‘Almost a Psychopath: The Darker Side of Human Behavior’

Cover of "The Psychopath: Emotion and the...

Cover of The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain

Ongoing interest in psychopathy and those who almost qualify for the diagnosis.
Published on May 20, 2012 by Ronald Schouten, M.D., J.D. in Almost a Psychopath

May: Psychopath Month, by Ronald Schouten, MD, JD and Jim Silver, JD

“April may be the cruelest month, but May 2012 appears to be psychopathy month:

• May started with extensive media coverage of findings reported at the Biological Psychiatry meeting in Philadelphia by Nigel Blackwood, whose team at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry used magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brains of 44 violent criminals (only some of whom were psychopaths) and 22 normal volunteers. Their conclusion, yet to be published, was that the volume of the grey matter in the anterior rostral prefrontal cortex and temporal poles of violent criminals with psychopathy was significantly less compared to other non-psychopathic offenders and normals. These are areas of the brain considered to be important for executive functions, like planning and control of behavior and emotion. Their findings reinforce similar results from other researchers, such as Kent Kiehl at the University of New Mexico.

Manipulation comes in many forms.

• Two weeks later, the New York Times Magazine published “Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?” by Jennifer Kahn. This excellent article explores the concept of “callous and unemotional traits” in children that appear to presage the development of psychopathy, as well as the controversy over diagnosing children as psychopaths. As we point out in our book Almost a Psychopath, children and adolescents who exhibit these traits, which may be considered “pre-psychopathic,” appear to be more amenable to treatment than adults suffering from full-blown psychopathy. As Kahn points out, labeling a child as a psychopath can have significant negative consequences for both the child and the parents. And such labeling is both unnecessary and reckless, given that a substantial portion of children who exhibit antisocial behavior grow out of it.

• That same weekend, NPR’s This American Life was devoted to The Psychopathy Test, an exploration of the history of psychopathy and the development of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), the test most widely used to identify psychopathy. It also looked at the controversial applications of the PCL-R by untrained clinicians and non-clinicians, and the at-times biased application of the instrument.Why this fascination with psychopathy? Perhaps, like horror movies, this curiosity allows us an opportunity to face demons that we find both interesting and terrifying, and that we have trouble believing are real. In the case of psychopaths, however, these demons are not the stuff of fantasy, and unlike in the movies or on TV, rarely do the forces of good definitively defeat them before the credits roll. Even more intriguing and disturbing, we may recognize some of the traits of psychopaths in our work colleagues, loved ones, or even ourselves. How close are they, or we, to the dark side of human nature represented by psychopathy? Perhaps we are attracted to psychopathy because it lets us draws a clear line that differentiates us from true evil.

As we discuss in our forthcoming book, Almost a Psychopath (www.thealmosteffect.com) psychopathy exists on a continuum. A substantial portion of the population, perhaps as much as 15 percent, exhibits significant psychopathic traits, but not enough to be characterized as true psychopaths; we call these people “almost psychopaths”. It is not uncommon for otherwise good, conscientious people to occasionally engage in behavior that hints of psychopathy, for example manipulating others to achieve a goal, turning on the charm to persuade someone to act in our favor, having no qualms about driving a hard bargain that is very much to our advantage and to the complete, and sometimes painful, disadvantage, of others. The difference between the rest of us and almost psychopaths and true psychopaths, is that we have a sense of when we have crossed the boundary from minor, socially permissible transgressions to truly antisocial behavior. And if we do find ourselves on the wrong side of that boundary, we know it and feel remorse.

Not so for psychopaths, and for many almost psychopaths, who seem incapable of experiencing remorse or empathy. As the work of researchers Kiehl and Blackwood suggests, this may be a function of psychopaths having brains that are different from the rest of us, in some cases manifested in childhood. As psychopathy is studied further, it will be interesting to see if almost psychopaths share some, but perhaps not all, of these brain abnormalities. More importantly, if the behavior of almost psychopaths can be identified in early childhood, there may be a better chance to intervene and prevent their development along the psychopathy continuum.”

