Study suggests that a poor sense of smell may be a marker for psychopathic traits

People with psychopathic tendencies have an impaired sense of smell, which points to inefficient processing in the front part of the brain. These findings by Mehmet Mahmut and Richard Stevenson, from Macquarie University in Australia, are published online in Springer's journal Chemosensory Perception.

Psychopathy is a broad term that covers a severe personality disorder characterized by callousness, manipulation, sensation-seeking and antisocial behaviors, traits which may also be found in otherwise healthy and functional people. Studies have shown that people with psychopathic traits have impaired functioning in the front part of the brain - the area largely responsible for functions such as planning, and acting in accordance with . In addition, a dysfunction in these areas in the front part of the brain is linked to an impaired .

Mahmut and Stevenson looked at whether a poor sense of smell was linked to higher levels of psychopathic tendencies, among 79 non-criminal adults living in the community. First they assessed the participants' olfactory ability as well as the sensitivity of their . They also measured subjects' levels of , looking at four measures: manipulation; callousness; erratic lifestyles; and criminal tendencies. They also noted how much or how little they emphasized with other people's feelings.

The researchers found that those individuals who scored highly on psychopathic traits were more likely to struggle to both identify smells and tell the difference between smells, even though they knew they were smelling something. These results show that controlling olfactory processes are less efficient in individuals with psychopathic tendencies.

The authors conclude: " Our findings provide support for the premise that deficits in the front part of the brain may be a characteristic of non-criminal psychopaths. Olfactory measures represent a potentially interesting marker for psychopathic traits, because performance expectancies are unclear in odor tests and may therefore be less susceptible to attempts to fake good or bad responses."

More information: M. K. Mahmut, R. J. Stevenson (2012). Olfactory abilities and psychopathy: higher psychopathy scores are associated with poorer odor discrimination and odor identification; Chemosensory Perception; DOI: 10.1007/s12078-012-9135-7

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

An underlying cause for psychopathic behavior?

Apr 27, 2010

Psychopaths are known to be characterized by callousness, diminished capacity for remorse, and lack of empathy. However, the exact cause of these personality traits is an area of scientific debate. The results of a new study, ...

Psychopaths not all psychos

Jun 19, 2012

Jennifer Skeem’s research requires that she spend time inside the minds of individuals most of us try to avoid: psychopaths.

Psychopathy: A misunderstood personality disorder

Dec 07, 2011

Psychopathic personalities are some of the most memorable characters portrayed in popular media today. These characters, like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Frank Abagnale Jr. from Catch Me If You Can and Alex from ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers copy their peers to fit in, but apes don't

5 hours ago

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human ...

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

6 hours ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

6 hours ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

theskepticalpsychic
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
But smoking also reduces sense of smell. So does repeated exposure to chemical outgassing. Have the researchers factored this in to their study?
ziphead
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
So... asking a suspect "does my finger smell like a butt to you" may become standard part of police interrogation.
kevint1990
not rated yet Sep 23, 2012
'They also noted how much or how little they emphasized with other people's feelings.'

How can we take something seriously when the writer makes such a stupid mistake. It's empathize, not emphasize.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.