Psychopathic traits in common between prison inmates and people on the loose, according to Oxford

For many years it has been understood that individuals who have a psychopathic personality are potential murderers, do not experience emotions or even enjoy the suffering of others. However, nothing is further from the truth.

In the case of psychopathy, in particular, one could speak of a set of personality traits not necessarily present in people who act in a strange, antisocial or even criminal way, but rather also in individuals who function in society in an “apparently normal” way, but who have certain antisocial traits.

It is important to put aside the caricature that is held in the collective ideology regarding the behavior of psychopaths and understand that not all people who have this condition present the same behavior.

Among the common characteristics of this disorder we can find a lack of remorse, guilt or a low empathy towards the rest, a continuous violation of social norms, manipulation and victimhood.

It is important to put aside the caricature that exists in the collective ideology regarding the behavior of psychopaths. – Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

antisocial personality disorder

Recently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in its fifth edition (DSM-V), it called psychopathy as “antisocial personality disorder”, which does not necessarily consist of a mental pathology. Rather, it is a personality made up of a series of traits that may or may not be present to a greater or lesser extent in those who have this condition.

However, there is still no real consensus regarding whether psychopathy should be understood as a personality trait or antisocial behavior itself. In fact, authors such as Blackburn, H. mention that differences should be established between antisocial behavior (in which criminal behaviors are included) and psychopathy, including the latter in a broader concept.

Indeed, it is possible to partially understand the functioning of the brain of those who behave differently from what is considered “normal” by the majority. Specifically, there are multiple investigations that have studied the brain of groups of people who have a psychiatric diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and they have become perpetrators of horrendous crimes like serial killers, who even seem to enjoy the suffering of others or they simply show great indifference to the pain of others.

Now, what about people who have psychopathic personality traits, but who already function well within society and even succeed in life, going completely unnoticed? Will their brains have something in common with criminals?

psychopathy in jail

In order to advance in the understanding of these issues, a group of researchers from different Finnish and Swedish institutions, led by Jarii Tihonen, carried out a study published by the Oxford University publishing house, in which they compared the structure and functioning of the brain of 19 people confined in prison for committing highly serious crimes, considered as subjects with antisocial personality disorder.

Additionally, surveys were conducted to detect people with psychopathic traits, from which 100 with good social functioning were selected. Specialized tests were applied to both groups to detect features of the psychopathic spectrum.

First, they compared the cortical density, that is, the number of neurons in a given space in the cerebral cortex, of the group of inmates, with a control group, without psychopathic features, to reveal differences in this region of the brain.

Subsequently, these brain structures present in the imprisoned group were contrasted with people who showed psychopathic traits, but who were at liberty and concluded that, structurally, both groups had common characteristics, evidencing a lower density of gray matter in brain networks related to the regulation of emotions, decision making and social behavior.

In addition, scenes of violence were shown both to those who were sentenced, and to subjects with functional psychopathic traits. Said projection was made with a binocular screen and the sound was transmitted with insert headphones (all this in order to approximate as much as possible to natural conditions), while they scanned their brains with magnetic resonance to evaluate their functioning and discovered that both groups showed similar dynamics.

It was even observed that psychopathic criminals had violent scenes, causing greater activation in brain structures related to behavior and decision-making in threatening situations, to ensure survival.

Then, those who obtained higher scores in the tests that detected psychopathic traits, but were not in prison, showed greater activation in the mentioned areas in contrast to the control group.

Through the use of functional magnetic resonance, based on the BOLD technique, which allows measuring the level of oxygen in the blood of different areas of the brain, it was possible to measure the connectivity in the regions of interest, both in the group of convicts and in the group of convicts. of non-convicts and it was shown that there is low connectivity between brain networks responsible for processing emotions in both groups.

However, in the case of those in prison, the strength of functional connectivity was lower in a greater number of brain networks, in contrast to those in freedom, who also had low connectivity, but in fewer brain networks. networks.

In fact, some people present psychopathic traits and commit crimes, but others can still be functional in society.

Finally, it can be concluded that both convicted psychopathic criminals and people with psychopathic traits share similar structure and functioning in networks dedicated to emotional regulation and social behavior. However, they differ in global functional connectivity, since it is significantly lower in convicts in contrast to those who are free.

Psychopathic traits in common between prison inmates and people on the loose, according to Oxford