy” could be an important predictor of how well a president performs, according to new research.
“Certain psychopathic traits may be like a double-edged sword,” said lead author Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, a psychologist at Emory University. “Fearless dominance, for example, may contribute to reckless criminality and violence, or to skillful leadership in the face of a crisis.”
In fact, he noted that fearless dominance, linked to low social and physical apprehensiveness, correlates with better-rated presidential performance for leadership, persuasiveness, crisis management and Congressional relations.
The analysis drew upon personality assessments of 42 presidents, up to George W. Bush, compiled by Steven Rubenzer and Thomas Faschingbauer for their book “Personality, Character and Leadership in the White House.” More than 100 experts, including biographers, journalists and scholars who are established authorities on one or more U.S. presidents, evaluated their target presidents using standardized psychological measures of personality, intelligence and behavior
For the rest of the story go to: http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/09/11/psychopathic-boldness-tied-to-presidential-success/44417.html
|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on September 1, 2012 at 12:55 AM||comments (0)|
Dr. Raj Persaud
In one of the largest studies of its kind ever published, US psychologists have found a particular aspect of personality in men and women, predicts what the researchers refer to as 'hypersexuality'.
The 'hypersexual' have more sexual partners than the rest of the population, fantasise more about others than their current partner, and tend to favour more sex without love. They take greater pleasure in casual sex with different partners, and don't need attachment to enjoy lovemaking.
Hypersexuality was found strongly linked with a particular aspect of personality.
Another especially intriguing aspect of this research, conducted on 482 people aged 17-56 years old, was that this personality feature applied equally to both men and women, in predicting hypersexuality.
Psychologists are beginning to concur that it's this unique element of character which most powerfully predicts higher numbers of different sexual partners, as well as impulsive one night stands, and a gamut of risky sexual behaviours.
This character trait is - Psychopathy.
Psychopaths are linked in the popular imagination with criminals and sex offenders, but psychologists Rebecca Kastner and Martin Sellbom from the University of Alabama, who conducted this study, entitled, 'Hypersexuality in college students: The role of psychopathy', emphasise they were studying features of psychopathy which are more common in the general population than may be realised.
Psychologists believe everyone falls somewhere along the spectrum of psychopathy, and have more or less of these traits. It would seem the more aspects of psychopathy are reflected in a person's character, the more they embrace 'hypersexuality'.
The psychopathic personality is characterised by a callous and manipulative approach to others, lack of remorse, plus deceit all covered up by superﬁcial charm. Not a particularly alluring package at first glance, so psychologists have been probing deeper inside the psychopath's mind, unlocking the secret of their success in the bedroom.
Rebecca Kastner and Martin Sellbom found from their study, just published in the academic journal 'Personality and Individual Differences', that it's the 'Fearless-Dominance' aspect of psychopathy, combined with the 'Impulsive-Antisocial' element, which actually explains why psychopaths dominate the medal tables in the sexual Olympics.
For the rest of the story go to:http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/male-and-female-psychopaths-get-more-sex_b_1845750.html
|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on August 28, 2012 at 12:55 AM||comments (0)|
The Times of India
WASHINGTON: You can use Twitter postings to spot whether someone is a psychopath, especially if he frequently uses words such as 'die', 'kill' and 'bury', a new research has claimed.
Researchers from the Florida Atlantic University conducted a study with the London-based Online Privacy Foundation that showed how users' word choices can indicate personality traits, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Somebody who swears too much online or uses words like "die," "kill," or "bury" a lot might have psychopathic tendencies, the research found.
"People are making judgements about others based on social media. Companies even exist that will do this for you if you're hiring," said Chris Sumner, who heads the privacy foundation.
The researchers used an already existing psychological formula to determine how likely someone is to be psychopathic by their writing.
Using a process called data mining, they developed an algorithm that would scan the tweets of nearly 3,000 volunteers.
It found that about 1.4 per cent of users showed psychopathic tendencies, similar to the population as a whole, based on their Tweets and a questionnaire.
