Psychopaths’ brains unable to fully process punishment

MedicalNewsToday, 29 January 2015

An MRI study has revealed that psychopathic violent offenders may be unable to learn from punishment due to the presence of abnormalities in their brains.

The study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, shows that abnormalities can be found in the areas of the brain associated with learning from punishment. These abnormalities were not found in the brains of non-psychopathic violent offenders or non-offenders.

“One in five violent offenders is a psychopath,” states study author Prof. Sheilagh Hodgins. “They have higher rates of recidivism and don’t benefit from rehabilitation programs. Our research reveals why this is and can hopefully improve childhood interventions to prevent violence and behavioral therapies to reduce recidivism.”

Researchers typically use the term “psychopath” to refer to individuals who display “moral depravity” or “moral insanity,” despite exhibiting outwardly normal behavior.

Dr. Nigel Blackwood, co-author of the study, explains that psychopathic offenders are different from regular criminal in a variety of ways. While regular criminals are respond to threat swiftly and are quick-tempered and aggressive, psychopaths have a low response level to threats, act cold and their aggression is premeditated.

“Evidence is now accumulating to show that both types of offenders present abnormal, but distinctive, brain development from a young age,” he adds. The identification of neural mechanisms in their brains behind persistent re-offending is key to the development of effective programs of rehabilitation and further crime prevention.

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