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← Psychopaths: Born evil or with a diseased brain?

Psychopaths: Born evil or with a diseased brain? - Comments

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 1 by ZenDruid

Interesting, in terms of the legal implications. Could a child be prevented from becoming a violent adult by early identification and intervention?

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 18:25:57 UTC | #890476

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 2 by wisnoskij

Wasn't all of this already known? As far as I was aware (for as long as I have been alive) everyone already knew that psychopaths were psychopathic because of differences in their brain. I guess you could compare it to homosexuality, they don't choose to be psychopaths they are not made into psychopaths (at least in some situations), they are simply born that way.

So why is this being hailed as new?

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 18:58:41 UTC | #890485

Wokkie's Avatar Comment 3 by Wokkie

It's nice to see that the mainstream media publishes articles about neurology. It's a bit old news, but we have to start somewhere.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:05:29 UTC | #890486

The Jersey Devil's Avatar Comment 4 by The Jersey Devil

I've rejected 'evil' as a concept long ago. Years before I rejected the exsistence of God. People are either healthy or unhealthy, well adjusted or anti-social, empathetic or apathetic, etc.

In my world view, there is no such thing 'evil' or 'rightousness'.

With that said, laws are made so that people might live together in a mutually beneficial way. You know, avoid the whole 'Nasty, brutish and short' thing. I view the judicial system as a way of enforcing laws for our benefit not as a penal system. I have no problem with him being in jail for the rest of his days, I don't care that he is only 'ill'.

Because they lack emotional capability, when teachers attempt to get them to feel remorse it may make them confused and more likely to hurt others.

When will people learn that guilt is a poor motivational tool?!?!?!

On a lighter note, I hope they have something other then the "Ludoviko Technique' in mind when 'curing' children of psychopathy.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:05:53 UTC | #890487

Virgin Mary's Avatar Comment 5 by Virgin Mary

Yeah, I don't get it either. I remember studying psychopathy in psychology over 10 years ago and although I can't remember the specifics none of that sounds new to me. The legal implications might only just be being brought to the public's attention but the condition itself isn't a new discovery.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:07:01 UTC | #890489

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Comment 6 by Helga Vieirch

I personally wonder if this is "genetic", because everything that appears to be present at birth is still often being called genetic. People tend to forget that there are nine months (sometimes less) spent in the womb, when all kinds of toxins, stress, hormonal imbalances, and nutritional deficiencies can alter the way the fetus develops. While I have no doubt that there is such a thing as genetic vulnerability to various influences, perhaps especially in the development of the brain, it seems overly simplistic to immediately jump to the idea of variation in behaviour and cognition as being genetic just because they are present from a very young age. Autism rates, for instance, have skyrocketed in recent decades, and this is not merely due to "better diagnosis" any more than cancer rates are.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:07:13 UTC | #890490

Capt. Bloodeye's Avatar Comment 7 by Capt. Bloodeye

Just stick a barcode on the forehead and be done with it......

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:16:29 UTC | #890491

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 8 by Peter Grant

Why is there an OR in the title?

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:30:23 UTC | #890495

Atheist Mike's Avatar Comment 9 by Atheist Mike

What's the point? People who are ready to kill others in cold blood obviously have at the very least a small 'difference' in their brains. I don't see how this is news or how it could be useful.

Also, as far as labels go I think it'd be better for criminals to still be regarded as 'evil' regardless and not as 'ill'. We already have enough various burglars and murderers who claim to be mentally ill in court just to avoid full reprehension. Are we going to see things like this in the future?:

"No your honour, my client has a very bad case of psychopathy that's all, he didn't mean to kill the Anderson family. I suggest he spends one month in prison followed by a ridiculous 5 month of homoeopathic therapy."

The way I see it, their brains are what they are and if they're messed up enough to make them destroy other people's lives then they should suffer the consequences of their crimes. As for treating 'psychopathic' children I think it's as bad an idea as the autism or ADHD crazes. Once this'll get a grasp of the general public you'll get parents bringing their kids to the psychiatrist because they've been 'unusual'. It'll probably turn out to be a phase or a case of bad parenting in most cases and you'll end up with kids having to take pills and bear the label of a mental disease for the rest of their lives.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:52:10 UTC | #890499

SheerReason's Avatar Comment 10 by SheerReason

I found a research article written by Doctor Kent Kiehl. It goes into a bit more detail on his findings. Worth a read for those interested. It's in PDF format. It's dated 2006, but most of it still seems relevant to the article.

