Testosterone influences regulation of emotions in psychopath's brain

January 21, 2016, Radboud University
brain

Brain research has demonstrated that psychopaths exhibit reduced control over their emotional actions. Researchers from the Donders Institute at Radboud University Nijmegen discovered that the quantity of testosterone a person produces influences the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. The findings provide starting points for the treatment of psychopaths. The results were published in the online journal eNeuro. The article by Karin Roelofs and her group was realised thanks to a Vidi grant from NWO's Talent Scheme.

Professor of Psychopathology Karin Roelofs and her colleagues at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour investigated a group of 15 psychopathic criminal offenders in a joint research project with the Pompe Foundation for forensic psychiatry. The researchers were particularly interested in how the supply of testosterone influenced the regulation of emotions.

Among the general public, psychopaths are mainly known for their planned and targeted form of criminality. They are generally classed as calculating and set to work with a high degree of apparent cold-bloodedness. Less well known – but no less disturbing – is that psychopaths exhibit impulsive behaviour and experience problems in regulating their emotions. These problems often lead to difficulty in social contacts and to police arrest because at vital moments they lose their cool. Why is that?

During Roelofs' research, criminal offenders and healthy study subjects carried out a task in an MRI scanner that measured the response time of the automatic tendency to move the joystick towards oneself upon seeing images of 'friendly' faces or to push it away upon seeing 'angry' faces.

In the healthy control persons, the researchers saw a normal pattern of communication between the prefrontal cortex and the emotion centre, the so-called amygdala, if they had to control their reflex by making the opposite movement with a joystick ('angry' towards themselves, 'friendly' away from themselves). Such counter-intuitive joystick movements require control and that was very clearly observable in the brain activity.

Karin Roelofs: 'However in people with psychopathy, and especially in patients with high endogenous testosterone levels, significantly less activity in the prefrontal brain regions and less communication between the prefrontal and the amygdala was observed. Thus there was less communication between emotion regions. The research results provide a neuro-hormonal explanation for emotional regulation problems in psychopathic patients.'

Furthermore, the results provide starting points for the treatment of by influencing the amount of testosterone in their bodies.

Explore further: New vision on amygdala after study on testosterone and fear

More information: I. Volman et al. Testosterone modulates altered prefrontal control of emotional actions in psychopathic offenders, eNeuro (2016). DOI: 10.1523/ENEURO.0107-15.2016

Related Stories

New vision on amygdala after study on testosterone and fear

June 15, 2015
The activity of the emotion centres in the brain – the amygdalae – is influenced by motivation rather than by the emotions themselves. This can be concluded from research carried out at Radboud University into the hormone ...

Emotion dysregulation in borderline personality disorder: A problem of too much drive and too little control?

January 13, 2016
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a diagnostic label applied to people who have problems regulating emotional mood swings. This emotional instability leaves such individuals vulnerable to emotional upheaval that puts ...

Targeted computer games can change behavior of psychopaths

December 17, 2014
Psychopaths generally do not feel fear and fail to consider the emotions of others, or reflect upon their behavior—traits that make them notoriously difficult to treat. However, a study published Dec. 18 in Clinical Psychological ...

Soldiers with PTSD more 'tuned' to angry faces because of over-connected brain circuits

January 20, 2016
Soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more 'tuned' to perceive threatening facial expressions than people without PTSD because of more over-connected brain circuits, according to a new study published in ...

Psychopaths' brains show differences in structure and function

November 22, 2011
Images of prisoners' brains show important differences between those who are diagnosed as psychopaths and those who aren't, according to a new study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.

Psychopathy linked to specific structural abnormalities in the brain

May 7, 2012
New research provides the strongest evidence to date that psychopathy is linked to specific structural abnormalities in the brain. The study, published in Archives of General Psychiatry and led by researchers at King's College ...

Recommended for you

Serious loneliness spans the adult lifespan but there is a silver lining

December 18, 2018
In recent years, public health officials have warned about a rising epidemic of loneliness, with rates of loneliness reportedly doubling over the past 50 years. In a new study, researchers at University of California San ...

Junk food diet raises depression risk, researchers find

December 18, 2018
A diet of fast food, cakes and processed meat increases your risk of depression, according to researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Looking on bright side may reduce anxiety, especially when money is tight

December 17, 2018
Trying to find something good in a bad situation appears to be particularly effective in reducing anxiety the less money a person makes, possibly because people with low incomes have less control over their environment, according ...

Levels of gene-expression-regulating enzyme altered in brains of people with schizophrenia

December 14, 2018
A study using a PET scan tracer developed at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has identified, for the first time, epigenetic differences between the brains of individuals ...

Self-perception and reality seem to line-up when it comes to judging our own personality

December 14, 2018
When it comes to self-assessment, new U of T research suggests that maybe we do have a pretty good handle on our own personalities after all.

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

0 comments

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.