The mind of a psychopath

A lack of empathic response is one factor that makes a psychopath.

While we wait for the full facts to emerge regarding Adams Lanza, ignoring the blatant attempts to push political agendas and sensationalist reporting that turns out to be not collaborated, I have said that we need to study what makes someone homicidal. Whilst we can reduce the availability of guns by legislation, attempts to scrutinise those wanting guns legally, or how to detect psychopaths before they act would be very much in the public interest.

In arguments about whether atheists/humanists can be moral I have mentioned the importance of empathy as a reason why I do not want to cause suffering. Seeing people weeping or in pain distresses me; often my reaction automatically is to react in a similar way or attempt to sympathise by a mock experience like winching. That is a general perception people have.

Related blogs:

The morality of an atheist

What is humanism?

An article in Nature from 2007 provides some information looking at if empathy is different at a neurological level for psychopaths:

One major theory holds that we understand what another person is feeling by activating the same neural circuitry in our brains that activates when we are experiencing that emotion first hand.

Christian Keysers wanted to examine whether psychopaths just felt differently to the rest of us or disconnected that emotional response. One issue though is as well as scanning convicted psychopaths or those with the diagnosis in prison, 1% of the general population would be considered psychopaths.

“Some psychopathic features are not necessarily a bad thing for society — in some professions they may even help,” says Hare. “Too much empathy, for example, on the part of a police officer or a politician would interfere with the job.”


The one thing thing that researchers in this field have in common is trying to see what is happening in the brain when trying to measure reaction to stimuli designed to generate an empathic response. Keysers research used different stimuli to engage different parts of the brain – as much as possible to have feedback on what is happening rather than looking for something to support a theory regarding one particular part of the brain.

All of these psychopathy researchers believe that their work will lead to a level of understanding of the condition that could eventually lead to a treatment. Keysers does too — even though his prime motivation in recruiting psychopaths was to support his empathy research. He now finds himself “fascinated by the phe- nomenon of the untreatable psychopath”, and also convinced that there will one day be a fix. Patient 13, meanwhile, has finished his test day wearing the same smile he set out with. If a form of therapy were ever to emerge, it is not clear whether people like him — who do not consider themselves sick — would be willing to take it.

Building on Joe Scarborough’s point, the issue with video games and movies would be whether the brain changes in response to constant exposure, if temporary or permanent, and impact on those displaying psychopathic tendencies compared to general population. Or if given that majority of film goers and gamers do not seem to go on killing sprees that there is more to this than simple stereotypes of people, personality disorders and access to guns. The later though might be easier to control.

Scientific research in empathetic research much more useful than responding with a conservative or liberal agenda.

Photo from a blog here which is a more tongue in cheek look at the frivolous conclusions people draw.

All my blogs on Sandy hook here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78


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