Archive for February, 2013

Psychopathy as Adaptive Strategy vs. Mental Disorder: Debate Emerges in Evolutionary Journal

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

One of the most useful perspectives from which to consider questions in ponerology is that of evolutionary psychology. This is the field that asks how and why certain psychological traits and characteristics came about and were selected for during our long evolutionary past. And a number of thinkers have commented on how psychopathy might be viewed through this lens.

I shared some of these evolutionary views of psychopathy in previous writings, discussing:

  • What a profound evolutionary development the emergence of humans without conscience was
  • Whether psychopathy is best understood as an aberration of normal human capacities akin to blindness or deafness or, rather, as a reflection of a different type of human being practicing a different, perhaps detestable to many, but also successful survival and reproductive strategy
  • Why some experts view psychopaths as “intraspecies predators” or even a separate subspecies of Homo Sapiens

Recently, a debate has been raging about these very issues. (more…)

New Study: Inmates with High PCL-R Factor 1 Scores Recognize Victims by Gait

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Could the way you walk be a tip-off to a violent person that you are an easy target?

A new study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence reinforces the fact that, under certain conditions, this might be the case.

The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), the current gold standard test for psychopathy, assesses a person on a variety of elements that are classified into two main categories called “factors.” The first, Factor 1, consists of the person’s interpersonal or affective traits, basically measuring the extent to which they have an aggressive narcissistic personality. The second, Factor 2, consists of the person’s actual behavior and measures the extent to which they exhibit an antisocial or socially deviant lifestyle.

Previous research has shown that certain aspects of body language, including walking style, are characteristic of victims and that those scoring high on the Factor 1 measures of the PCL-R are more accurate than others in judging someone’s vulnerability simply from watching them walk.

Now, in “Psychopathy and Victim Selection: The Use of Gait as a Cue to Vulnerability,” researchers Angela Book, Kimberly Costello and Joseph A. Camilleri studied 47 inmates at a maximum security penitentiary in Ontario, Canada and found that not only, as expected, do the inmates scoring high on PCL-R Factor 1 more accurately than others judge people’s vulnerability by observing their gait, but they are also more likely to actually explicitly mention the victim’s gait in explaining why they perceived them as vulnerable. (more…)

Research Journal Social Neuroscience Dedicates Special Issue to Brain Studies of Aggression, Violence & Psychopathy

Monday, February 25th, 2013

One of the most important aspects of ponerology – a crucial one in seeking answers regarding why people act (or fail to act) in ways that do harm to others – is investigation into what goes on in the brain when people relate with each other in various ways. We might term such investigation “social neuroscience.”

Well there is actually a research journal by that very name. And that journal, Social Neuroscience, has recently honed in on topics at the very heart of ponerology. Its latest issue – Volume 8, Issue 2 – is a special issue focusing on aggression and violence.

It features an editorial entitled “The social cognitive neuroscience of aggression, violence, and psychopathy” followed by six studies that consider the links between neurological markers and responses and harmful behavior.

Here is a summary of the six studies in this special issue. (more…)

Homeland Producers Turn Child Psychopathy Screening Proponent’s Work into CBS Pilot

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

A few months back, I came across an incredibly compelling article by Sandy Hingston in Philly Mag. The title above the article’s copy is “The Psychopath Test,” but the HTML title that shows in the browser tab is much more descriptive of the provocative jist of the article.

It reads “Kids Can Be Psychopathic, Too.”

The article focuses heavily on – and introduced me to – the work of Adrian Raine, a professor of criminology, psychiatry and psychology on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology.

Raine is the author of the textbook The Psychopathology of Crime: Criminal Behavior as a Clinical Disorder. And, as described in the article, he holds two highly controversial and enormously challenging beliefs:

  • He believes that we will soon be able to use medical tests to determine whether a child is predisposed to grow up to be a psychopath.
  • And he also believes that, once we are able to do that, we should screen children for traits linked to psychopathy.

The Philly Mag article itself is well worth the read, as it offers a fascinating look at:

  • A brief historical overview of criminology and the nature vs. nature debate
  • Structural and functional differences in the brains of psychopaths as opposed to those of non-psychopaths
  • How psychopaths are responsible for crime at levels vastly disproportionate to their numbers
  • What separates successful from unsuccessful psychopaths
  • Genes influencing brain structure that are associated with antisocial and aggressive behavior
  • Raine’s research showing certain differences among young children, which he believes are innate and biologically-based, that help predict which ones will exhibit future aggression and criminality
  • Why, when it comes to the “chicken or egg” question regarding biological differences and psychopathy, Raine falls on the “biology as cause” side of the debate
  • Why many resist biological explanations of “bad” behavior
  • Interventions that might help children predisposed to criminal behavior
  • Responses from others to Raine’s suggestion that we screen children for psychopathy-linked traits

I highly recommend taking the time to check it out.

But I bring up that article here in order to preface a new and exciting development regarding Adrian Raine that has come to my attention.

