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Psychopathy: An Introduction to Biological Findings and Their Implications

Andrea L. Glenn
Adrian Raine
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The last two decades have seen tremendous growth in biological research on psychopathy, a mental disorder distinguished by traits including a lack of empathy or emotional response, egocentricity, impulsivity, and stimulation seeking. But how does a psychopath's brain work? What makes a psychopath?Psychopathyprovides a concise, non-technical overview of the research in the areas of genetics, hormones, brain imaging, neuropsychology, environmental influences, and more, focusing on explaining what we currently know about the biological foundations for this disorder and offering insights into prediction, intervention, and prevention. It also offers a nuanced discussion of the ethical and legal implications associated with biological research on psychopathy. How much of this disorder is biologically based? Should offenders with psychopathic traits be punished for their crimes if we can show that biological factors contribute? The text clearly assesses the conclusions that can and cannot be drawn from existing biological research, and highlights the pressing considerations this research demands.Andrea L. Glennis Assistant Professor in the Center for the Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems and the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama. Adrian Raineis University Professor and the Richard Perry Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology, as well Chair of the Department of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7707-7
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In November 2009, evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technology used to approximate brain functioning, was presented for the first time in a criminal court case. The defendant, Brian Dugan, was already serving two life sentences for murders he committed in the 1980s, and was now on trial for an earlier murder in which he had kidnapped a 10-year-old girl, raped her in the back seat of his car, and beat her to death. Brain imaging evidence was used to argue that Dugan, a highly psychopathic individual, demonstrated deficits in brain functioning that contributed to his extremely violent...

  4. 1 Genetics
    (pp. 19-49)

    In his bookWithout Conscience(1999), Dr. Robert Hare describes a set of female twins who differ like “night and day,” “heaven and hell.” One twin grows up to be a lawyer with ambitious career prospects, while the other develops drug addiction, has numerous encounters with the law, and demonstrates many of the traits of psychopathy. Despite years of intensive self-scrutiny, the twins’ supportive and attentive mother cannot identify a mistake, event, or way in which the girls might have been treated differently that could have resulted in the troublesome behavior of one of the twins. Despite sharing the same...

  5. 2 Hormones
    (pp. 50-64)

    Throughout our evolutionary history, hormones have been important in facilitating key functions that are necessary for survival. They help to mobilize our bodies when we are confronted with threats in the environment and to seek out rewards such as food and sexual partners. They also help us to navigate social hierarchies, influencing whether we respond in a particular situation in a dominant or submissive way. They influence how we respond to cues that another individual is angry or in distress. Hormones also influence our ability to learn from punishment and reward and our willingness to take risks. Hormone systems are...

  6. 3 Psychophysiology
    (pp. 65-83)

    Psychophysiological research has significantly contributed to our empirical understanding of the biological factors associated with psychopathy. In 1957, David Lykken published seminal work involving psychophysiological processes in psychopaths—work that largely marks the beginnings of the modern neurobiological investigation of antisocial behavior in general (Lykken 1957). Lykken’s studies sought to empirically test Cleckley’s assertion that the main clinical characteristic of psychopaths was a lack of normal emotional responses. He tested this by examining small changes in sweat generated on an individual’s hand in response to different stimuli. Lykken hypothesized that the emotional deficit of psychopaths was specific to emotions such...

  7. 4 Neuropsychology
    (pp. 84-105)

    Consider the following case studies: A 60-year-old male begins attempting to molest children for the first time in his life, and is arrested. Over the prior four years, the man’s personality had changed remarkably. He had become very disinhibited, causing disturbances at work such as intruding into others’ conversations and walking into others’ offices uninvited. He also had begun compulsive hoarding and constantly pilfering money and other items from his workplace and restaurants. When questioned about the wrongfulness of his actions, he failed to acknowledge that his actions were harmful, and lacked empathy for those who were negatively affected.


  8. 5 Brain Imaging
    (pp. 106-130)

    In Chapters 3 and 4 we discussed research that is designed to indirectly estimate how the brain may function differently in psychopathy. In this chapter we review the research that examines the brain more directly via brain imaging. Brain imaging is perhaps the fastest moving area of research in psychopathy. Advances in technology are allowing for much better visualization of structural and functional properties of the brain. The clinical implications of this research are significant. Understanding how the brain functions differently in psychopathic individuals will likely be useful in the development of treatment, and in determining the most appropriate type...

  9. 6 Biosocial and Environmental Influences
    (pp. 131-147)

    In the preceding chapters, we reviewed evidence of the biological markers that have been associated with psychopathy. As discussed in Chapter 2, behavioral genetics studies estimate that 40 to 60 percent of the variance in psychopathy is genetic in origin. This suggests that the “nurture” part of the picture is just as important as “nature.” Environmental factorsdosignificantly contribute to the development of psychopathy. Compared to research on the environmental factors that contribute to crime in general, very little research has examined these factors in relation to psychopathy. However, emerging research suggests that environmental factors such as parenting, abuse,...

  10. 7 Successful Psychopaths
    (pp. 148-159)

    Although psychopathy is overrepresented in the prison population, it has long been argued that not all psychopaths engage in criminal behavior (Cleckley 1941, Hare 1978). Instead, psychopaths are thought to be found in all walks of society, and may include individuals of high social status such as businessmen, physicians, scientists, and politicians, who are characterized by traits of egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, lack of emotion, impulsivity, and irresponsibility, but may not have had any arrests or convictions. Cleckley describes a middle-aged man who came from a well-regarded family and who made his way through three years at a prestigious university...

  11. 8 Ethical Issues
    (pp. 160-176)

    Mr. Oft is a 40-year-old man with no prior history of mental health problems or antisocial behavior. He is happily married and lives at home with his wife and stepdaughter. In 2000, he began collecting pornography, much of which was child pornography. Shortly thereafter, he began soliciting prostitution, and also started making sexual advances toward his stepdaughter. His stepdaughter reported these actions, and Mr. Oft was arrested. He was diagnosed with pedophilia and found guilty of child molestation. The judge gave him a choice of either participating in a 12-step program for sexual addiction or going to prison. He chose...

  12. 9 Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment
    (pp. 177-194)

    The ultimate goal of biological research on antisocial behavior and psychopathy is to be able to better prevent and treat the disorder. Biological research on problem behaviors such as addiction, schizophrenia, depression, autism, and dementia has proven to be extremely beneficial in the development of treatments and methods for preventing these conditions. Although biological research on antisocial behavior is a much smaller field by comparison, the hope is that the information gained from this area can similarly enable us to develop more effective methods for prevention and intervention. Ideally, these would be methods that could be implemented in early childhood,...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-204)

    Understanding the role that biology plays in psychopathic personality will be essential both in developing solutions to reduce its occurrence and in creating public policies that are appropriate and fair. We hope to have provided the reader with a better understanding of biological research on psychopathy in several domains and to have clarified what conclusions can and cannot be drawn from the findings.

    Throughout the book, we have emphasized that many of the biological factors that researchers study, including hormones, psychophysiological measures, and brain structure and functioning, reflect the combined effects of both genetics and the environment. Studying these biological...

    (pp. 205-206)
    (pp. 207-244)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 245-246)
    (pp. 247-247)