August 04, 2009
Psychopath Brain Different In Brain Scans

Psychopathy is seen by some researchers as having a biological cause in the brain.

Professor Declan Murphy and colleagues Dr Michael Craig and Dr Marco Catani from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London have found differences in the brain which may provide a biological explanation for psychopathy. The results of their study are outlined in the paper 'Altered connections on the road to psychopathy', published in Molecular Psychiatry.

The research investigated the brain biology of psychopaths with convictions that included attempted murder, manslaughter, multiple rape with strangulation and false imprisonment. Using a powerful imaging technique (DT-MRI) the researchers have highlighted biological differences in the brain which may underpin these types of behaviour and provide a more comprehensive understanding of criminal psychopathy.

Some people are bad to the bone. Or perhaps bad to the uncinate fasciculus. Brain scans of the uncinate fasciculus (UF) found distinct differences in psychopaths.

Earlier studies had suggested that dysfunction of specific brain regions might underpin psychopathy. Such areas of the brain were identified as the amygdale, ie the area associated with emotions, fear and aggression, and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the region which deals with decision making. There is a white matter tract that connects the amygdala and OFC, which is called the uncinate fasciculus (UF). However, nobody had ever studied the UF in psychopaths. The team from King's used an imaging method called in vivo diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DT-MRI) tractography to analyse the UF in psychopaths.

They found a significant reduction in the integrity of the small particles that make up the structure of the UF of psychopaths, compared to control groups of people with the same age and IQ. Also, the degree of abnormality was significantly related to the degree of psychopathy. These results suggest that psychopaths have biological differences in the brain which may help to explain their offending behaviours.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 August 04 10:21 PM  Brain Violence


Comments
David Govett said at August 4, 2009 10:27 PM:

Here come the mandatory brain scans.

James Bowery said at August 4, 2009 10:57 PM:

Don't worry, David. Laws against disparate impact will prevent any real harm.

Brett Bellmore said at August 5, 2009 3:31 AM:

"Here come the mandatory brain scans."

You say that like it's a bad thing. In one of Brin's novels, this exact sort of thing led to a law mandating brain scans before you could hold responsible positions... Which finally reformed our government, when the politicians, to their horror, were subjected to brain scans, and most of them ended up disqualified from public office.

Lono said at August 5, 2009 7:53 AM:

Brett,

I think you are right - to reach a more refined level of civilization we are simply going to need to vette our Govt. Employees a little more thoroughly.

I strongly believe eventually ideal phenotypes will be engineered as a bureaucratic class seperate from the rest of civilian life - although still under the perview of a civilian ethical authority.

It only makes sense - sometimes we have to recognize our Biological limitations and make systems which overcome them for our own prosperity.

That was essentailly the main idea behind the U.S. Constitution in the first place.

philw1776 said at August 5, 2009 9:37 AM:

Regarding brain scans for politicians, most pols like many CEOs are sociopaths, not psychopaths. Quite different. Sociopaths are above average in intelligence, don't empathize with feelings of others ar have any true regard for others but are smart enough to mimic socially acceptable behaviour. I wonder if the more difficult to characterize sociopathic person scans differently?

Billy Oblivion said at August 5, 2009 11:24 AM:

@philw1776:

"""
most pols like many CEOs are sociopaths, not
"""

Evidence?

Kudzu Bob said at August 5, 2009 3:58 PM:

>Evidence?

Kudzu Bob said at August 5, 2009 4:02 PM:

Let's try that again, shall we?

>Evidence?

How about the evening news?

kurt9 said at August 5, 2009 4:05 PM:

The biological basis of anti-social behavior. Why do I think the Christian right is going to have a sphincter sprain over this? Perhaps its because identification of the biological basis of anti-social behavior will undermine their attempts to expand their regulation of human behavior beyond simply preventing anti-social acts. If anti-social behavior can be shown to be of distinct biological cause, but "sin" cannot, this simply adds more argument that "sin" as defined as anything other than anti-social behavior is a meaningless concept.

Matlock said at August 5, 2009 5:32 PM:

Kurt9 - I'm not so sure that it is the right that will have most issue with this [even the Christian right - although I admit that I have little idea as to the doctrinal conundrums this finding throws up]. As steven pinker has pointed out in his book 'the blank slate' - biological theories of human nature and variations between sexes etc tend overall to confirm the conservative/right view point of the world. The fact that some people are born bad is not particularly suprising to those of a conservative bent.