One other phenomenon that Hingston’s piece touches on is the recent explosion of media – including films (such as We Need to Talk About Kevin) and television shows (such as Dexter) – dealing with the subject of psychopathy. The article credits Raine’s investigations into the brains of criminals – neurocriminology research – for providing the platform for this explosion. If attributing this credit to Raine is appropriate then it is only fitting that his work will now serve as the basis for a television show in an even more direct manner. (more…)

Dr. David P. Bernstein Investigates Whether Psychopaths Can Be Reparented with Schema Therapy

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Clients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are notoriously difficult to treat. This is so much the case that many therapists are loathe to even attempt the feat since their methods have such frustratingly poor success rates.

However, in the many years I’ve spent considering and researching BPD, I have come across two therapeutic approaches that seem to offer a glimmer of hope.

Well, now one professor is using the latter method, Schema Therapy, to treat some of the only clients considered even more complex and resistant than those with BPD – psychopaths. (more…)

Italian Researchers Discover Caudate, Putamen, Nucleus Accumbens Different in Psychopaths

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

One of the most powerful facts that I may have ever learned is that psychopaths differ biologically from other people. I remember the epiphany I experienced as soon as I internalized this fact, quickly realizing the profound implications it had for everything from psychotherapy to activism to day-to-day life.

When I wrote my detailed page about psychopathy, I made sure to include information about some of these biological differences. Many of them have to do with the ways in which psychopaths’ brain structure and function diverge from that of others.

Recently, a new study was published adding to this important and growing mass of findings. (more…)

Goalkeeper David James Speculates on Psychopathy in Professional Soccer

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

From Tiger Woods to Lance Armstrong, we’ve seen numerous examples in recent years of more or less pathological behavior from those in the sports world. Simply displaying unsavory behavior doesn’t mean someone has a condition as fundamental as a personality disorder or psychopathy. But these cases have at least raised questions about the culture of professional sports and the types of characters that sometimes flourish within it.

Enter David James, a British professional soccer goalkeeper.

James, in a column entitled “Psychopaths haunt the Beautiful Game – and I may be one of them” published in The Guardian, writes about these very questions from his perspective.

James says he has been reading a lot about psychopaths lately. Many of us have, which is a reflection of the growing awareness about this and other related conditions – fostered by a recent proliferation of books, films, articles and other works on the subject – that this site exists to help document. And when people first start learning about the subject, it often provokes an epiphany and leads them to start considering and noticing its influence within their life sphere.

Naturally, James began to consider his own arena – that of professional soccer. And, in doing so, he was struck by how many of the traits of psychopaths are common among his colleagues. In his column, he especially raises the issue of how professional sports, despite often involving teams, has become very much focused on glorifying individual participants.

He also looks at: (more…)

Study Reveals How Criminals Co-Opt Religion to Rationalize & Justify Their Crimes

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

In my in-depth piece about ponerology, I devoted a great deal of real estate, including, for instance, this section, to explaining how any ideology or religion – even one whose actual teachings would seem antithetical to “evil” – can be hi-jacked by pathological people who then use it to cloak their malicious activity. This is a very important point to understand. Pathological people often draw sympathy and support from others by espousing admirable sounding ideals, even while flouting those very ideals with their behavior.

A new study, described in the Vancouver Sun, touches on this interplay between ideology/religion (in this case, specifically religion) and harmful activity.

The study, led by Volkan Topalli, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University, was published in an article entitled “With God on My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders” in the journal Theoretical Criminology. (more…)

KABC Segment Provides Much-Needed Public Education about Prevalence of “Almost Psychopaths”

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

For years, I’ve lamented the dearth of television spots educating the public about the nature and impact of conscience- and empathy-reducing conditions, such as the Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder) and psychopathy.

I frequently see spots focusing on other mental health conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder. This is partly because these conditions are prime treatment targets for drug companies, who then have an incentive to run advertisements about them. Perhaps it is also partly because awareness about these conditions poses less of a threat to fundamental cultural beliefs and, thus, they are less controversial to discuss on television.

And of course you can barely turn on the television at all without seeing spots focused on lifestyle issues of all kinds ranging from dry skin to erectile dysfunction.

And yet, the conditions that may affect human relations at the deepest level of all – that may even shape whether our species (and many others) can sustainably survive on this planet – are barely mentioned at all.

This background explains why I was so glad to come across this “Healthy Living” news segment from Denise Dador of Los Angeles’ KABC-TV called “Are you dealing with an ‘almost-psychopath’? Are you one?” (more…)

German Neurologist Identifies Brain Region “Where Evil is Formed & Where It Lurks”

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

One of the most pressing and controversial questions in ponerology is this:

Are there any biological markers by which we can identify people likely to harm others?

For example, as Dylan Stableford of Yahoo News puts it:

Can you spot evil in an X-ray?

Stableford’s article, entitled “‘Dark Patch’ Visible in Brain Scans of Killers and Rapists, Neurologist Claims,” tells of University of Bremen neurologist Dr. Gerhard Roth’s claim that, indeed, we can.

In fact, Roth claims to have identified “the region of the brain where evil is formed and where it lurks.” (more…)