Posting in Science
Vanderbilt University researchers found that psychopaths are wired differently. They crave rewards, no matter the cost.
The same reward system in the brain that hooks people to drugs might also explain why some people act like psychopaths.
We know that cold-blooded criminals lack empathy and fear — and are, by societal standards, a bit odd. But new research shows that it is not the traits that psychopaths lack that make them behave badly, it's the traits that they do have. Not only are psychopaths impulsive, they like to take risks and seek out rewards.
So-called psychopathic traits have been linked to a disruption in the dopamine reward circuitry in the brain. And it is this disruption that drives psychopaths to want money, sex, or fame, in extreme ways.
Why do you want to unravel the brains of psychopaths?
Crime is expensive. Understanding what goes on in the brain of a psychopath is a very social and scientific question.
In the last 10 years, we've come to understand a great deal more about the brain regions involved in predisposing individuals to psychopathy. They lack fear, have a deficit of empathy, and have a disregard for others. But those aren't the best predictors of criminality in a psychopath.
We know that psychopaths have these impulsive, anti-social traits and have socially devious behavior. But we don't know a lot about the brain circuitry involved in those psychopathic traits.
But you didn't actually use psychopaths in your study did you?
The point of the study was to understand the circuitry, which are strongly tied to risky criminal behavior. We used community volunteers. Psychopathy operates along a continuum and incarcerated criminals are at the far end of that spectrum. None of the subjects in the study would meet the criteria for psychopathy.
Why are psychopaths anti-social?
That's the core question: Why do they exhibit profound levels of profound antisocial behavior? They have a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system.
So tell me what happened in the study.
First, we got a sample of these community volunteers. Then we measured their psychopathic inventory by giving them a personality test to measure psychopathic traits [ranging from manipulativeness, egocentricity, aggression and risk taking].
We gave them speed. And used positron emission tomography, or PET, to measure dopamine levels in the brain. And we used a functional magnetic imaging, or fMRI, to image brain activity [to measure the brain reward system], while they were preforming a task.
We gave them an opportunity to win money. We looked to see if people with increased psychopathic traits had increased dopamine levels after we gave them speed. We wanted to see if they showed increased brain activity when they had the opportunity to earn money. It ranged from 20 cents to $5. And yes, they got to keep the money.
The people who scored higher on the measure of psychopathic traits, showed higher dopamine levels in brain reward regions after we gave them the drug. And they also showed greater activity when they had an opportunity to win the task. We know amphetamines cause dopamine levels to rise.
We'd like to do a study of incarcerated psychopaths to see if they show similar brain patterns.
Image at bottom: Josh Buckholtz/Vanderbilt University
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Apr 13, 2010
A person who would use dangerous mind altering substances like speed on members of the public without a qualm, exhibits the traits of a psychopath.
There's a lot more to it than that. Psycopaths (now often coyly labelled sociopaths) are the only real persons, places, things, in their world. The rest of us are figments of their imagination, in effect, to be manipulated and used in anyway appropriate and convenient to their needs. If they believe it to be ultimately useful to their purposes to be kind and generous and considerate towards someone, they will -- without limit, if helpful to their ends -- or if they believe it to be more convenient to destroy someone, they will. There is no such thing as truth or lies external to them -- which explains why such persons can readily pass lie detector tests, for example. A quasi-religious psychiatrist I knew said they were born without souls. A philosopher long ago came to literally believe that there are people in this world who are actually not really human beings, but who absolutely emulate the real thing and are basically impossible to recognize as non-human. I think he was trying to explain the psychopath.
Despite the careful insertion of terms like "might" and "so-called" this is clearly one more in the constant list of old-fashioned mechanical explanations of social problems. In some cases, psychological problems can have a biological basis in brain abnormalities or hormonal imbalances but to explain crime by "brain-wiring" is quite simply incorrect. It is about time the authors of articles like this and the researchers they report on should concentrate on the social reasons for criminal behaviour. Some people "might" even say that the "so-called" pillars of society - one that seems obsessed by making more and more profit and neglecting human material and cultural needs - demonstrate the characteristic of cold-blooded behaviour that is attributed to criminals in this article.
Speed does not only represent "methamphetamine." Speed could be any stimulating drug, such as caffeine, ephedrine, amphetamine and it's derivative, methamphetamine. It's plausible, but unlikely, that caffeine or ephedrine was given to the test subjects. Amphetamines are normally prescribed for people with low dopamine levels, such as with an ADHD diagnosis. Methamphetamine has a high potential for abuse and its medical uses are limited. I'm sure this was not a long term study, and therefore would not create the potential for abuse nor addiction.
The spin of this story is that psychopaths are all violent criminals. In reality, only a small percentage end up in prison. Psychopaths are overrepresented in business, politics, the military, law and law enforcement.
Where do you suppose Leonardo Da Vinci would fit on your scales? An Elvis Presley or a Jimi Hendrix? Thomas Edison?? By your measure it would appear Ben Franklin should top the charts right up there with Manson and Bundy. "I did not inhale!" "I did not have sex with that woman" "Read my lips: no new taxes!" "I am not a crook!" Gulf of Tonkin, "he'll keep us out of war," remember the Maine... there's your sociopaths... who needs fmri?
people do not get addicted to addictive drugs because of some reward system. they get addicted because the body physiology changes and a metabolic pathway is developed that needs the drug for its completion. this is why people become addicted to morphine-like drugs even when they do not know that is what they are being given. no one is predisposed to sddiction, it is developed by the use of the compound.
The name speed is the criminal argot for methamphetamine. Does this fellow think that he is the reincarnation of Timothy Leary? Was this drug prescribed? By whom? Where was this experiment done? Was it done under the auspices of Vanderbilt University? Methamphetamine is highly addictive and destructive. Who will take responsibility for any damage to the subjects done by this experiment? Why is this article in Smart/b>Planet? Seems like it should be on DumbPlanet.