Criminal Justice is a growing topic due to
the large amount of people being sentenced to prison time for smaller offenses.
Although there are more people in prisons and jails for small offenses, such as
drugs, there are still a large number of people incarcerated for horrible
crimes, such as mass murder. Research is presently being conducted across the
country by various Psychologists studying Psychopath’s and their brains. It is
believed that a psychopath’s brain is different than that of a normal person’s
brain due to the fact that a psychopath lacks many of the emotions associated
with following and accepting social norms of society. The scientific study of
this mental disorder is called Psychopathology. This study is an effort to
understand their genetic, biological, and psychological causes.
The personality disorder known as
Psychopathy is characterized by its antisocial behavior, impaired remorse and
empathy, and egotistical traits. The disorder is also characterized by its
disregard for social obligations and the lack of concern for other people’s
feelings. There is gross disparity between behavior and the prevailing social
norms. Behavior is not readily modifiable by adverse experience, such as
punishment. There is a low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for
discharge of aggression, including violence; there is a tendency to blame
others, or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior bringing the
patient into conflict with society.
Robert D. Hare, is a researcher in the
field of criminal psychology. He developed the Hare Psychopathy Checklist
(PCL-Revised), used to assess cases of psychopathy. Hare advises the FBI’s
Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center (CASMIRC) and
consults for various British and North American prison services. Psychopathy is
a spectrum disorder and can be diagnosed only using the 20-item Hare
Psychopathy Checklist. (The bar for clinical psychopathy is a score of 30 or
and a person’s environment may
all contribute to the development of psychopathic traits.
Hervey M. Cleckley, an American
psychiatrist, influenced the initial diagnostic criteria for antisocial
personality reaction/disturbance in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders (DSM), as did American psychologist George E. Partridge. The
DSM and International Classification of Diseases (ICD) subsequently introduced
the diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and dissocial
personality disorder (DPD) respectively, stating that these diagnoses have been
referred to (or include what is referred to) as psychopathy or sociopathy. The
creation of ASPD and DPD was driven by the fact that many of the classic traits
of psychopathy were impossible to measure objectively.
The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are
often used interchangeably, but in correct parlance a “sociopath” refers to a
person with antisocial tendencies that are ascribed to social or environmental
factors, whereas psychopathic traits are more innate, though a chaotic or
violent upbringing may tip the scales for those already predisposed to behave
psychopathically. Both constructs are most closely represented in the DSM as
Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Dr. Kiehl is one of the world’s leading
investigators in psychopathy, the condition of moral emptiness that affects
between fifteen to twenty-five per cent of the North American prison population,
and is believed by some psychologists to exist in one per cent of the general
adult male population. Female psychopaths are thought to be much rarer.
Psychopaths don’t exhibit the manias, hysterias, and neuroses that are present
in other types of mental illness. Their main defect, what psychologists call
“severe emotional detachment”—a total lack of empathy and remorse—is concealed,
and harder to describe than the symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
This absence of easily readable signs has led to debate among mental-health
practitioners about what qualifies as psychopathy and how to diagnose it.
Psychopathy isn’t identified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s canon;
instead, a more general term, “antisocial personality disorder,” known as
A.P.D., covers the condition.
Kiehl’s laboratory has worked diligently along with correctional facilities in
New Mexico and beyond to establish the world’s largest database of brain data
from incarcerated populations. They
utilize a state of the art mobile scanning unit which can be deployed to remote
locations, reaching populations for which functional brain imaging might
otherwise be impossible or severely impractical. These resources and relationships have been
instrumental in the investigation of mental health issues that are particularly
prevalent in those who are incarcerated, including psychopathy, antisocial
personality disorder, substance abuse, and externalizing disorders. They
maintain several ongoing projects with an overall goal of achieving a better
understanding of the interaction between brain function, genetics, and
environmental factors ultimately informing improved interventions and
prevention strategies and promoting better mental health as a whole.
There is also little consensus among
researchers about what causes psychopathy. Considerable evidence, including
several large-scale studies of twins, points toward a genetic component. Yet
psychopaths are more likely to come from neglectful families than from loving,
nurturing ones. Psychopathy could be dimensional, like high blood pressure, or
it might be categorical, like leukemia. Researchers argue over whether tests
used to measure it should focus on behavior or attempt to incorporate
personality traits—like deceitfulness, glibness, and lack of remorse—as well.
The only point on which everyone agrees is that psychopathy is extremely
difficult to treat.
Most of us have seen pictures of the human
brain. But a chance to see your own and see what’s going on inside is something
magnetic resonance imaging – the MRI – has made possible. And lot of people are
interested. “Even the most hardened inmates men or women often go through
a period where they’re asking themselves is there something I could have done
differently that would have kept me from being here, and we’re trying to help
figure out what that is,” said Kent Kiehl, PhD. That’s
why thousands of prison inmates have volunteered to have their brains scanned.
Dr. Kiehl and his team have taken their mobile MRI to eight prisons in Texas
and New Mexico. More than 3500 inmates have gone through it.
“There’s this whole part of the
limbic system that runs right here. And this is the part that we’re really
interested in studying in psychopathy,” said Dr. Kiehl. His brain research
has zeroed in on the amygdala, a structure involved in decision making and
emotional response. The amygdala is smaller in psychopaths. MRIs show that many
violent offenders just don’t get the same boost of activity. Dr. Kiehl is
looking to understand the underlying cause’s abhorrent behavior, not to excuse
it, but to find ways to treat it, perhaps develop drug or a program that can
reduce the likelihood psychopaths will reoffend. Especially in the youngest –
where society questions – is there any hope for them?