As i see it the main obstacles to enacting policies on information such as this is that:

(1) it will be ignored on the basis that it will be seen as "genetic reductionist" or "genetic determinist". Everyone in academia and the media knows that 'biology is not destiny' and home and upbringing is crucially important.

(2) people find it extremely difficult to understand how someone can completely lack empathy so they struggle to accept that there is an issue at all.

(3) as noted above, sociopaths are often as not extremely charming and because of their ruthlessness able to rise in organisations. Once tested, what are you supposed to do with an intelligent, charming, educated sociopath? Do you lock them up? Ban them from managing anyone?

(4) also in the 1960s a guy called Dr Hare came up with a test for psychopaths/sociopaths which is still used today. Essentially it is a scale with a cut-off point. Inevitably the cut-off point is somewhat arbitrary.

(5) To my mind there is a real risk that psychological 'maleness' could be pathologised. Any tough-minded men out there that think people should pay their mortgages, govt should stay out of healthcare, wars aren't all bad, corporate profit is good, crying is for wimps? Watch-out you could be a sociopath in need of treatment.

kurt9 said at August 6, 2009 8:54 AM:

As steven pinker has pointed out in his book 'the blank slate' - biological theories of human nature and variations between sexes etc tend overall to confirm the conservative/right view point of the world. The fact that some people are born bad is not particularly suprising to those of a conservative bent.

I agree with you on this. However, the religious right's definition of bad behavior is not limited to anti-social behavior. They have a separate category of bad behavior that they call "sin", a trait that is often used to describe people that you and I would consider to be perfectly reasonable people. Identifying the biological causes of anti-social behavior provides scientific support to the contractual concept of morality (that is, morality is about how you treat other people). The religious right seems to have a problem accepting the contractual concept of morality.

Lono said at August 7, 2009 9:06 AM:

kurt9,

As a Christian myself I think you misunderstand the theology.

Christains accept the idea that all men are NOT created equal - but they believe all handicaps - whether physical OR mental - can be overcome by accepting the Holy Spirit - which is the supernatural presence of God in an individuals life.

Therefore anyone who commits a sin - such as alcoholism - is either ignorant of their sin and needs to be ministered to - or is actively rejecting the Holy Spirit's guidance and assistance - and thus choosing out of free will to commit sin.

I therefore do not see how the further establishment of biological bases for behavior will really phase the majority of hard core Christians.

momochan said at August 7, 2009 2:40 PM:

Christians who are not disturbed by the establishment of biological bases for behavior are Christians who are not thinking the implications through. A creator deity would have to bear ultimate responsibility for creating those psychopathic brains.
If you want your creator deity to be what most would call perfectly good, then you have to blame psychopathic people themselves for their destructive behavior.
Also, the main solution that Christianity offers requires conscious understanding and willpower on the part of the human (at least insofar as taking the first step in accepting the Holy Spirit). How effective can that be against what is basically a birth defect?

Randall Parker said at August 7, 2009 6:40 PM:

Lono,

It seems obvious - and not just slightly obvious, I mean extremely obvious - that some people are so incredibly bad to the bone that no amount of religious belief is going to change them into law-abiding citizens. For example, there's a Dutch family with a deletion mutation that makes all their males with the deletion extremely dangerous. These people should be permanently institutionalized.

Then there are the psychopaths. They lack the emotions that would cause them to restrain their behavior.

I've said this before but it bears repetition: a calculating rational mind is not the fount of morality. A psychopath won't be ethical because they lack the emotional matrix that causes ethical behavior. They don't feel the pain of empathy that comes from watching a person get beat up or raped. They don't feel pain in the presence of people feeling pain. If the neurological wiring isn't there to cause the emotional responses then people won't be ethical when they can get away with (or think they can get away with) unethical behavior.

I did a previous post about brain scans and psychopaths 5 years ago about Adrian Raine's discovery of how "successful" psychopath brain scans look different from "unsuccessful" psychopaths. Basically, the successful psychopaths knew how to read situations to know when they can get away with what they want to do. The unsuccessful ones had additional brain abnormalities that impaired their ability to know when to hold back from acting on their impulses and desires.