Paralimbic Review - Psychiatry Research 2006

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:55:11 UTC | #890501

green and dying's Avatar Comment 11 by green and dying

I don't see how this would make someone not evil. If we found out that all of the people who do a lot of charity work had a physical difference in their brains would we stop calling them good people? If we found out that everyone who is very funny had a different brain would we think that makes them less funny?

Surely every part of someone's personality is caused by something physical in the brain. How can we separate out certain parts and say they don't count as being someone's real personality?

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:58:28 UTC | #890503

El Bastardo's Avatar Comment 12 by El Bastardo

Of course, once we have mapped the brain and start to "reprogram" psychopaths, sociopaths and pedophiles, we start heading into a very murky ethical area.

Sure, less violence and a, possibly, better society, but then come the accusations of playing god, and of course, the rights of the criminal to not have their brain rewired, even if the needs of the many are served.

I can almost see it then falling into the realms of cosmetic surgery, people having emotional alterations or bringing their kids to have their brains made more mathematically inclined, or worse, if we can't pray the gay away we can surgically remove it...

It's a fascinating area of study, but mired with ethical questions. Should be fascinating to see how far it can go, how far we should go and what else this arises.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 19:58:59 UTC | #890504

green and dying's Avatar Comment 13 by green and dying

Comment 12 by El Bastardo :

Of course, once we have mapped the brain and start to "reprogram" psychopaths, sociopaths and pedophiles, we start heading into a very murky ethical area.

Sure, less violence and a, possibly, better society, but then come the accusations of playing god, and of course, the rights of the criminal to not have their brain rewired, even if the needs of the many are served.

Reminds me of A Clockwork Orange.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:04:00 UTC | #890506

PatW's Avatar Comment 14 by PatW

Psychopathy isn't a mental illness. It's a personality disorder. There is no cure for a personality disorder. Unless, someone can find a way to artificially develop a conscience in a psychopath. The odds of that happening so far have been nil to none.

There are various reasons psychopaths develop personality disorders. It could be that their DNA forming the brain malfunctioned for potential to develop a conscience. Then, again, it could be they were severely abused as children prior to the age of seven, and it was ongoing from a very young age until age 7. One of the most prevalent psychological child development standards I've repeatedly read is that if a child is unable to develop a conscience by age seven, the highest probability is that one will never be developed. There will be no empathy because any potential for a conscience never developed.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:06:25 UTC | #890508

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 15 by prettygoodformonkeys

Saying that something or someone is 'evil' is playing into the religious paradigm. The fact that we have very few other linguistic ways of delineating this behaviour (other than long-winded explanations) is an indication of how deeply our psyches are ensnared in the rhetoric of religion. They still own the language.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:15:01 UTC | #890513

alaskansee's Avatar Comment 16 by alaskansee

I think this is more of a debate for the US, they're often focused on biblical "evil" as something you can catch from bad thinking or not enough bible reading. So I think it's important in his culture to further define psychopaths as "born that way" to help the religiloons understand.

Also as scientific knowledge is never really finally defined ongoing research is, well, ongoing. So please can we have less calls of "what's new" etc from those who think everything has already been set in stone, it hasn't unless you're thinking of the 10 commandments?

I never thought of more thinking as a bad thing, I hope we're all on board with that?

EDIT @12, this also has implications for reprogramming the other criminals - "the gays" which is a great deal more problematic than real criminals, depending on whose religion you were born into!

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:15:41 UTC | #890514

PatW's Avatar Comment 17 by PatW

Comment 4 by The Jersey Devil : When will people learn that guilt is a poor motivational tool?!?!?!

How about guilt used as a self-motivational tool? Guilt implying capability to feel remorse. Remorse implying the capability to feel another's pain - physical and/or emotional - as if it’s one’s own aka expressing empathy not sympathy. The empathy as a base of conscience compelling people to avoid doing any further harm to others.

It’s true. Guilt doesn’t work on psychopaths. Their brains never developed a conscience rendering them incapable of expressing empathy. Others’ pain is the apex of their joy.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:18:50 UTC | #890518

Virgin Mary's Avatar Comment 18 by Virgin Mary

There has to be a better test for psychopathy than showing them some pictures and seeing if they give a shit!

