Project will study the neural basis of psychopathy

A leading University of Chicago researcher on empathy is launching a project to understand psychopathy by studying criminals in prisons.

Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology and , has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of to use fMRI technology to examine the of criminal psychopaths.

The research comes at a time of increased awareness about the role that mental health plays in crime, including questions about the suspects accused in recent mass murders in Norway and in Arizona.

Through the project, Decety and his colleagues intend to study mental health by measuring the activity of brain networks necessary to experience empathy among a prison population and compare the results with data from healthy individuals.

Although only one percent of the general population has psychopathy, between 20 and 30 percent of the prison population are psychopaths. Criminal psychopaths are disproportionately responsible for crime and typically commit five major crimes by the time they are 40, research shows.

Little is understood about psychopathy, and almost no treatments have been developed that have been effective.

"If psychopathy is to be treated effectively, targeted therapies and interventions must be developed based on the underlying causes of the disorder," Decety said.

Other attempts at studying psychopathy have been inadequate because they were based on inferences about brain functioning not based on , or they had small sample sizes, Decety pointed out.

"Our project will correct all of these issues and be the first to be in a position to adequately address the underlying neurological differences characterizing psychopathic offenders with respect to empathic processing," he said.

Decety has conducted extensive studies on empathy with children, and adults that have shown, for instance, that the among bullies is different from that of other children.

In his studies on , Decety shows subjects video clips of intentional and unintentional harm and measure responses in their brain circuits, particularly the insula, amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. A similar approach will be used in the psychopath study, to be conducted in New Mexico prison facilities, where he will work with Kent Kiehl, Professor of Translational Neuroscience at the University of New Mexico.

The Kiehl Lab at the MIND Research Network has an established relationship with the New Mexico correctional system and is conducting ongoing research in three of the 10 state correctional facilities.

Participation rates among the have been excellent, with 85 percent of the population volunteering to participate.

Decety's project will cover four years and will include collecting data on 160 men with varying levels of . The results will be compared with those of a control group of non-criminals with similar socioeconomic backgrounds and histories of drug use and psychiatric problems.


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Aug 03, 2011
There have already been numerous other studies conducted in this area
(go to "google scholar" and type in 'fmri empathy')

Aug 03, 2011
Conservatism.

Where's my Nobel?

Aug 03, 2011
fMRI is area study.

Well, it says right in the first sentence that they will use fMRI. So what's your point?

They will try to find out if there are certain areas that exhibit localized anomalies. It has already been shown that by magnetically suppressing activity (I think it was in the frontal cortex) one can inhibit ethical reasoning.

This proposed study could find out if the majority of psychopaths have such a deficincy then that would be valuable information.


Aug 04, 2011
Area study will not bring about effective treatment.

Only if you limit yourself to treatment via chemicals.

Ther are other ways of treatment available:
E.g. selective (cognitive) training of underused brain areas. or a brain 'pacemaker' implant like the ones used for some cases of epilepsy.
Direct/repeated stimulation therapy via magnetic fields (essentially the reverse of fMRI) of the relevant parts may also be possible.

Even when you go for drugs then targetted administration via localized pumps (lke insulin pumps) or specialy designed drugs that bind to proteins that are predominantly available in that brain area are a possibility.

I can see many ways in which findings that indicate a localized problem could help.
It may even be as simple as augmenting the bloodflow to that area via surgery.


Aug 04, 2011
Lobotomizing areas of activity is wrong in anyone's book.

I was actually advocating the reverse (if it turns out that these areas are underused). Lobotomy would be the (permanent) deactivation of a brain area.

I demand...

Well, medical innovation and research doesn't work that way. You usually look at pathologies, contrast them with people who do not show these pathologies - and then try out stuff that reduces/eliminates those differences to see if it cures the pathology.

Medical (and psychological) issues are far too complex to (yet) be broken down into simple formulae. There are also ethical issues, since you can't simply induce the pathology in a healthy subject to see if what you think causes the pathology is actually the cause. (So even if such a mathematical description were to be had you could never test it under controlled conditions)

I can meet every one of those demands.

Hic Rhodus. Hic salta.

Aug 04, 2011


"Medical (and psychological) issues are far too complex to (yet) be broken down into simple formulae." - AP
Sounds like fatalism.

No. Notice the 'yet' in my statement. But if you ever sat in psychology course at Uni then you know that the monocausal links between an issue and a (psychological) pathology are few and far between.

