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Psychopathy Could Be Caused By Brain’s Attention Impairment: Study

Jul 07, 2018 09:58 PM EDT
Psychopathy is still largely a mystery to the medical community and the greater pubic. In a new study, researchers show that psychopaths could have fundamentally abnormal attention mechanisms in the brain.
(Photo : Gerd Altmann | Pixabay)

If psychopathy sounds terrifying, it's partly because little is still known about it. A new study aims to provide some answers.

Apparently, one brain pathway that could affect psychopathy is attention mechanisms.

"As a cognitive neuroscientist, I'm deeply interested in the way individual differences in the brain translate to the wide variation in human behavior that we see all around us," study author Nathaniel E. Anderson says in Psypost. "Psychopathic individuals represent an extreme example of this, since they show impairments in very basic aspects of cognition that scale up to profound deficits in things like moral decision-making and socially acceptable behavior."

Anderson is from the Nonprofit Mind Research Network and Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute.

Psychopathy Linked To Attention Processing

The study, published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, used brain imaging to show that psychopathy could be caused by abnormalities in attention processing in the brain.

Specifically, the researchers made use of functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the brain activity of 168 male individuals in prison who displayed psychopathic traits when assessed in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revise.

The participants underwent an auditory oddball task that had them listening to a variety of noises. They were told to press a button when they heard a specific high-pitched tone.

The researchers discovered that psychopathy can be linked with impaired activity in the brain's regions that are related with attention: the anterior temporal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, dorsal anterior cingulate, temporoparietal junction, and posterior cingulate cortex.

These results support previous studies that say psychopathy is related to particular brain activities.

"What this study shows is that there may be even more fundamental processes that are impaired — specifically, the way the brain encodes differences between what is important and what is not, even without emotional content involved — and this has more to do with attention," Anderson explains.

He also says that he wants the greater public to recognize psychopathy as a mental health condition that doctors can address with tools they also use in other conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, and autism.

It's important to note that the study has significant limitations in both participants (just male inmates) and tasks (one simple auditory attention task).

Psychopathy In The United States

Another new research, pre-published in the Social Science Research Network and yet to be peer reviewed, evaluated 48 states in the United States to rank them in order of psychopathy. The study is based on psychopathy traits translated into the Big Five traits, according to Quartz.

The top five states who rank the most psychopathic are Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New York, and Wyoming. The five least psychopathic states are West Virginia, Vermont, Tennessee, North Carolina, and New Mexico.

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