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:28:06 UTC | #890523

PatW's Avatar Comment 19 by PatW

Perhaps,if people developed the habit of defining behavior and not attaching those same adjectives to the person, it would provide common clarification as to what people actually mean when they use words, i.e. evil behavior rather than evil person.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:32:38 UTC | #890525

PatW's Avatar Comment 20 by PatW

Comment 15 by prettygoodformonkeys :

Saying that something or someone is 'evil' is playing into the religious paradigm. The fact that we have very few other linguistic ways of delineating this behaviour (other than long-winded explanations) is an indication of how deeply our psyches are ensnared in the rhetoric of religion. They still own the language.

How about an anagram of the word evil? That word is then the word vile instead.

To my knowledge, theists were never given an exclusive license to use the word evil. When I use the word, I use it because no other word is descriptive or clear enough to define what I mean to describe. The word vile doesn't contain the powerful imagery I may be trying to convey as the word evil does.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:34:43 UTC | #890526

Laura Bow's Avatar Comment 21 by Laura Bow

Also as scientific knowledge is never really finally defined ongoing research is, well, ongoing. So please can we have less calls of "what's new" etc from those who think everything has already been set in stone, it hasn't unless you're thinking of the 10 commandments?

Agreed. I appreciate articles like this circulating because I'm still amazed by how many people are oblivious to this concept. I'm fascinated by the concepts of morality and personal responsibility which are all too often simplified in our culture.

As for treating 'psychopathic' children I think it's as bad an idea as the autism or ADHD crazes.

The problem with such "crazes" is that they are over-diagnosed and over-medicated in North America. But ADHD and Autism are real, and many afflicted individuals have benefited from the scientific research of these disorders. I'm sure the same would be true in the instance of psychopathy. What needs to change isn't the research, but how the research is applied in society.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:34:56 UTC | #890527

The Jersey Devil's Avatar Comment 22 by The Jersey Devil

How about guilt used as a self-motivational tool?

That is your choice, of course. There is a way to change behavior using positive emotional motivation as opposed to negative emotional motivation. It's called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT.

Also, the claim that remorse actually changes ones behaviour is somewhat dubious. People from over-eaters to seriel killers have reported feeling remorse for their behavior yet continue to engage in that same behavior.

Indeed, the guilt can perpetuate the behavior in at least some cases.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:42:55 UTC | #890530

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 23 by Steven Mading

If you're a materialist, then shouldn't all "evil" activity be, in principle, tracable to a brain mechanism? After all, if someone else's brain and my brain are identical in every way, that would mean we would think the same. If you believe a one-to-one correspondance exists between thinking and physical brain matter, such that every thought is a physical brain condition, and every physical brain condition is a thought, then why draw the distinction between "this person is a clinical psychopath" and "this person choses to behave badly" They should be the same thing. One is just a lot more extreme than the other, and since our ability to measure brain activity is crude, it takes such an extreme case for us to get definitive evidence of the physical phenomenon that lays behind the thoughts.

It's a bit like diagnosing a computer that won't boot by opening the hood and looking at the parts. If you see a bit of burned scorch marks on the motherboard, you can easily map that physical phenomenon to the booting problem. But if the problem is that some ram chips have burned out bits on the inside that are causing lots of 1's to lose current and flip to 0's, that's still just as physical of a problem even if it's a harder one to see. Now, if the problem is purely in software, say as in trying to follow a null pointer, even then there is still a problem in the bits that are stored in physical matter, but it's far far more complex to describe it that way so we abstract it. But be assured, describing it as software is an abstraction of the physical process that's really going on: "The magnetic bits that store this part of this program on this sector of the hard drive are configured in such a way that after they are loaded into ram they will represent this series of instructions, and this particular patch of bits right here that stores the address of this instruction's operand are set to zero, leading to an attempt to access memory location zero, which makes this part of the software fail to operate which then means....."

I see these distinctions of "brain disorder so it's not your fault" versus "normal brain so it is your fault" as largely irrelevant. ALL behaviors have physical cause.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 20:58:59 UTC | #890535

Red Foot Okie's Avatar Comment 24 by Red Foot Okie

Always good to see more progress being made in this area.

As has been pointed out, this leads to some murky waters, but denying the reality of the situation won't make that water any less murky. Me, if there is a way to reprogram psychopaths, sociopaths, and pedophiles, I'll get behind that. I brought a pen, I'll sign it into law.

If technology and techniques can be brought to bear that identify psychopaths, sociopaths, and pedophiles, I can easily get behind using them, too.

The biggest question is whether, once found, anything can be done. What then? Prettiest girl in 2nd grade has icewater for blood and can NEVER be fixed. What happens next...