What happens if some women decide to genetically engineering their offspring to produce successful psychopaths?

kurt9,

The Christians really are the least of our worries.

Lono said at August 8, 2009 2:00 PM:

momochan,

I fear that you also may not fully understand the theology behind main stream Christianity.

In Christian Doctrine it is understood that God created the Angels with perfect bodies and perfect ability - but without true free will - because they know from the day of their creation that God is Omnipotent and choosing to disobey God will have specific detailed consequences.

Man was thus created imperfect and with free will precisely as an alternative to the Angels. Because Man has to overcome the obstacles of his animalistic nature and choose to obey God - without absolute proof of God's existence - the Angels are - in Heaven - subordinate to the Saints (those who accept God's free salvation through Christ).

A Christian also accepts that God is perfectly good - because his promise to man will never be broken - but it would be narrow minded for one to anthropomorphise an Omnipotent Being - as we cannot see but a part of a much larger Universal picture.


Randall,

I can accept that you do not share my Christian beliefs - but know that when a Christian ministers to another person - they are specifically praying for God to imbue that person with the Holy Spirit - so that their eyes can be opened and their mind and body supernaturally healed in this way. Therefore - to a Christian - there is no physical defect that cannot be overcome by God - this was a large part and theme of the ministry of Jesus.

I also will continue to pray for you - and for all unbelievers - that you may be healed of any afflictions - and perhaps have your eyes opened to possibilities you may have not had considered before.

May God Bless you and your families in all things!

kurt9 said at August 9, 2009 4:05 PM:

Randall,

I agree with you about the Christians. I have always considered the liberal-left and their fellow travelers to be a far graver threat to individual liberty than Christianity. The purpose of my point is that as a biological understanding of anti-social behavior progresses, much of society will come to accept this and the notion that "bad behavior" is based on empathy or the lack there of. This, in turn, will re-enforce notions of morality that are based on these concepts that are generally contractual in nature. My point that the Christian right will object to this because they do not accept the notion that morality is contractual in nature. They have a different concept of morality that is built around concepts that do not have an objective existence outside the context of their religion. Hence, concepts of morality that is recognized by society will diverge more and more from that which is recognized by Christians and other religious people.

Take alcoholism, for example. I'm a social drinker and so are most others I know personally. I've known a few problem drinkers over the years, but very few of them. Certainly we feel bad for alcoholics because they are destroying their lives and their health. Reasonable people consider this bad because it is self-destructive. Perhaps sin is defined as self-destructive behavior. Fair enough. However, I maintain that a Christian can define a person as being guity of "sin" even if they have never engaged in either anti-social (transgressive) or self-destructive behavior. It is precisely in this area that the contractual standard of morality and the Christian standard of morality part company.

kurt9 said at August 9, 2009 4:40 PM:

Heinlein's definition of sin makes sense to me.

"Sin lies only in hurting others unnecessarily. All other ísinsí are invented nonsense." Robert Heinlein

momochan said at August 11, 2009 2:06 PM:

Lono,

I fear that you also may not fully understand the theology behind main stream Christianity.

In Christian Doctrine it is understood that God created the Angels with perfect bodies and perfect ability - but without true free will - because they know from the day of their creation that God is Omnipotent and choosing to disobey God will have specific detailed consequences.

OK, you got me. Of my own free will I admit I do not understand that.

I can accept that you do not share my Christian beliefs - but know that when a Christian ministers to another person - they are specifically praying for God to imbue that person with the Holy Spirit - so that their eyes can be opened and their mind and body supernaturally healed in this way. Therefore - to a Christian - there is no physical defect that cannot be overcome by God - this was a large part and theme of the ministry of Jesus.

This wasn't addressed to me, but allow me to join in. While it may theoretically be true that there is no physical defect that cannot be overcome, in actual practice, there has never been an amputee whose limb has been restored through prayer (that I have heard of). I'd be very open to and interested in documented evidence to the contrary, however.

And faith healing involves the notion that the creator deity, who is responsible for the defect in the first place, would have a change of heart and rescind the defect if only asked nicely. Even though this deity is supposed to be eternal and unchanging.