Realistically we're still in the one-size-fits-all treatment stage for most illnesses (though mostly because it's much more profitable than to develop custom tailored cures/treatments for small groups).

Well, when Jean Decety steps down, I'll have four years.

Ahh..I thought you said you CAN already do it. Hot air? Looks like it.
Or would you mind posting links to some of your papers on the subject?

Aug 04, 2011
"Ahh...subject?"

Well, the subject at hand since that was what you were referring to as 'can do' (psychology)

Yes. I mind posting. Looks are deceiving.

Why? You should be proud of your papers - if you have any.
But with your unwillingness to go any further I'm assuming that you have none and that your assertion was all fake.
Look at omatur - at least he has published his theories.

I have no idea why no one does not substantiate monocausal links.

Because you can oftentimes find many studies linking different causes to a single pathology. It becomes a matter of lacking statistical power very quickly when you posit multicausal factors (i.e. he number of cases you need to get a scientifically significant answer quickly grows into the tens of thousands).

Aug 04, 2011
So your strategy is to play word games instead of facing the issue?

Item: You said you can do a certain thing
Item: I called you on it to prove it
Item: you failed to do so

Conclusion: You lie. Or you dissemble. Basically I don't care which - it just will mean that anything you post in the future will be taken with a major dose of scepticism.

No 'would', 'could' or 'should' anywhere in this, either.

Aug 04, 2011
"He notes that so far at least, the explanatory power of sociobiology combined with neuroscience is entirely "retrospective." Experts can draw correlations between this and that, "but they can't even tell you what's going to happen on the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow. So, there's a feeling that we have finally achieved some kind of understanding that our poor benighted ancestors didn't have. But this is nonsense." Human action remains mysterious, and what's more, "it's dangerous to think we do have that kind of understanding," because in the worst case, it could lead to a kind of scientific dictatorship."
""Supposing," he says of Breivik, "you examine him and you come to the conclusion that this, that and the other factor went to create the situation. You wouldn't have any more than a statistical generality." But if that statistical correlation could be verified, could it lead to "locking up people before they've done anything"?"
http://online.wsj...11904888

Aug 05, 2011
Start putting content in your posts instead of playing word games. I asked a simple question which is:

"Can you corroborate your claim that you are able to express psychological phenomena in simple mathematical terms or can't you?"

This is a simple yes/no question (and a source if the answer is 'yes' would be appreciated)

If you cannot then why do you make such a claim?

Aug 05, 2011
"Can you corroborate your claim that you are able to express psychological phenomena in simple mathematical terms or can't you?

AP: I think you misinterpreted his initial "claim". He said he could meet the three demands:
1.)I demand a mathematical expression for it.
2.)I demand the physical interpretation of the mathematical expression for it.
3.)I demand a unit of measure for it.

But I don't think he was talking about empathy. I think he was referring to the spring in his step from wearing his Hush Puppy slippers. The new unit of measure is mushiness and the SI units are millimeters per hundred kg. It will revolutionize slipper design once the patent expires. Until then he isn't going to speak of it again.

Sorry hushie. Some fatty was down rating AP so I had to help him out. And then you got the real answer in before this silly nonsense.

Aug 05, 2011
If you argue that there is nothing psychological about physiological sensory perceptions you will have support that with literature that supports your stance.

Why would I argue that psychology and physiology are separate? They are not (unless one were to believe in souls or similar crap)

However, the estrogen example is again a very monocausal explanation for an issue that can have many causes. And that is what the article here is about: finding out A possible cause for psychopathic behavior.

Googling for the original source of the estrogen article I found that the same group has also articles on how Progestin affects hearing in aged women...so now we already don't have a moncausal link.
http://www.pnas.o...46.short

Physiology (and consequently psycholgy) ain't as simple as you think.

Aug 06, 2011
Classic textbook super ego script/text.
A disservice to the user and recipient alike.

Well, I tend to feed those who go into super-ego mode their own medicine back. It seems you don't like that. It would be funny if it weren't so pathetic (or at least if you could back up what you claim).

Aug 08, 2011
Cognitive bias abounds. Very rarely do comments consider the bias content of one's own and not just others' stances and views. ...

People don't often recognize their own bias even when it is presented to them. When you dig deeper than simple prejudices, I am sure I don't even recognize the tip of the iceberg of my cognitive biases. Unfortunately my linguistic capabilities are limited to a smattering of swear words and this woefully inadequate and confusing language I comment in. I wouldn't know where to start when comparing my understanding of something to somebody whose native language is anything other than American English.

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