The Psychopath Brain

The Disconnection of Psychopaths

Functional connectivity between the right amygdala and anterior vmPFC is reduced in psychopaths. From Fig. 2 of Motzkin et al., (2011).

What is psychopathy, exactly? According to Ermer and colleagues (2011):

Psychopathy is a serious personality disorder marked by affective and interpersonal deficiencies, as well as behavioral problems and antisocial tendencies (Cleckley, 1976). Affective and interpersonal traits (termed Factor 1) include callousness and a profound inability to experience remorse, guilt, and empathy; antisocial and behavioral problems (termed Factor 2) include impulsivity, stimulation seeking, and irresponsibility. These symptoms tend to manifest at an early age, continue throughout adulthood, and pervade numerous aspects of psychopaths’ daily functioning.

As for the brain regions implicated in psychopathy, dysfunction in the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) have been suspected for quite some time (Abbott, 2001Blair, 2007Koenigs et al., 2011). From this perspective, a recent study on the structural and functional connectivity of these two regions (Motzkin et al., 2011) isn’t entirely groundbreaking. Read more…

Psychopaths: Nature or Nurture?

Brain structures involved in dealing with fear...

Clinical psychopaths have physiological markers that can be seen in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and in lower resting heart rate, for example. It has not been determined with certainty if these aberrations are present at birth or if they are due to childhood environment or trauma. It does seem plausible that the outcome for a “born psychopath” is closely tied to “external” influences. In other words; the characteristics of each individual, and his path in life, are the result of an interaction between nature and nurture.

If that truly is the case, isn’t it plausible that it is the childhood setting that determines if a child born with a psychopathic brain abnormality will become a high functioning ‘controlled’ psychopath or not? Perhaps psychopaths from ‘good’ homes are more likely to become politicians, corporate executives, lawyers, psychiatrists, and Wall Street operatives, while the psychopaths from ‘bad’ homes are more likely to take the positions as con artists, rapists, murderers, serial killers, and other criminals that have a high representation rate in prisons.

Sociopaths: Controlled and Uncontrolled