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Mind of a psychopath

Updated on October 16, 2015

Majority of us have read or heard about the acts of some of the notorious psychopaths of our times as they all hit headlines in the media that sensationalize their horrendous acts. Many movies are also made that are based on their lives. Similarly, many fictions are written basing their central plot on their lives. But, strangely enough, we still enjoy the stories of their exploits long after they are dead. Mostly, we are unable to understand why the psychopaths act that way or what leads them to act that way. This is still a baffling question that sociologists, neuroscientist, psychologists and psychiatrists are trying to find an answer to.

The psychopaths fall into the category of antisocial personality disorder (APD) according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). World Health Organization also puts psychopaths into a similar category called dissocial personality disorder (DPD).

In fact, psychopathy is the most dangerous of all personality disorders. Psychopaths are both male and female, but more men are psychopaths than women. They represent all races, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some are intelligent, while others possess average or below average intelligence. They come from both single and two-parent households and may themselves be married with children. It is interesting to know that psychopaths understand right from wrong. They know that they are subject to society's rules, but willingly disregard them to pursue their own interests. They also are not out of touch with reality unless they have a separate mental illness or use powerful drugs such as stimulants. It is noteworthy that though they are usually manageable, they are not curable.

Causes of psychopathy –

The factors for the development of pschchopathy are varied, ranging from genetic, social, childhood abuse and trauma, and parenting style.

  • The neuroscientists have come to the conclusion that in individuals with psychopathy, two processes that are required for socialization, i.e. aversive conditioning and instrumental learning are detrimentally affected. This is thought to result from amygdala dysfunction potentially compounded by occipito-frontal cortex dysfunction of the brain. These parts of the human brain are associated with emotional regulation. However, the reason for this dysfunction is unknown. But the reason may probably lie in genetic architecture and morphogenesis of the forebrain in these people. So, the dysfunction of these areas of the brain adversely affects emotional processing and decision making in psychopaths. When psychopaths see or imagine others experiencing pain, the regions of the brain associated with empathy and concern for others fail to activate.
  • The experts have also suggested a biochemical basis for psychopathy. High levels of testosterone combined with low levels of cortisol and/or serotonin have been theorized as contributing factors. Some studies have found that high testosterone levels are associated with antisocial and aggressive behaviors. And yet other research suggests that testosterone alone does not cause aggression, but increases dominance-seeking. However, this co-relation is not yet clear. Some studies have found psychopathy to be linked to low cortisol levels. However, high testosterone levels combined with low serotonin levels, which are associated with impulsive and highly negative reactions, may increase violent aggression, when an individual becomes frustrated. A few studies have suggested that psychopathy is associated with an increased ratio of HVA (a dopamine metabolite) to 5-HIAA (a serotonin metabolite). This has been theoretically linked to increased impulsivity.
  • The psychologists have also concluded that serious child abuse could be an underlying factor behind psychopathy. Clearly, all children, who suffer trauma and abuse in their childhood, don’t become psychopath. This could be due to a genetic component that has been set in motion in psychopaths due to childhood abuse and trauma.
  • Children growing up with psychopathic mother or father are likely to develop core personalities as their parents. They are more likely to be self-centered, deceptive, and have shallow emotions and lack of empathy, even if they don’t have genetic component for psychopathy.
  • The parenting style may also affect emotional regulation in children and, therefore, it may cause to lead to psychopathy in vulnerable people. The psychopath’s upbringing and relationships are important because their emotional life is very complex than what was previously thought. The researchers have found that child psychopathic traits were shown to be influenced by the effects of parental concern on aggression. The reactive aggression in children high on psychopathic traits appears less responsive to variations in either positive or negative parenting. In contrast, high levels of negative parental care may aggravate proactive aggression in children with psychopathic traits.
  • Most important social factor for potentiating the psychopathic traits in psychopaths is the company of persons they associate with. If persons the psychopaths move with have similar or antisocial personality traits, they will strengthen the traits of each others. And, simultaneously, they may plan to commit criminal acts together by lending a hand to each other.

Characteristics of a psychopath – The following important characteristics may enable us to spot out a psychopath, though they are expert in veneering themselves as good persons. And, therefore, it may take time for some people to spot them out.

  • Lack of conscience
  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Pathological lying
  • Conning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Parasitic lifestyle' 10. Poor behavioral controls
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Early behavior problems
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Failure to accept responsibility for actions
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Criminal versatility

Management –

Most studies indicate that there are no conventional methods available, which cure psychopathic behavior. When conventional methods have been used, the psychopaths become empowered. And they react by improving their cunning, manipulative methods and their ability to conceal their true personality, even from trained eyes.

However, it has emerged that the core elements of pschopathy make it one of the most difficult disorders to treat. Nevertheless, the fact cannot be ignored that there is still considerable debate surrounding the etiology of the disorder.

Due to the nature of the disorder and its link with violent behavior, these people will invariably be detained under civil or criminal compulsory measures. And, therefore, they are treated in special hospitals, special out-patient clinics or healthcare centers of the prisons depending on the severity of their condition.

Numerous methods of treatment have been tried with psychopaths. The goal of therapy will vary according to the particular needs of each patient. However, in most clinical settings, an eclectic approach to therapy is preferred, which would usually involve the use of two or more methods.


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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your encouraging comments.

    • HealthbyMartha profile image

      Martha Montour 

      3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Very interesting article! I really enjoyed reading all about psychopathy and your research was impeccable! I am fascinated with the criminal mind so this was a very good read. Thank you for sharing.


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