Wasn't there a classic science-fiction story ("Unusual Punishment" maybe?) where the people they can't cure they tattoo and inflict them with a kind of epilepsy that keeps them from actually completing any of the murderous plans they form.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:02:28 UTC | #890537

isisdron's Avatar Comment 25 by isisdron

Why do we care about psychopaths? They wouldnt care about any of us if they were standing over us with a knife in their hand. Yes, they have a problem, and it isnt their fault. Yet, I highly doubt you can cure people's personalities. The best you could do is separate them from society and never let them out. I dont think the death penalty is moral, but I dont want these predators running around free in society while they are in "treatment" or whatever.

There is a kid I know who is 11 and has been granted special education status because of a vague diagnosis of emotional disturbance disorder. His adopted mother lobbied the school to give him a provisional diagnosis because no doctors wanted to come on record and label this little boy for life for what is quite apparently psychopathy with a bit of bipolar and schizophrenic tendencies thrown in. He lies every day. He tries to get someone else in trouble every day. He has hallucinations that are barely being kept at bay by meds, and goes on manic and depressive binges like bipolars do. He steals money from somewhere every day. When he gets caught in his many lies, he never feels remorse, but rather feels frustrated when his attempts to manipulate an adult fail. This makes him cry and throw a tantrum. He never does his schoolwork even though he is a prodigy. He has no friends, but loves to cook and frequently states that he will be a world famous chef when he is older, yet his mother is trying to keep him from a life of crime right now. As I listened to her story of wanting to adopt and help as many children as possible (she was Christian and believed it to be her duty), I couldnt help but feel sorry for her. Sometimes when you walk the walk you still get pissed on, and she was at her wits end with this child. His birth mother was full on schizophrenic by age 17 when he was born. I'm sure that genetics plays a role. But the docs wont label him until he hurts someone I'm sure. Even if it is true.

How would intervention work if no one wants to admit the obvious about a child? The kid I mentioned is being treated as any other special education kid would be treated, lenient on them while young and letting them get away with some stuff that other kids wouldnt be allowed to. This approach has not helped this boy learn proper reactions, but rather allowed him to hone his criminal technique through manipulation of others' emotions.

My son has autism, it is real. It is not a craze, and yes he definitely has a hard time acting appropriately to the various social situations he finds himself in. Autistics have to memorize their whole lives to live in a society that has expectations of prosocial behavior. Are we saying that psychopaths have to do the same thing? They are good at pretending, but how would we know if they were showing signs of improvement that were real or if they were just faking because they know what people want to hear? Autistics in my experience are truthful to the extreme, so we can observe the progress of therapy and make accurate assessments of the individual's progress. I just dont know about treatment that was memorization only working for psychopaths. I feel a more permanent solution for the safety of the many is called for. Possibly gamma knifing away the "evil" if we could. Where would we draw the line? I dont know...but this is a good place to start. For everyone's sake.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:30:10 UTC | #890548

Virgin Mary's Avatar Comment 26 by Virgin Mary

Are there any statistics on the diagnosed psychopaths? I'm sure there are plenty of them who managed to get through their entire lives without murdering puppies and children, so therefore no allowances what so ever should be given to those who every now and again did indulge in a bit of murder and slaughter.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:30:11 UTC | #890549

The Jersey Devil's Avatar Comment 27 by The Jersey Devil

There is a way to change behavior using positive emotional motivation as opposed to negative emotional motivation.

I want to restate this:

In REBT, you use rational logic to change irrational beliefs which results in a positive emotional response. That is, you change your thinking to effect your behavior and emotions in a positive way.

By using guilt as a motivational tool, you are using emotions to try and change your thinking and behavior.

I stated it wrong before, sorry for the confusion.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:32:05 UTC | #890551

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 28 by Premiseless

I think there are peculiar sets of influences on many humans. These provide ranges, in various measures, on the cues any young person may respond then anticipate they need employ for the world they are in, concerning mind emotion combinations.

Can I kill my own food? Can I kill to defend my own family? Can I kill to self preserve? Am I expected to be the alpha male? Is kudos attached to alpha male status proportional to disabling my emotional context (i.e. how skilled I am at disabling emotion seems a measure of the man I must aspire to be)? etc. Am I being sold an idea females respond to alpha male behaviours? What behaviours am I needing to maximise in anticipation of the adult world I am headed towards? These become the self doctrine questions many engage daily. - These feel a pressure and even a hatred to the child but present as tests to be overcome and won.