Hope Rivers said at August 12, 2009 8:33 AM:

Smith Wigglesworth a well known pentecostal healer manifested an amputee's leg and foot in a store with eye witnesses. Of course this was the work of Christ as that is who he addressed (In Jesus name) when he commanded in faith for the leg to grow. The thing was when he had successsful healings, most of those times he was always told prior that it would occur clairvoyantly.

Lono said at August 13, 2009 9:56 AM:

momochan,

Well - you see - I used to be a Trans Humanist before I became a Christian (while not a full out Athiest I was largely agnostic during this time) and as a Trans Humanist one believes that the highest achievment for Man to persue is that of Godhood.

That is to say that man's ultimate destiny is to become an undisputed master of all of his environment (down even to the sub atomic particles) through knowledge and technology - and while that may not occur in one man's life time - it should be the multi-generational goal of our species.

From a philosophical perspective - I wondered if achieving the God hood - or nearly God like mastery of energy and matter - would end up being a dead end for our species - for when challenge ends so might our desire to resist entropy - and like the Buddhist we might simply allow ourselves to decay as there was nothing further to pursue.

(though this might take millions of years to happen - it seemed to be the logical end result)

I also, like may scientists and science fiction authors, pondered if making or mentoring new life would delay this period of malaise, allowing for philospohical growth and fulfillment after environmental mastery had been obtained.

I believed it would - but I knew that any creation of mine - who positively knew they were my creation - would feel obligated to me/us - and they would never truly have their own idenity.

(much like the Angels in God's current creation)

I realized that it would be even more interesting, and fulfilling, if I created new life without giving them explicit proof of my existance, whether through a computer simulation or through an actual biochemical creation.

If I were them to reveal myself to them - indirectly - then I could win their hearts and not just their minds - a much more complex relationship than that of with my direct, hands on, creation.

It was with much interest, thus, that I found when reading the Bible that this is exactly the explicit intended heirarchy created by God in our Universe.

And just like a computer simulation - it appears - that God simply created a set of constants in our Universe that invariably lead to the formation of sentient life throughout it.

Even more elegantly he created this system through the Big Bang - thus eliminating the possibility that his "hand" could be detected in the creation - as we cannot see before the point where Time = Zero.

Now, as far as healing limbs directly, it is my belief that - to ensure free will - God will not perform such a miracle that could be caught on tape and reproduced easily. In fact the healing of one's mind may not be fully evident to a medical profesional - as there are many subtlties to the Brain.

I personally have been witness to a Missionary who had a heart attack out in the field, went to the doctor who detected cooberating damage signs in the lab tests, only to find no damage detectable immediately afterward even with weeks more tests.

Annecdotal evidence like this is well known throught the medical field.

I would suggest, in general, direct evidence of healing miracles will be as fleeting as direct evidence of God him/herself, because surely it would eliminate our free will if such proof was made readily available.

I know to many this may sound like a cop out - but it is also perfectly logical and internally consistant with God's goal for Humanity (and likely all creation "made" in his image).

I know that was long - but I wanted to impart how a belief in God is certainly NOT inconsistant with our current scientific understanding of the Universe around us.


Fustbariclation said at December 19, 2010 11:15 AM:

There are some mistaken claims here - psychopaths are the same as sociopaths. The condition of a functional psychopath who is a senior manager, director of a company, politician or similar is exactly the same as that of a criminal. The main difference is that criminals are failed psychopaths.

One major step forward for humanity would be if this research could be harnessed to exclude psychopaths from holding public office. It should go a long way towards halting wars and unjust invasions.

Fustbariclation said at December 19, 2010 11:16 AM:

There are some mistaken claims here - psychopaths are the same as sociopaths. The condition of a functional psychopath who is a senior manager, director of a company, politician or similar is exactly the same as that of a criminal. The main difference is that criminals are failed psychopaths.

One major step forward for humanity would be if this research could be harnessed to exclude psychopaths from holding public office. It should go a long way towards halting wars and unjust invasions.

Linn said at January 20, 2011 8:34 PM:

The way I understand it, sin is simply missing the intent of God's design. Transgression is sin against a person, and iniquity is sin passed down to the generations as strongholds (eg sexual perversion, psychopathy, alcoholism). While generational iniquity results in a child born with such tendencies, such tendencies are also furthered nourished by the environment to be become ingrained, hence the difference in brain wiring. However, the Bible also makes it clear that if a person loves God and stays away from iniquity by renewing one's mind, ie, aligning it to what God says, then that it is not a given that the iniquity has to continue. It can be broken. But being a Christian is not enough. The mind has to be renewed. Only the spirit is born again - the mind and the body are obviously not. This is also in line with what the Bible says as the way to restore companionship with Him - through repentance, which simply means a change of mind.

