Psychopaths Have Impaired Self-reflective Judgement According To Science

“Psychopathy is a devastating psychological disorder, both in terms of human suffering and the economic costs to society.”

These words belong to Michael Koenigs an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He along with a team of researchers conducted a study on psychopathy.

According to the study’s results, a particular cluster of psychopathic traits is connected to decreased activity in the brain while judging oneself.

The research called, “Psychopathic traits linked to alterations in neural activity during personality judgments of self and others“, was conducted by Philip Deming, Carissa L. Philippi, Richard C. Wolf, Monika Dargis, Kent A. Kiehl, and Michael Koenigs.

“Given that psychopathic offenders constitute roughly 20% of the U.S. jail and prison population, coupled with the fact that psychopathic offenders are substantially more likely to re-offend (especially violently) than non-psychopathic offenders, it is reasonable to conclude that psychopathic offenders cost the U.S. several hundred billion dollars per year in criminal activity alone,” explained professor Koenigs.

“However, we currently have very limited methods for preventing or treating psychopathic traits,” Koenigs added. “We believe that a deeper understanding of the psychological and biological mechanisms underlying the disorder will lead to more effective strategies for treating and preventing psychopathic behavior.”

According to the study’s results, those who possess many psychopathic traits have difficulty making a self-reflective judgment.

In the study participated 57 adult male incarcerated offenders. With the help of fMRI, the scientists studied their brain activity while the participants performed a task. The point was to help determine the traits of their characters. In the task, the participants answered yes or no questions. The questions asked conrened the participants themselves or their caregivers during childhood.

Koenigs and his team observed two clusters of psychopathic traits. The first one is known under the name Factor 1 and the other one is called Factor 2. Factor 1 is related to deceitfulness, egocentricity, and the inability to feel empathy. Factor 2 consists of impulsivity, irresponsibility, and the inability to control one’s behavior.

“Psychopathy is not a unitary, monolithic disorder. There are distinct clusters of psychopathic traits that may be underpinned by distinct circuits in the brain,” Koenigs revealed.

The scientists compared the brain activity of the participants at times when the latter performed self-judgments and at times they performed other-judgments.

In the end, the researchers proved that when the participants performed self-judgments (and not other-judgments) they exhibited Factor 2 traits which led to decreased neural activity in the posterior cingulate cortex and the right temporoparietal junction.

“This study shows that the reckless, impulsive, and criminal/antisocial traits of psychopathy may be related to a brain circuit that processes information about oneself relative to other people,” Koenigs told PsyPost.

“It is still not clear how we can apply this sort of brain-behavior relationship to improve diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of the disorder. Translational research efforts are needed in this area,” he concluded.

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