It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.

Please white-list or disable in your ad-blocking tool.

Thank you.


Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.


Brain Research Shows Psychopathic Criminals Do Not Lack Empathy, but Fail to Use It Automatically

page: 1

log in


posted on Jul, 25 2013 @ 01:08 PM
Brain Research Shows Psychopathic Criminals Do Not Lack Empathy, but Fail to Use It Automatically

Wrong forum? I trust the mods will move as appropriate. But, in my opinion, the fact that the world is pretty much RUN by psychopaths - whether the militant terrorist types, or the corporate thief types, or the political narcissist types - psychos are BAD NEWS.

Criminal psychopathy can be both repulsive and fascinating, as illustrated by the vast number of books and movies inspired by this topic. Offenders diagnosed with psychopathy pose a significant threat to society, because they are more likely to harm other individuals and to do so again after being released.

A brain imaging study in the Netherlands shows individuals with psychopathy have reduced empathy while witnessing the pains of others. When asked to empathize, however, they can activate their empathy. This could explain why psychopathic individuals can be callous and socially cunning at the same time.

For years, it has been believed (even very recently), that psychopaths LACK empathy altogether. It was long thought that there was nothing to be done for habitual soulless monstrosities like those portrayed in "American Psycho", the serial killers of wide infamy, etc.

But, if it's true, as neuroscientists have now 'found' using fMRI, that they CAN have empathy, but just don't USE IT automatically, that makes it an even more profound problem. Many of us have crossed paths with psychopathic, antisocial people who seem totally indifferent to the pain and concerns of others, or been hurt badly by those who seemed charismatic, charming, good-looking, and "nice", only to be fooled and screwed over by them.

How many of us, both men and women, have been hurt by someone in whom we put our hearts, our trust, and our authentic selves, and then were smashed to bits by discovering the person didn't give a rat-dropping about us? I know I have. Somehow it seemed 'easier' to just chalk it up to "he has no soul", or "she's a total drama queen user and gold-digger", and think, "Oh well, now I know better." (We sometimes though, fail to notice the "red flags" at first - until it's been SEVERAL times that we get screwed.)

It became just a "write-off" relationship. As much as we feel we 'deserved' an apology, we knew we'd never, ever get one. But - now they're saying that people CAN learn to use the empathy they have. So, is this what happens when that jerk who ruined your life shows up 10 years later to "make amends"?

Making amends is always a part of the standard 12-step programs. It would seem that psychopaths might "say" they are sorry, but never really meant it. But then again, sometimes people DO show remorse some time later.

There might be two sides to these findings. The darker side is that reduced spontaneous empathy together with a preserved capacity for empathy might be the cocktail that makes these individuals so callous when harming their victims and at the same time so socially cunning when they try to seduce their victims.

Whether individuals with psychopathy autonomously switch their empathy mode on and off depending on the requirements of a social situation however remains to be established. The brighter side is that the preserved capacity for empathy might be harnessed in therapy.

Instead of having to create a capacity for empathy, therapies may need to focus on making the existing capacity more automatic to prevent them from further harming others. How to do so, remains at this stage uncertain.

So that means Whitey Bulger, Jodi Arias, Hitler, Madoff, all the notorious dictators and killers really can choose to care or not? I know that sometimes I just feel numb watching violence on the screen, or reading about it - and it's true that American media is obsessed with violence, "If it bleeds, it leads". So, are we just desensitized?

What are the implications of this in light of how to solve society's problems?
Could they develop an "artificial" way to stimulate that part of the brain? Certainly they've figured out how to ERASE that part of the brain (i.e. in military training of the last century - not specific to US military).

Slippery indeed. Your thoughts?

edit on 25-7-2013 by wildtimes because: formatting errors

posted on Jul, 25 2013 @ 01:20 PM
A couple of recent "related articles" - from spring of THIS YEAR - showed varying 'theories' of psychopathy:

Kids With Conduct Problems May Have Brains That Under-React to Painful Images: May Increase Risk of Adult Psychopathy

May 2, 2013 — When children with conduct problems see images of others in pain, key parts of their brains don't react in the way they do in most people. This pattern of reduced brain activity upon witnessing pain may serve as a neurobiological risk factor for later adult psychopathy, say researchers who report their findings in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 2.

The brain images showed that, relative to controls, children with conduct problems show reduced responses to others' pain specifically in regions of the brain known to play a role in empathy. The researchers also saw variation among those with conduct problems, with those deemed to be more callous showing lower brain activation than less callous individuals.

I know I don't always feel "bad" when I simply see an 'image' of someone in pain, yet I consider myself compassionate and empathetic. How did I become so desensitized? Is it just from repeated exposure? Or does it have to do with it being an image of a stranger, rather than a known, live person? I went to visit a youth who had been shot several times some years ago - and I nearly cried just looking at his face. I went to see my brother after they'd peeled his face back and broken his nose to get to a tumor in his pituitary, and I nearly cried then, also.

When my kids are suffering in any way, I feel sick at heart and powerless to help.
But a stranger?

How about you guys? I think it depends on a lot of things, including proximity, our ability to "relate" to the situation, etc.

posted on Jul, 25 2013 @ 01:20 PM
Here's the second related article
Psychopaths Are Not Neurally Equipped to Have Concern for Others

Apr. 24, 2013 — Prisoners who are psychopaths lack the basic neurophysiological "hardwiring" that enables them to care for others, according to a new study by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago and the University of New Mexico.

"A marked lack of empathy is a hallmark characteristic of individuals with psychopathy," said the lead author of the study, Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at UChicago. Psychopathy affects approximately 1 percent of the United States general population and 20 percent to 30 percent of the male and female U.S. prison population. Relative to non-psychopathic criminals, psychopaths are responsible for a disproportionate amount of repetitive crime and violence in society.
"This is the first time that neural processes associated with empathic processing have been directly examined in individuals with psychopathy, especially in response to the perception of other people in pain or distress," he added. they? Or don't they have the capacity?
These were all studies done by different groups and published in different journals. As a retired therapist, I'm interested in keeping up on the latest. I don't know WHAT to think at this point - except to say again, the psychotherapy field is more an art than a science -

We are in the very, very earliest stages of really 'understanding' how people tick - it frightens me that some are engineering ways to "make us tick" a certain way, though. Brain chips, anyone? No thanks, I'm on a diet.

edit on 25-7-2013 by wildtimes because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 25 2013 @ 01:41 PM
Interesting thread S&F.

The only thing I believe about Psychopaths and Sociopaths, more aptly Antipersonnel disorders is that we don't know enough and we need to study these people more.

I would even say much more work needs to be done on the neuroscience side than an psychoanalyst side, there are even strong arguments to be made that the lack of empathy (and in this case if true ability to selectively use it) are an evolutionary trait that provides advantage.

I forgot where I heard this quote but it was in relationship to a Sociopath/Psycho path in prison, to Paraphrase " A more primitive society would kill me, a more advanced would try to use me."

posted on Jul, 25 2013 @ 05:44 PM
Psychology is more of a philosophy than a science IMO. No one can ever really know what another person is thinking or feeling. I have enough trouble being completely honest with myself, it is literally impossible for me to be completely honest with other people, I find it hard to believe I am the only one like this.

posted on Jul, 25 2013 @ 08:11 PM
reply to post by TKDRL

I doubt that you are.
Thanks for your post!

new topics

top topics

log in