The line to differentiate between a person who falls into the category of normality for psychology and a psychopathic mind seems to be very blurred. New research adds further challenges to common conceptions of what differentiates the brain of a psychopath from that of a healthy individual.
The study conducted by the University of Turku in Finland attempts to answer why some psychopaths cross boundaries and others don’t. It found that psychopathic brains can show striking similarities to many that are considered healthy but exhibit psychopathic traits. The results rethink the perception of psychopathy, which, far from being a specific characteristic, is reflected rather as a non-binary classification. That is, it represents traits of different personalities that "vary in the non-incarcerated population with a normal range of social functioning."
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the research team compared the brains of criminals considered to be violent psychopaths with those of volunteers categorized as healthy. Using Hare's psychopathy checklist and Levenson's self-report psychopathy scale, all individuals who took part in the study were evaluated.
Both study groups watched a 26-minute-long mix of scenes containing short films from pre-selected movies. The mix included a "high variability of social and emotional content," as well as a high load of violence. At the same time, fMRI recorded their brain activity and the behavior of their brain regions for further analysis.
Surprisingly, the results showed similar reactions between the two groups. MRI revealed strong reactions in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula, brain regions associated with emotion regulation. These similarities were manifested in the relationship of the psychopathic traits of the healthy population with the brain structure of the violent group. That is, the more psychopathic personality traits the healthy and socially functional population presented, the more likely they were to respond like the violent group of criminals.
Under violence, psychopathic traits emerge
The researchers noted that structural abnormalities in the sample of functional individuals were associated with compromised structural brain integrity and amplified functional responses to viewing highly naturalistic violence. In other words, the brains of healthy individuals with psychopathic traits reacted similarly to those of violent psychopaths in response to scenes of violence.
So what transforms a healthy brain into a psychopathic brain? The line is still very fuzzy and there is no clear answer. However, the scientists did note that psychopathic criminals had lower connectivity within key nodes of social and emotional brain networks. One trait that was only present in the latter group was lower connectivity between the amygdala, insula, thalamus, and frontal pole. So experts believe that this disrupted connectivity is specific to criminal psychopathy. And thus, the factor that leads psychopaths to cross lines that functional individuals wouldn’t.
Text courtesy of Ecoosfera