The results have limitations, the researchers said. For example, the computer program didn't recognise abbreviated versions of words, which are common on Twitter due to the 140-character limits.
It also can't recognise the difference between someone using a word such as "kill" in an angry way or an off-handed joking way, "such as I could kill him for this".
The findings will be presented at the International Conference of Machine Learning and Applications in December in Boca Raton
|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on May 9, 2012 at 2:05 PM||comments (0)|
Christine Hsu, author
Psychopaths, who are characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse and possess very shallow emotions, may be born with physical abnormalities in their brains that predispose them towards violent crime like murder, rape and assault.
UK scientists at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry said that the structural differences in psychopathic brains, significantly different than the brains of healthy non-offenders, are distinct even from other violent offenders with anti-social personality disorders (ASPD).
While psychopaths are often described as being superficially charming and extremely intelligent, they are characterized as being indifferent to the other’s rights and societal rules. Besides having no empathy or remorse they are generally regarded as being callous, selfish, dishonest, arrogant, impulsive, irresponsible, aggressive and hedonistic.
“There is a clear behavioral difference amongst those diagnosed with ASPD depending on whether or not they also have psychopathy. We describe those without psychopathy as 'hot-headed' and those with psychopathy as 'cold-hearted',” Lead researcher Dr. Nigel Blackwood said in a statement.
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|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on March 6, 2012 at 1:00 PM||comments (0)|
Written by Jeff Haden
Great employees are reliable, dependable, proactive, diligent, great leaders and great followers... they possess a wide range of easily-defined—but hard to find—qualities.
A few hit the next level. Some employees are remarkable, possessing qualities that may not appear on performance appraisals but nonetheless make a major impact on performance.
Here are eight qualities of remarkable employees:
1. They ignore job descriptions. The smaller the company, the more important it is that employees can think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes, regardless of role or position, to get things done.
When a key customer's project is in jeopardy, remarkable employees know without being told there's a problem and jump in without being asked—even if it's not their job.
2. They’re eccentric... The best employees are often a little different: quirky, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavor.
People who aren't afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.
3. But they know when to dial it back. An unusual personality is a lot of fun... until it isn't. When a major challenge pops up or a situation gets stressful, the best employees stop expressing their individuality and fit seamlessly into the team.
Remarkable employees know when to play and when to be serious; when to be irreverent and when to conform; and when to challenge and when to back off. It’s a tough balance to strike, but a rare few can walk that fine line with ease.
4. They publicly praise... Praise from a boss feels good. Praise from a peer feels awesome, especially when you look up to that person.
Remarkable employees recognize the contributions of others, especially in group settings where the impact of their words is even greater.
5. And they privately complain. We all want employees to bring issues forward, but some problems are better handled in private. Great employees often get more latitude to bring up controversial subjects in a group setting because their performance allows greater freedom.
Remarkable employees come to you before or after a meeting to discuss a sensitive issue, knowing that bringing it up in a group setting could set off a firestorm.
6. They speak when others won’t. Some employees are hesitant to speak up in meetings. Some are even hesitant to speak up privately.
An employee once asked me a question about potential layoffs. After the meeting I said to him, “Why did you ask about that? You already know what's going on.” He said, “I do, but a lot of other people don't, and they're afraid to ask. I thought it would help if they heard the answer from you.”
Remarkable employees have an innate feel for the issues and concerns of those around them, and step up to ask questions or raise important issues when others hesitate.
7. They like to prove others wrong. Self-motivation often springs from a desire to show that doubters are wrong. The kid without a college degree or the woman who was told she didn't have leadership potential often possess a burning desire to prove other people wrong.
Education, intelligence, talent, and skill are important, but drive is critical. Remarkable employees are driven by something deeper and more personal than just the desire to do a good job.
8. They’re always fiddling. Some people are rarely satisfied (I mean that in a good way) and are constantly tinkering with something: Reworking a timeline, adjusting a process, tweaking a workflow.
