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…

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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

(RobertLindsay.wordpress.com)

The psychopathic brain

An underlying cause for psychopathic behavior?

April 27, 2010

prefrontal cortexPsychopaths are known for their callousness, diminished capacity for remorse, and lack of empathy. However, the exact cause of these personality traits is an area of scientific debate. The results of a new study show striking similarities between the mental impairments observed in psychopaths and those seen in patients with frontal lobe damage.

One previous explanation for psychopathic tendencies has been a reduced capacity to make inferences about the mental states of other people, an ability known as Theory of Mind (ToM). On the other hand, psychopaths are also known to be extremely good manipulators and deceivers, which would imply that they have good skills in inferring the knowledge, needs, intentions, and beliefs of other people. Therefore, it has been suggested recently that ToM is made up of different aspects: a cognitive part, which requires inferences about knowledge and beliefs, and another part which requires the understanding of emotions.

Read the whole article.

Physorg: Psychopaths’ brains

psychopath brain

Psychopaths’ brains show differences
in structure and function

November 22nd, 2011 in Neuroscience

Images of prisoners’ brains show important differences between those who are diagnosed as psychopaths and those who aren’t, according to a new study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers. The results could help explain the callous and impulsive anti-social behavior exhibited by some psychopaths.

Brain structures involved in dealing with fear... The study showed that psychopaths have reduced connections between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), the part of the brain responsible for sentiments such as empathy and guilt, and the amygdala, which mediates fear and anxiety. Two types of brain images were collected. Diffusion tensor images (DTI) showed reduced structural integrity in the white matter fibers connecting the two areas, while a second type of image that maps brain activity, a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI), showed less coordinated activity between the vmPFC and the amygdala.

“This is the first study to show both structural and functional differences in the brains of people diagnosed with psychopathy,” says Michael Koenigs, assistant professor of psychiatry in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Those two structures in the brain, which are believed to regulate emotion and social behavior, seem to not be communicating as they should.”

The study, which took place in a medium-security prison in Wisconsin, is a unique collaborative between three laboratories.

UW-Madison psychology Professor Joseph Newman has had a long term interest in studying and diagnosing those with psychopathy and has worked extensively in the Wisconsin corrections system. Dr. Kent Kiehl, of the University of New Mexico and the MIND Research Network, has a mobile MRI scanner that he brought to the prison and used to scan the prisoners’ brains. Koenigs and his graduate student, Julian Motzkin, led the analysis of the brain scans.

The study compared the brains of 20 prisoners with a diagnosis of psychopathy with the brains of 20 other prisoners who committed similar crimes but were not diagnosed with psychopathy.

“The combination of structural and functional abnormalities provides compelling evidence that the dysfunction observed in this crucial social-emotional circuitry is a stable characteristic of our psychopathic offenders,” Newman says. “I am optimistic that our ongoing collaborative work will shed more light on the source of this dysfunction and strategies for treating the problem.”

Newman notes that none of this work would be possible without the extraordinary support provided by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, which he called “the silent partner in this research.” He says the DOC has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to supporting research designed to facilitate the differential diagnosis and treatment of prisoners.

The study, published in the most recent Journal of Neuroscience, builds on earlier work by Newman and Koenigs that showed that psychopaths’ decision-making mirrors that of patients with known damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). This bolsters evidence that problems in that part of the brain are connected to the disorder.

“The decision-making study showed indirectly what this study shows directly—that there is a specific brain abnormality associated with criminal psychopathy,” Koenigs adds.

Provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-psychopaths-brains-differences-function.html

psychopath brain

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