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Study: Psychopaths can’t tell when people fake distress

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posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 02:41 PM
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For years we've known that a certain percentage of the population simply does not process emotions or interact with other people the same way the majority of humans do. Such behavior or rather, such inability, usually starts presenting itself in childhood and is thought to be genetic; we have so far found no specific cause for it, nor have we found a way to overcome it -- although we are learning more. About 1% of the population is considered to be sociopathic or psychopathic, the latter being a more severe condition of the two.

An interesting new study found which emotions in particular, psychopaths have trouble processing. While intelligent psychopaths can adapt and learn how to emulate emotions, they cannot recognize some in other people very well.


Psychopaths have little trouble recognizing when people are happy or angry based on their facial expressions. But they seem to have a much harder time recognizing the emotion of distress, according to new research from the Australian National University.

"For most people, if we see someone who is genuinely upset, you feel bad for them and it motivates you to help them," said lead study author Amy Dawel of the ANU Research School of Psychology. "People who are very high on the psychopathy spectrum don't show this response."

What they found is that while psychopaths can recognize and show anger, happiness, disgust, for example, and they were able to tell if a person was faking it or not, when it comes to seeing distress in others they just don't have the proper wiring to process it or even tell if it is faked or not.


The results showed that people high in psychopathic traits—like callousness, shallow affect and poor empathy—were less able to tell when someone was faking the emotion of distress.

"We found people with high levels of psychopathic traits don't feel any worse for someone who is genuinely upset than someone who is faking it," Dawel said. "They also seem to have problems telling if the upset is real or fake. As a result, they are not nearly as willing to help someone who is expressing genuine distress as most people are."

However, this handicap among people with psychopathic traits only seems affect their recognition of distress, including the emotions sadness and fear.

So, when you encounter someone who seems to not care about other people or their emotions, cannot process distress or fear and be willing to help, has trouble with love or keeping relationships -- it may not be that they are doing it intentionally, they are just blind to it, they don't see it or know what it is. Their brain lacks the concept of it to the point that they cannot recognize that it is real when they see it in others. Imagine that -- a complete lack of empathy, disconnectedness with other people.

I'll also include this 20 question test that can be used as a basic psychopathy test. It is normally done by a professional while evaluating a patient but I had some fun with it, evaluating some of the more questionable characters in my life.


Each answer is scored as 0, 1 or 2. That means the max for 20 questions is 40 points. Anything over 30 is typically considered psychopathy.


Do you exhibit glib and superficial charm?

Do you have a grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self?

Do you have a constant need for stimulation?

Are you a pathological liar?

Are you cunning and manipulative?

Do you have lack of remorse or guilt?

Do you have shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)?

Are you callous, and do you lack empathy?

Do you have a parasitic lifestyle?

Do you have poor behavioral controls?

Are you sexually promiscuous?

Did you display early behavior problems?

Do you lack realistic long-term goals?

Are you overly impulsive?

Are you irresponsible?

Do you fail to accept responsibility for own actions?

Have you had many short-term marital relationships?

Do you have a history of juvenile delinquency?

Have you experienced a revocation of conditional release?

Do you display criminal versatility?


Big Think

Do you know anyone?




posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 02:54 PM
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Well Psychopath, is a bit out dated term.

Most fall on the spectrum of anti-social personality disorder, Sociopath and Psychopath are both being replaced by a spectrum on the ASPD scale.


Im Leary of research that throws around the term as "Although no psychiatric or psychological organization has sanctioned a diagnosis titled "psychopathy", assessments of psychopathic characteristics are widely used in criminal justice settings"


IE: someone leaning far into the ASPD spectrum could be consider either a sociopath and or Psychopath, though that would depend on the end results of their actions. IE: the defining factor would be their criminal actions, not necessarily any differences in their pathology.


That CEO, could just as Easily been a mass murderer, as they would have the same traits, yet we don't know the differentiating factors that lead to that split.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:09 PM
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a reply to: benrl

That's because we have no way of measuring that pathology yet, but what if we could?

As the article states and as you do also, it is a spectrum, there are varying degrees of psychopathy and some are considered "functioning". I believe, however, that once a real cause is found, it will only then become measurable. At the moment it is hard to measure something we don't even know where it stems from.

So yes, I agree, we now rate people based on how bad of a crime they committed, but someone who committed a lower crime may have worse psychopathic tendencies than a sociopath who did something worse -- those are circumstances.

What I found interesting is that they are now narrowing to a specific set of emotions. When they know exactly where the pathology lies, they could then perhaps focus on the part of the brain that controls that spectrum of emotion. Perhaps there is a physiological anomaly in that center that causes it; perhaps a stem cell injection can stimulate re-growth; or maybe trans-cranial magnetic stimulation?