Great employees follow processes. Remarkable employees find ways to make those processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can't help it.
Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.
|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on February 29, 2012 at 11:45 PM||comments (0)|
by Alexander Eichler
Maybe Patrick Bateman wasn't such an outlier.
One out of every 10 Wall Street employees is likely a clinical psychopath, writes journalist Sherree DeCovny in an upcoming issue of trade magazine CFA Magazine (subscription required). In the general population the rate is closer to one percent.
"A financial psychopath can present as a perfect well-rounded job candidate, CEO, manager, co-worker, and team member because their destructive characteristics are practically invisible," writes DeCovny, who pulls together research from several psychologists for her story, which helpfully suggests that financial firms carefully screen out extreme psychopaths in hiring.
To be sure, typical psychopathic behavior runs the gamut. At the extreme end is Bateman, portrayed by Christian Bale, in the 2000 movie "American Psycho," as an investment banker who actually kills people and exhibits no remorse. When health professionals talk about "psychopaths," they have a broader range of behavior in mind.
A clinical psychopath is bright, gregarious and charming, writes DeCovny. He lies easily and often, and may have trouble feeling empathy for other people. He's probably also more willing to take dangerous risks -- either because he doesn't understand the consequences, or because he simply doesn't care.
An appetite for risk can seem like a positive business trait on Wall Street, where big gambles sometimes lead to big rewards. But for the people DeCovny is talking about, the outcomes matter less than the gambles themselves -- and the chemical rush of serotonin and endorphins that accompanies them.
This is hardly the first time that mental illness has been equated with a certain capacity for professional success -- especially in the financial sector, where some stock traders have actually scored higher than diagnosed psychopaths on tests that measure competitiveness and attraction to risk.
For the rest of the story go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/wall-street-psychopaths_n_1307168.html
|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on January 23, 2012 at 5:35 AM||comments (0)|
The Washington Derby
We have a horse race in progress. The field is “peopled” by thoroughbreds from Ranch Euro and the Flag Ranch. The Euros have entered their current winner and their Great Hope is backed by enthusiastic, entrenched supporters. Their bets are made, the dye is cast. For good or evil, supporters have donned their blinkers. The Euros desperately want to believe they have another Secretariat in Barack. Inopportunely, he has taken some nasty falls back at the ranch in recent years. It remains to be seen if he can compete without suffering serious injury. He has veered off track into some rough terrain and remains a bit muddied and muddled. He will be closeted away until the Second Washington Derby.
The Flaggers field of horse flesh has been “whinnied” down to four challengers. This diverse field is populated by two exceptionally talented champions from other aggressive races and two winners from less antagonistic races. Looking at the field, Newt is the dark horse, it was not supposed that he would do much more than lag miserably behind. Though past his prime and definitely carrying extra weight, he was entered because of his exceptional showing in one or two historic competitions. Perhaps a bit of nostalgia was also involved. He is known in racing circles as a Bismark (as in, sink the), the experts don’t expect much of a show. The opinion in race circles is, he has been ridden hard and put away wet too many times.
The favored runner is Mitt; he can be counted on to make a good showing. Much smart money is following him as it always does. He has dashes of brilliant distancing, yet he doesn’t seem to draw the enthusiasm that one would think considering his lofty performances. He attracts bets, but watchers don’t scream and go wild with fits of fervor when he circles the track. Truthfully? They tend to yawn.
Ron is definitely past his prime and will not win the race. Few people are betting on him but he seems to have sentimental value. Everyone respects a runner that though not a serious contender has the heart to try. His style is inconsistent, quirky, zany and at times surprising. What can I say, he will be remembered.
Rick is coming on steady, sturdy and prolific. He comes from good lines. His linage goes back, not to famous, pampered thoroughbreds but to more reliable, hearty farm stock. His history is impressive with steady progress toward the Washington Derby. He too has earned the respect of his supporters, but oddly reminiscent of Mitt there is no intensity to excite the emotions.