So this finding does not really faze me, because it is in line with what I believe anyway - that every person is already born with sin DNA and particular types of iniquity (generation strongholds that are difficult to break). But the brain has plasticity, and changing one's mind is something everyone can do. Not as a one-off thing, but as a process that starts with agreeing with God, then daily renewing the thinking. The ruts in thinking are not something a person is born with, although tendencies may be there - you can create the grooves. The fact that psychopaths are found to have certain differences in the brain is not surprising - if I started thinking the way they do, from a young age, I would also have that sort of brain. In fact, I am certain that my brain shows some peculiarities because I am unique in many ways. I wouldn't say that I have a choice now about some things because they are automatic and ingrained, but at some point or other, I made choices that justified that thinking and the behavior that followed. If I, as an adult were to change those things, it would take a lot of hard work but not impossible. It's just that with psychopaths, they don't see the need for change because they don't feel the remorse and they don't think they are wrong/evil, or that being wrong/evil is a problem. So if you can't even acknowledge that need for change, you certainly aren't going to change your mind, and if you don't change your thinking, the brain isn't going to change. And if the brain is going to stay the same, you will certainly just feed that sort of thinking because you "can't help it", it's biological.

B said at March 10, 2011 7:06 AM:

A biological explaination..
These guys..
Don't twist things around mr. I am an intelligent educated scientist.
Great thing we can identify the creatures fool proof through brain scans though.
Though this kind of technology has been there for quite a while and even without, it's not that hard to see what is what when you really look.
If you're still wondering wether you should get mandatory brain scans, take a visit to my country, the Netherlands some time.
Over here psychopaths are in control!
If a normal person defends him/herself they will end up in prison and you may not believe this, but when psychopaths go out and murder they are excused and not punished!
Because, they say, they 'can't help it' because of their genetics!
If you don't believe me, just search for 'Jack de prikker' and do some translating.
Normal men walk around with their heads down here!
They think there's something wrong with THEM..
Normal people are told normal countries are the most primitive and stupid countries and that everyone pretty much tears chunks out of one another on a daily basis and that this country is the most just by far.
I only just figured out this is nonsense (and I'm going to America asap).
We are forced to work for them and are thrown in jail if we do not comply.
They play it so smart that people believe them.
Besides it's obvious they're in control and nobody has ever known any different.
If I would tell others what I've realised people won't believe me and I think I'd better not speak above my breath or the wrong people may catch on and I won't be going to America after all.
There are much more psychopaths than you think, they are intelligent and often patient and they cooperate to try and create a world where they are the slave masters!
It seems to me America has been on a downward spiral almost since it was founded.
With capital punishment slowly disappearing etc.
Let me tell you, I'd rather die then be in jail for 30 years.
At least let people have the choice.
Over here the sadists take out your shoe laces when you're brought in for a broken taillight or whatever so you can't hang yourself with them!!
People are very responsible when it comes to self defense, but they are not responsible to choose wether they'd rather die then serve life in prison for robbing some psychopaths big house after having been completely exploited.
Now that is sadism!
If you have a hard time imagining what I'm saying you better try hard, make it a habit imagining or better yet come over here some time.
That'll show you how serious this is.
There's a reason this guy says 'give me the control over a nation's wealth and I care not who makes it's laws'!!
You have to act and you have to act now or it may be too late for everyone.
Evil cannot be contained and must be EXTERMINATED!!
Reconnect with YOUR OWN values, recognise the scale shifters and exterminate with ZERO TOLERANCE.
Lie about it in court when you kill a psychopath and say it was self defense!
(Better yet kill them and get away without going to court).
It's the right thing to do.
It's what seperated the founding fathers from others.

aaron said at February 22, 2012 8:31 PM:

Benjamin Libet showed that actions were predictable up to 7 seconds before conscious awareness. Can anybody direct me to any research that has been done on psychopaths in this regard? If you had fMRI, I suspect you would be able to predict further into the future what a psychopath might do.

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