Thanks for reading and commenting.





edit on 4-8-2018 by Kharron because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:14 PM
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It's a good article, interesting, though I don't know why it would be surprising somebody lacking empathy, that can't process normal emotions, should have any acuity of distress, in the first place. Isn't that covered under lack of empathy and lacking emotional wiring? It gives rise to another interesting thought, though, whether your violent psychopath, that is known to get off on fear, terrorizing people, on both a perverse and control level, could it be they like to heighten distress, since it takes a lot of distress to excite something in them? In any case, psychos mimic emotions, often react in "the lady doth protest too much" ways, as their emotions are all an act, laugh or frown a bit too hard, as they want you to think they're normal, when they're likely trying to seduce you in some way, pull your emotional strings. Whatever, if joy or sadness don't register, why should distress, you could say?

Yes, I've known them, unfortunately, even have family with the disease. Don't kid yourself: they are potentially damned dangerous, cannot be trusted. Another topic, and a lot more of these, are people with narcissistic borderline personality disorders. I guarantee you know them, if you've somehow been blessed of God to escape psychos. Again, good article. For their own well being, people should get to know the traits of psychos, well, to be on the lookout and keep your distance.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:16 PM
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a reply to: Kharron

I place on the "Autism spectrum"; someone who I am obliged to spend time with is on the ASPD spectrum.

It's difficult for me to be around him. All of his default body language and facial micro gestures project an image of control, superiority, or conspicuousness in a crowd, and of being an all-around charmer. I am the exact opposite. He's got a magic trick up his sleeve for everyone, literally. Last weekend he cornered and showed me all his card tricks.

There was one where he instructed me to stare into his eyes. This is one of the hardest things for me to do with anyone and while it made me so uncomfortable I almost cried, he seemed to genuinely relish it. It really makes me mad when people stare into my eyes.

I understand that the world needs all types to go 'round. These "sociopath" types perform important functions in our social ecosystem. As do I.

ETA: I wonder what the unintended consequences of "fixing" socio/psychopaths will be?
edit on 4/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:20 PM
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a reply to: Kharron

Part of the reason for the lack of information is the automatic demonization of people that fall on the scale. Often when diagnosed as ASPD people are marginalized and shun treatment.


People who fall on the lower end and suspect they are, and people on the higher end will avoid seeking help as they will get labeled Sociopath or Psychopath by those that don't understand they may actually be no harm to anyone.


What we get to see are the outliers that actually commit crimes, not the mass of "functioning" people who fall on the spectrum and actually manage to live healthy productive lives in society.



Many times this stems from childhood trauma, early in the developmental phase, abuse tends to cause this in some cases. Again, going to the ASPD scale and eliminating terms like Sociopathy and Psycopathy, goes a long way to defining and honing our understanding.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:20 PM
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originally posted by: DictionaryOfExcuses

I understand that the world needs all types to go 'round. These "sociopath" types perform important functions in our social ecosystem. As do I.


Need all types? Like the types with "most likely to murder good people" in their yearbook? Makes sense to me!



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:25 PM
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As for the questions...

What is it when someone has problems with the questions themselves Such as seeing that the questions are really dependent on too many factors to make any reliable determination of any sort.

psy=mental
co=sub to someone else
path=track

Givin that breakdown of the word i say it means to be possessed...

if they made a drug called subpathx it would clear it right up.
edit on 4-8-2018 by howtonhawky because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:27 PM
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a reply to: Scrutinizing

Are you just being reflexively sarcastic or do you have a point?

Our dimensions of assessment seem to be different.

Yes, the world needs all types.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:28 PM
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Well according to that I'm a psychopath, I have trouble reading people.. Domestic animals or wild animals no problem. But people... Nope can't tell true distress from fake unless I know them well.

Eta: long day 19 hours on a plane or in an airport with a 7 month pregnant wife.
So for clarification, some folks just have trouble connecting or as a child (like in my case) I had a severe stutter that took years of speech therapy to get past that stunted my emotional growth.
edit on 4-8-2018 by Irishhaf because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:32 PM
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Bummer....I flunked the test, I did not qualify for one of those questions. No wonder I have such a hard time fitting into society. I do like to be social, but I am a little boring if the conversation lasts too long...like over five minutes.

Now, I like teaching people how to do things, I feel good when I do that. I have trained many people to do various type of work throughout the years. I also found many people who were experts in a field to learn from. Others who liked to share their knowledge.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:35 PM
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originally posted by: DictionaryOfExcuses
a reply to: Scrutinizing

Are you just being reflexively sarcastic or do you have a point?

Our dimensions of assessment seem to be different.

Yes, the world needs all types.


