Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Neurological basis for lack of empathy in psychopaths

Date:
September 24, 2013
Source:
Frontiers
Summary:
When individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and be connected to other important regions involved in affective processing and decision-making, reports a new study.

This is response in the right amygdala across groups of low (L), medium (M) and high (H) psychopathy participants, when they adopted an imagine-self and an imagine-other affective perspective while viewing bodily injuries. Groupwise effects (bars at the bottom of the figure) are expanded to show the contribution of continuous PCL-R subscores on factor 1, which encompasses the emotional/interpersonal features of psychopathy.
Credit: Decety. J, Chenyi. C, Harenski. C, and Kiehl. K, A. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2013.

When individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and be connected to other important regions involved in affective processing and decision-making, reports a study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Related Articles


Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow affect, glibness, manipulation and callousness. Previous research indicates that the rate of psychopathy in prisons is around 23%, greater than the average population which is around 1%.

To better understand the neurological basis of empathy dysfunction in psychopaths, neuroscientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on the brains of 121 inmates of a medium-security prison in the USA.

Participants were shown visual scenarios illustrating physical pain, such as a finger caught between a door, or a toe caught under a heavy object. They were by turns invited to imagine that this accident happened to themselves, or somebody else. They were also shown control images that did not depict any painful situation, for example a hand on a doorknob.

Participants were assessed with the widely used PCL-R, a diagnostic tool to identify their degree of psychopathic tendencies. Based on this assessment, the participants were then divided in three groups of approximately 40 individuals each: highly, moderately, and weakly psychopathic.

When highly psychopathic participants imagined pain to themselves, they showed a typical neural response within the brain regions involved in empathy for pain, including the anterior insula, the anterior midcingulate cortex, somatosensory cortex, and the right amygdala. The increase in brain activity in these regions was unusually pronounced, suggesting that psychopathic people are sensitive to the thought of pain.

But when participants imagined pain to others, these regions failed to become active in high psychopaths. Moreover, psychopaths showed an increased response in the ventral striatum, an area known to be involved in pleasure, when imagining others in pain.

This atypical activation combined with a negative functional connectivity between the insula and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex may suggest that individuals with high scores on psychopathy actually enjoyed imagining pain inflicted on others and did not care for them. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a region that plays a critical role in empathetic decision-making, such as caring for the wellbeing of others.

Taken together, this atypical pattern of activation and effective connectivity associated with perspective taking manipulations may inform intervention programs in a domain where therapeutic pessimism is more the rule than the exception. Altered connectivity may constitute novel targets for intervention. Imagining oneself in pain or in distress may trigger a stronger affective reaction than imagining what another person would feel, and this could be used with some psychopaths in cognitive-behavior therapies as a kick-starting technique, write the authors.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Frontiers. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jean Decety, Chenyi Chen, Carla Harenski and Kent A. Kiehl. An fMRI study of affective perspective taking in individuals with psychopathy: imagining another in pain does not evoke empathy. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2013 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00489

Cite This Page:

Frontiers. "Neurological basis for lack of empathy in psychopaths." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130924174331.htm>.
Frontiers. (2013, September 24). Neurological basis for lack of empathy in psychopaths. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130924174331.htm
Frontiers. "Neurological basis for lack of empathy in psychopaths." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130924174331.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Fauci Says Ebola Risk in US "essentially Zero"

Fauci Says Ebola Risk in US "essentially Zero"

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said the risk of Ebola becoming an epidemic in the U.S. is essentially zero Thursday at the Washington Ideas Forum. He also said an Ebola vaccine will be tested in West Africa in the next few months. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Nurse Defies Ebola Quarantine With Bike Ride

Nurse Defies Ebola Quarantine With Bike Ride

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) A nurse who vowed to defy Maine's voluntary quarantine for health care workers who treated Ebola patients followed through on her promise Thursday, leaving her home for an hour-long bike ride. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pot-Infused Edibles Raise Concerns in Colorado

Pot-Infused Edibles Raise Concerns in Colorado

AFP (Oct. 30, 2014) Colorado may have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but the debate around the decision still continues, with a recent - failed - attempt to ban cannabis-infused edibles. Duration: 01:53 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
British Navy Ship Arrives in Sierra Leone With Ebola Aid

British Navy Ship Arrives in Sierra Leone With Ebola Aid

AFP (Oct. 30, 2014) The British ship RFA ARGUS arrived in Sierra Leone to deliver supplies and equipment to help the fight against Ebola. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins