Psychiatrists have found the strongest evidence yet that psychopaths have structural abnormalities in their brains.
According to their research, psychopaths have less grey matter in the areas of the brain important for understanding other peoples’ emotions.
A research team of the King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry used brain scans to investigate the brains of 44 men, convicted of murder, rape and violent assault. All offenders had already been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorders (ASPD), characterized by “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” Psychopathy, on the other hand, is characterised by an inability to ’empathise’.
Of the 44 criminals scanned, 17 met the diagnosis for ASPD plus psychopathy and 27 did not. The researchers also scanned the brains of 22 healthy non-offenders.
Differences in grey matter
The results showed that ‘the differences in psychopaths’ brains mark them out even from other violent criminals with anti-social personality disorders (ASPD), and from healthy non-offenders.’ The brains of psychopaths had significantly less grey matter in brain areas important for understanding other people’s emotions and intentions, the researchers say.
“The ability to use brain scans to identify and diagnose this sub-group of violent criminals has important implications for treatment,” said Nigel Blackwood, who led the study. “While cognitive and behavioral treatments may benefit people with anti-social personality disorders, the same approach may not work for psychopaths with brain damage.”
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Gregory, S., ffytche, D., Simmons, A., Kumari, V., Howard, M., Hodgins, S., & Blackwood, N. (2012). The Antisocial Brain: Psychopathy Matters: A Structural MRI Investigation of Antisocial Male Violent Offenders Archives of General Psychiatry DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2012.222