Ongoing interest in psychopathy and those who almost qualify for the diagnosis.
Published on May 20, 2012 by Ronald Schouten, M.D., J.D. in Almost a Psychopath

Is Antisocial Personality Disorder Genetic? Absolutely!

Eric Harris (left) and Dylan Klebold (right)

Image via Wikipedia

Suspect that your boyfriend has ASPD? (Antisocial personality disorder)

Healing from a relationship with a person with ASPD?

Wondering what caused this behavior?  Was it genetic?

Yes, absolutely. Strong scientific evidence has proven the link between genetic and brain differences and ASPD.

For the scientific minded, outcomes of research published in the article, Synaptosomal-associated protein 25 gene polymorphisms and antisocial personality disorder: association with temperament and psychopathy, demonstrate the connection: “The MnII T/T and DdeI T/T genotypes were more frequently present in male subjects with antisocial personality disorder (APD) than in sex-matched healthy control subjects. The association was stronger when the frequency of both DdeI and MnII T/T were taken into account. In the APD group, the genotype was not significantly associated with the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised scores, measuring the severity of psychopathy. However, the APD subjects with the MnII T/T genotype had higher novelty seeking scores; whereas, subjects with the DdeI T/T genotype had lower reward dependence scores. Again, the association between genotype and novelty seeking was stronger when both DdeI and MnII genotypes were taken into account. “ (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21756448- originally published June, 2011 Canadian Journal of Psychiatry– 56(6):341-7).

For more scientific proof, examine convicted criminals. The website, Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment in Psychiatry, states, “According to one family study of 223 male criminals, 80% were found to have a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). In comparison, 3% of male control subjects and 1% of female control subjects had ASPD. Increased rates of alcoholism and drug abuse were also found among the relatives in this study.” (http://psychiatry.healthse.com/psy/more/antisocial_personality_disorder/)

Can you believe it? 80% of male criminals have diagnoses of ASPD as compared to 3% of male non-criminals?

The diagnosis is real. It’s about novelty seeking behavior, reward dependance,and a lack of moral compass.

Check out this quote from the Beth Deacones Medical Center’s website: “According to criminology professor Larry Siegal from the University of Massachusetts, “If you chose ten kids at random, it would not be difficult to pick the ones who are at risk of becoming criminals. It is not magic. There are certain symptoms like short attention span, lack of impulse control, and poor home life that are likely predictors of criminal behavior.” (http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/HolisticHealth/MentalHealth.aspx?ChunkID=14189)

How does this type of behavior manifest in real life situations?

In her article, “Destined as a Psychopath? Experts Seek Clues”, Jacqueline Stenson, MSN reporter, writes about psychopathic causes of the Columbine shootings, “One psychiatrist linking Harris with possible psychopathy is Dr. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatry professor at Michigan State University who was involved in an FBI school-shooting symposium held shortly after Columbine and who also made trips to Littleton, Colo., for more than a year after the incident “to help Columbine heal,” he says. Ochberg believes that the two killers, Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, were a “deadly duo” who probably wouldn’t have done what they did without the other. Whereas Klebold was depressive and hot-headed, Ochberg says, Harris was “cool, cold and calculating,” glib, showed little reaction to discipline and was easily able “to read people” and ingratiate himself to others.

“I do believe Harris was well on his way to being what we would call a psychopath,” he says. “He showed very little conscience.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30267075/ns/health-mental_health/t/destined-psychopath-experts-seek-clues/#.T0GVynlqSSo)

If this isn’t enough evidence for you, just google “Psychopath/Antisocial personality disorder brain genetics.” You’ll generate enough reading material for days.

So, no, you can’t change him. He won’t change because you love him. He was born the way he is and any good you see inside him is not salvageable. Don’t delude yourself. Recognize what he is and get away from the psychopath, as fast as you can.