Think of some contexts in drug fueled/ crime riven regions and war zones that children are amongst for example. How do they get some of the good life therein? Do they need to fight for or design it for themselves?

Now also consider there may well be physiological ranges in humans which encourage more likely responses to such cues for role play. It is not difficult to see how some might be indoctrinated to misread all the cues displayed them ( or bias their interpretation in varying degrees of conceptual misunderstanding) as with religious role play hooking up loyalties to invisible caricature in chaotic and odd ways. You may get an individual oppressing their natural development for the group 'warrior cues' as well as those responding to the warrior cues as if a desire need be satiated and deemed enjoyable or for future benefit.

Suppose the 'revenge' desire is nurtured early to enhance enjoyment of inflicting pain by process of personal judgement and hatred - as with tribal/gang mindsets. This may not only skew the balance in the individual but also the peer cues that further encourage or resent such individuals precipitating yet more dysfunction. The individual is on a path largely primed for disharmony and largely confused about any alternative. To many of us this appears inhuman. However there are various contexts of conflict that all young people are primed to resist and apply due process of law to. But what when law is less available? The social code changes and youth are conditioned to resist or coexist for survival. This becomes their law. We are not in a world perfectly aligned, for the benefit of all, receiving the correct inputs for functional realities considered well put as on this forum!

This alone will turn out 'problem individuals', in addition to any the genetic code might be likelier to produce.

The matrix of nature versus nurture has, I suspect and expect, various points for convergence upon dysfunctional 'locked in' combinations of pendulum swinging mind emotion, due the ranges of permutations of experience any individual might be subjected to, being more heavily weighted to those outcomes. I'm saying the sine wave of mind emotions, in some, becomes out of synch with its environments, in the same ways we see a theist being conditioned to think, respond and behave - in ways out of touch with what inputs ought have replaced whatever they have adopted as reality!

Complicated is an understatement!

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 22:07:10 UTC | #890557

PatW's Avatar Comment 29 by PatW

Comment 22 by The Jersey Devil :

How about guilt used as a self-motivational tool?

That is your choice, of course. There is a way to change behavior using positive emotional motivation as opposed to negative emotional motivation. It's called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT. Also, the claim that remorse actually changes ones behaviour is somewhat dubious. People from over-eaters to seriel killers have reported feeling remorse for their behavior yet continue to engage in that same behavior.

Indeed, the guilt can perpetuate the behavior in at least some cases.

Who claims that remorse changes people's behavior? Please cite those authorities claiming that.

Benjamin Spock did a smash up job of turning out some of the most amoral children on this planet, because he told parents to ignore the bad behavior and then obsessively praise good behavior. Parents resorted to buying “good” behavior with material rewards, i.e. candy, money, trips to Disney World, computers, etc.

Exactly what relative comparison exists to help children develop a conscience, when all their bad behavior is being ignored? Children need to learn there are consequences for bad behavior, and those consequences aren’t always physically pain free. My parents said the buttocks how two constructive uses. Sitting on and learning the difference between good and bad behavior.

Depriving children of material objects they demand may serve to deflate bruise little overly inflated egos. However, they need to learn how to develop a conscience with physical relative comparisons without any material rewards. How can children learn to recognize actual good behavior if they are never taught how to recognize actual bad behavior? Buying “good” behavior was proved not to be the answer over the last 5 decades.

What I referred to as a child capable of feeling badly (guilty because the child is aware the other person is hurt by that child, thus, showing development of a conscience) bears no relationship to emotional abuse used by anyone else. That doesn’t help any child to develop a conscience if the brain potential to do so exists. Emotional abuse never does.

I can tell you how my mother's friend tried to teach her child that biting hurts another child. That boy would bite and draw blood. He often used his little brother to practice cannibalistic tendencies. The mother would tell the bitten child to bite the biter. I couldn't do it. So the mother bit him, and said, "It obviously hurt because you're crying. That hurt her when you bit her. Don't do it again, or I'll bite you every time you bite anyone else." Whether that child was ever able to comprehend the difference between right and wrong or even develop a conscience, I have no idea. All I know is that boy never bit me and drew blood again.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 22:41:19 UTC | #890564

The Jersey Devil's Avatar Comment 30 by The Jersey Devil

Who claims that remorse changes people's behavior?

You did.

Guilt implying capability to feel remorse. Remorse implying the capability to feel another's pain - physical and/or emotional - as if it’s one’s own aka expressing empathy not sympathy. The empathy as a base of conscience compelling people to avoid doing any further harm to others.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 22:51:34 UTC | #890568