The brain of psychopaths has a very particular characteristic

Psychopathy is the result of a complex combination of factors, both environmental and genetic. Now, we have discovered a new brain peculiarity. We explain it to you.

The brain of psychopaths has a very particular characteristic

Last update: July 04, 2022

A recent research work has shown that psychopaths have a larger brain region than normal. Specifically, it is the striatum: a set of subcortical structures that are, in turn, part of the basal ganglia. It is an area related to important processes and that not only have to do with our cognition.

It should be noted, of course, that this is not the first neurological peculiarity that has been discovered in terms of psychopathic behavior. We have spent years uncovering layer by layer the mystery of what is known as the “dark personality”. We know, for example, that in certain processes, such as empathy, guilt, fear or anxiety, they present serious alterations.

However, it is relevant to clarify an essential aspect. Genetic and neurological alterations are not enough to explain why a man or a woman is a psychopath. It is enough to remember a name: that of the doctor James Fallon. He is one of the most prestigious neurologists in the world. He himself discovered that he presents the genes and neurological characteristics of this profile.

What’s more, in his paternal family there were up to seven murderers, one of them being the famous Lizzie Borden. However, Dr. Fallon was able to enjoy a structured and happy childhood. What we know is that the environment is, in many cases, that factor that activates or deactivates the psychopathy gene, the one that many people carry inside..

Disturbances in socio-emotional circuits are a feature in offenders with a psychopathic personality.

Psychopathic people show a larger striatal region

Psychopaths have a larger than average brain region

Neuroscientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), the University of Pennsylvania, and California State University recently published a study very interesting. Now, we know that psychopaths have a larger brain region than average: it is the striatum.

This factor would allow us to make a distinction between those who could present this trait and those who could not. It would be enough to perform an MRI to find out. Specifically, what we would see is that people with psychopathic traits (active or latent) present a striated region that it is 10% larger than that of those who lack this characteristic.

Now, the question that comes next is more than obvious. What particularities are there in who presents this nuance in his brain? We analyze it.

An overactive striatum: the mind in search of rewards

The striatum is responsible for different functions that are essential for the human being. Among them are those related to motor learning, movement or procedural memory. However, also It is decisive in tasks such as motivated behavior or the ability to select actions based on the rewards expected.

Good, If there is one aspect that defines psychopaths, it is their instrumental behavior.. That is, they act only for their own interest and to obtain what they want. The striatum controls, through the secretion of dopamine, the reward system of the brain. What has been evidenced in this study is that this function presents a high activity in said profile.

That is, let’s think about what it means to have a person with low empathy, but highly motivated to achieve what they want (whether legal or not). The most likely result would be a pattern of behaviors that would violate ethical, moral, and legal principles..

A behavior with greater inclination to violence

Psychopaths have a larger than normal brain region: the striatum. However, they also present very striking structural and functional changes in the brain. Jobs such as those carried out at the University of Turku, in Finland, show great impulsivity, lack of cognitive control and a very inefficient regulation of emotions at the social level.

All this increases the probability that they will become involved in actions violent and criminal. It is worth clarifying, yes, that not all people with psychopathic traits cross this threshold. Many become those aggressive co-workers, those bosses who abuse their authority and lead their own company to disaster.

It is important to note that only 1% of the population demonstrates a high degree of psychopathy capable of leading them to aggressive and illegal acts. People with low-grade psychopathic traits abound to a greater degree, with whom it is difficult to live, those who deceive and manipulate to achieve what they want. Reprehensible conduct, unethical but not legally reportable.

The vast majority of psychopaths are not in a penal institution, but share social spaces with us. They can be our bosses, teachers, co-workers and even our partners.


Professor Adrian Raine, from the Department of Criminology, Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania is a co-author of the study to which we have referred. In it he points out that heredity has a lot to do with what psychopaths have a larger than normal brain region. That is, it can be inherited from parents to children.

Does this mean that having a larger striatum would determine our psychopathic behavior? The answer is no. Presenting certain brain abnormalities associated with psychopathy does not activate this trait in 100% of cases. It is a risk, obviously. However, as we have indicated at the beginning, there are more associated variables apart from the genetic or biological ones.

Growing up in a safe, emotionally nurturing social and family environment, free of traumatic experiences, can numb the development of this characteristic.. Although we still do not know everything about this personality disorder, it is no less true that every day we know a little more about it.

You might be interested…

The brain of psychopaths has a very particular characteristic