Sarcastic, but I find it absurd this concept we need psychopaths or sociopaths. This is a category of the most monstrous people that have ever walked the earth, have tens of millions of victims under their belts, the very concept the world needs the psychotically deranged laughable. Hands down, if I'd never met a psycho, that would be a better life. Period. They can go to hell, at least those that do psycho things.
edit on 4-8-2018 by Scrutinizing because: Caveat.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 03:38 PM
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You know what this article brings to mind, there was this fascinating Dateline or one of those shows episodes about this young woman that escaped from a serial killer. The guy did not murder her, as quickly as he had others. He raped this young lady, and just drove her around, for so long, trying to scare her. And she would just say stuff like, in a matter of fact way, "Just shut up and kill me, then. Why don't you just kill me?" She wasn't as much terrorized as being practical, just wanted to get it over with, was a unique, brave and smart young woman I recall admiring, immensely, as she told her story. It's like the dude wasn't getting the terror reaction, the distress in her, he was looking for, and had to have that, to kill her, just kept trying to scare her. She managed to escape from his car, finally.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 04:12 PM
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a reply to: Scrutinizing

I think the opposite.

I think nature makes exactly what it needs, and humanity is part of nature.

Your response addresses "nature", and you completely negate the influence of "nurture", and seem to be saying that all people with psycho/sociopath tendencies turn out to be murderers. Do you honestly believe this?

Did you read my first thread reply? Yes. We need those guys, too. Can you honestly not imagine a situation where a person with in-your-face intimidation factor is useful? Can you imagine a situation where a person who is impervious to emotional manipulation is useful?

I am unclear on your position. If we had the means, would you support mandatory cognitive/behavioral intervention on the individuals who land outside of a preferred range? Whose preference takes precedence? What would happen to those people? Camps, surgeries, medications? Could you clarify what you are advocating for?

I stand by what I said the first time. The world needs all types.

I don't appreciate it when people insinuate that I encourage murder.


edit on 4/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 04:24 PM
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a reply to: howtonhawky

But we can't define words the way we want to and still expect to have a useful conversation.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 04:26 PM
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originally posted by: DictionaryOfExcuses
a reply to: Scrutinizing

I think the opposite.

I think nature makes exactly what it needs, and humanity is part of nature.


If it's natural, it's good? Try some poison ivy on your salad. I suppose nature also extends to Ebola. I'm sorry, but there is no way you'll ever understand my view, even 40,000 foot view, if you find psychosis is needed. You need to discuss this with somebody else, that accepts your very premise. All I would say, then simply drop it, for my part, is that you insult every victim of one of history's worst diseases and menaces, that you find needful. Let's just agree to disagree.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 04:40 PM
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a reply to: Scrutinizing

With all due respect, it doesn't sound like you've thought this out very well.

You make a straw man of everything I say. I say that nature needs all things, not all actions. Nature does not need me to make a poison oak salad. Cute, cartoonish thought, though. (However, did you know that poison oak has medicinal uses?)

Yes. Ebola is a part of nature. Who am I to say what the "point" of ebola is? I am not God. I'm not even an epidemiologist. Are you? Some people will die of this disease and I still say that Nature makes what it needs. Sometimes people don't like it, sometimes it is inconvenient to our plans, I agree, but that doesn't make it not so.

Do you still not know that Nature is our master, not the other way around? It is you who seems not to understand my 40,000 foot view.

Psychosis is different from psychopathy. Read.

I insult nobody, victims of ebola or not.

"Agree to disagree": first reasonable thing you've said.
edit on 4/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)

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posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 05:04 PM
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originally posted by: DictionaryOfExcuses
a reply to: howtonhawky

But we can't define words the way we want to and still expect to have a useful conversation.


Useful is subjective

To me it does make sense that perhaps a psychopath is hearing voices coming from another person's subconscious.

I guess perhaps my truths go against some super secret system that i am not supposed to talk about.



posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 05:08 PM
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a reply to: howtonhawky

You seem to be referring to psychosis, not psychopathy.


It always surprises me that even in our age of abundant information — including a plethora of information about psychological issues — many folks still confuse the concepts of psychosis and psychopathy. While perusing the comments sections of several blogs, and reviewing various articles during the past few weeks, I was stunned by the extent to which the two terms are misunderstood.


counsellingresource.com...

But. As to your response. Perhaps one suffering psychosis is truly hearing voices from others' subconscious minds. Or conscious? Maybe the truth is there is no distinction between my mind and your mind. I enjoy speculating about such things, but that's for another thread.
edit on 4/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)


ETA: Bro I ain't even tryin to do nothin to your truths.
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posted on Aug, 4 2018 @ 05:31 PM
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I guess most of Obama's supporters were psychos then when he cried his crocodile tears for the shooting victims and none of them seemed to notice.
edit on 4-8-2018 by BrianFlanders because: (no reason given)



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