The Race Begins
The race is off to a slow start. Wait a minute folks! Mitt was in first rounding the curve, and then Rick came galloping up; nose to nose they circle the track. You are not going to believe this, folks… I wouldn’t if I wasn’t seeing it with my own brown eyes. A dark horse is charging up fast on the inside, wait! It is pawing the ground and spewing smoke and fire from its nostrils…Wow! It’s Newt, I can’t believe it…watch him go…wait! Watch out! Oh, my gosh, he ran down two daring reporters! RUN, John and Juan…darn, there they go rolling into the fence…what a race, my friends… and you can bet your sweet bippy, it’s not over yet.
Folks, there is no doubt this will be a race to remember.
|Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on December 5, 2011 at 11:20 PM||comments (0)|
By Douglas Quan
Impulsive, manipulative and lacking remorse, criminal psychopaths typically face longer and harsher sentences in the justice system.
But a growing body of research shows that their aberrant behaviour may be linked to faulty wiring in the brain, challenging the assumption that psychopaths are intrinsically evil and raising questions about how they should be dealt with when they break the law.
Should criminal psychopaths — who make up 15% to 25% of the prison population, according to estimates — be held accountable to the same degree as offenders who don’t have the same brain abnormalities? Are they victims of their biology?
The debate is roiling across the fields of criminology, law, philosophy and neuroscience.
Why the jerks will inherit the Earth
Adrian MacNair: The psychopathic face of a ‘compassionate’ justice system
.“I don’t think there is a consensus. I think that there is a lot of confusion,” said Heidi Maibom, an associate professor of philosophy at Carleton University.
A study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience is likely to add fuel to the debate.
The researchers scanned the brains of inmates from a local prison, focusing on two key areas: the almond-shaped amygdala, which helps to detect fear and mediate anxiety, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for more complex social emotions, such as guilt, empathy and regret.
One set of data showed that the white fibres connecting these two areas of the brain were weaker in the brains of psychopaths compared to other offenders. Another set of data showed that electro-chemical signals emitted by these two areas were less coordinated in the brains of psychopaths.
“What the science suggests is this is a brain-based disorder and that the neural dysfunction may undermine the ability of these individuals to control their social behaviour and regulate their emotions,” said Mike Koenigs, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the school.
Kelly Doering / Stick People
.While scientists can’t say with certainty that these brain abnormalities are the cause of the disorder, they now at least know what area of the brain may be associated with it, he said.
Instead of simply treating psychopaths like they’re all axe-wielding madmen, such as the Jack Nicholson character in the psychological horror flick The Shining, they should be viewed as patients with neuro-cognitive disorders who may benefit from treatment, Mr. Koenigs said.
“We’re not talking about turning them into Mother Teresa,” Mr. Koenigs said. But with cognitive behavioural therapy and drug therapy, it is possible they could become “a little more responsible.”
While the science is far from conclusive, that hasn’t stopped some defence lawyers from using data from brain scans to try to persuade judges or juries that their clients are incapable of making the right decisions.
In 2009, Brian Dugan pleaded guilty in Illinois to raping and murdering 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in the early 1980s. Dugan, who was already serving two life sentences for murder, faced the death penalty.
In an effort to save him from execution, Dugan’s lawyers turned to Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico who has amassed 2,000 brain-scan images from prisoners.
They asked Mr. Kiehl to interview Dugan and scan his brain in the hopes of convincing a jury that Dugan couldn’t control his impulses.
Mr. Kiehl found evidence that Dugan was emotionally abnormal from an early age and that his ability to feel and understand emotions was impaired. The brain-scan data was consistent with these emotional problems.
“It’s amazing to people that somebody can have no empathy, not even know what it is, have no visceral response, have no understanding of guilt,” Mr. Kiehl said in an interview. “It’s a real disorder. It’s as profound as any other mental illness.”
The jury wasn’t swayed and sentenced Dugan to death. (The death sentence was commuted this year, however, after the state of Illinois abolished the death penalty.)
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