Anti-Social Personality Disorder & Psychopaths – Psychopathy
Felons who are clinically referred to as “psychopaths” have pathological features that have to be noted before they can be clinically diagnosed.
“More and more research leads to the conclusion that psychopathy has biological basis, and many attributes of a biological disease,” Sabine Herpertz, Director of the Department of General Psychiatry at the Center of Psychosocial Medicine at the University of Heidelberg
The major factor which is missing in a psychopath is, human empathy. They are incapable of feeling guilt or remorse for their deeds. They appear determined, self-centered, can be highly seductive; and at the same time be completely unaware of the negative consequences of their actions. There are a large number of psychopathic killers who work quite efficiently; in fact their murders are usually very well planned. Even when you have a conversation with a psychopath, he may appear to you like a normal person.
Then how do psychologists and scientists identify violent criminals? Psychopaths in the clinical sense are part of a larger group with an “antisocial personality disorder.” This diagnosis is usually determined simply by getting behavioral history of the person. But getting a verbal history of the patient is not enough. A researcher and psychologist, Robert Hare, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has developed a tool called the the psychopaths check-list. This simple a questionnaire can help to ascertain emotional deficits that are commonly noted in undiagnosed psychopaths.
The questionnaire was tested on prison inmates. Based on the theory that three quarters of all prison inmates have some variety antisocial personality disorder; the questionnaire was used to assess their current levels of behavior and future behavior after release. Most inmates passed through a quarter of the psychopaths check-list to get an eventual result of 30 – and which can be diagnosed clinically as “psychopathic”. The probability of return to violence after release is the psychopath was also considered to be four times higher than for criminals, where the score was lower and the diagnosis was a milder anti-social personality disorder. The eventual result was that the higher the “psychopath Core results”, the higher the likelihood of relapse.
But this value on a scale cannot be used to assess the biology of psychopaths or to explain their villainous behavior. But even before the advent of brain scanners in medicine, psychologists were able to identify physical characteristics of psychopaths, apparently related to their emotional disturbance.
Hare has made experiments in which he exposed subjects after a numerical countdown to an extremely loud and unpleasant noise. After several attempts, normal people started getting nervous during the countdown: They came up sweating, after which their skin resistance was measured with electrodes; the readings actually decreased as the countdown progressed. When the skin resistance remained unchanged, it showed that the patient had no emotional response to the unpleasant noise which could indicate a psychopath.
Also Stefan Jahn seems to distinguish itself through a special emotional coldness. At the hearings, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor’s Office stated that Stefan Jahn behaved “ready to provide information.” During the detailed statements on the Tatvorgang he was “largely emotionless” and isolated. Recent studies confirm the findings that psychopaths are indeed emotionally vacant. Descriptive words like “Kill”, “maim”, “fun” – usually those words automatically call forth an emotional response in a normal individual do not call up any emotional response in these people. In another test, subjects took longer for the recognition of emotional words as compared to processing neutral words like “table” and “butter”. Psychopaths processed both emotional as well as non-emotional words equally fast.
Today, brain scanners offer a further opportunity to investigate the exact process of psychopathy. It can allow researchers the opportunity to study the emotional deficit in psychopaths as well as the differences in their brain anatomy or activity due to this problem that they have. Adrian Raine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, studied the brain anatomy of 21 men, where they had detected an antisocial personality disorder. The brain measurement was done by an MRI scanner. The result: The prefrontal cortex of psycopathic subjects was compared with normal subjects. The results showed that the brains of psychopaths were reduced in size by as much as 14 percent. The shrunken part was the anterior prefrontal cortex of the brain that lies just behind our eyes.
These findings made headlines immediately. But there were several factors that were not considered during the study. The experimental group was not classified by using the psychopath’s check-list. In addition, drug abuse is also associated with a shrunken prefrontal cortex. These factors were not considered and the result could be understood only to show that antisocial personality disorder and drug-related problems caused brain shrinkage. Other studies, which measured the cerebral blood flow, are similarly difficult to interpret.
“Crime seems to be no category that can be localized in the brain,” sums up John Marshall, neuropsychologist at the University of Oxford. “I’m extremely skeptical, because what are you measuring exactly?”
Advocates of imaging replied that brain scan studies could lead to a fuller description of the mental condition and contribute to a better understanding of psychopathy in the long run. In the long run, it could also lead to legislative changes which could update the psychopath’s diminished responsibility. It would also contribute to the fact that these patients had to be committed to hospitals more than in prisons. In addition, an open understanding of the neurobiological basis of psychopathy could provide new perspectives for therapy.
“The more we know about the biology, the more effective is the production of psychotropic drugs,” said James Blair, of University College in London.
Pharmacological approaches to the treatment of psychopathy would be more than welcome. They could be designed to help behavioral therapies, namely, to train the psychopaths to change their behavior. But these have so far been unsuccessful in a really spectacular way. So Michael Howard Barbaree and Seto pursued by the University of Toronto, the risk of relapse among 224 former prison inmates who had participated before their release in a behavioral therapy. Those with high values in the psychopath’s check-list, which apparently seemed to benefit from the therapy, returned to violence more frequently than those with lower values.
Seto says, “The result may hang together with the compliance of the psychopath: the greater the psychopathic behaviour, the better the criminal can convince her psychologist on the progress of therapy!”
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