Can Someone Actually Be Born To Kill?
Scientists have scanned the brains of psychopaths and have discovered they are physically different than “normal” people. The difference lies in the gray matter in the areas of the brain closely related to emotion. Psychopathic brains have less of this gray matter, according to researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, meaning traditional behavioral treatment of these criminals may be missing the point.
Psychopathy is often characterized as a inability to empathize with others, especially a criminal’s victims. The King’s College team is the first to confirm psychopathy is an actual neuro-developmental sub-group of anti-social personality disorder, or ASPD.
While this isn’t the first study to reveal a physical difference in psychopathic brains, this study is the first to examine these differences among violent offenders with ASPD.
“Using MRI scans we found that psychopaths had structural brain abnormalities in key areas of their ‘social brains’ compared to those who just had ASPD. This adds to behavioral and developmental evidence that psychopathy is an important subgroup of ASPD with a different neurobiological basis and different treatment needs,” said Dr. Nigel Blackwood, lead author of the study.
“We describe those without psychopathy as ‘hot-headed’ and those with psychopathy as ‘cold-hearted’,’ Blackwood explained to the Daily Mail.
Blackwood said the “cold-hearted” psychopathic group is more likely to begin acting out violently and offending when they are younger, and will engage in a wider range of offensive behaviors. The offenders in this group are less-likely to respond well to treatment later on during adulthood when compared to the “hot-headed” group.
“We now know that this behavioral difference corresponds to very specific structural brain abnormalities which underpin psychopathic behavior, such as profound deficits in empathizing with the distress of others,” he explained.
These findings may also bring about changes in justice systems, as being able to physically identify a psychopath could strengthen defense claims of insanity.
To conduct their study, Blackwood’s team took MRI scans of 44 violent adult male offenders who have been diagnosed with ASPD.
These men had committed crimes such as attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, murder and rape. Of these men, 17 met the diagnosis for psychopathy—also known as ASPD+P— and 27 did not (ASPD-P).
As a control, the team also scanned the brains of 22 “normal” and healthy men.
They found those men with ASPD+P had significantly less gray matter volumes in the emotive sector of the brain than those with ASPD-P and healthy brains.
“Identifying and diagnosing this sub-group of violent offenders with brain scans has important implications for treatment. Those without the syndrome of psychopathy, and the associated structural brain damage, will benefit from cognitive and behavioral treatments. Optimal treatment for the group of psychopaths is much less clear at this stage,” said Dr. Blackwood in the press release.
The study has been published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.