How can we distinguish between psychopaths and healthy people? Can you give us the portrait of a true psychopath? Which of their faculties have problems?
Laura: The simplest, clearest and truest portrait of the psychopath is given in the titles of three seminal works on the subject: Without Conscience by Robert Hare, The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, and Snakes in Suits by Hare and Paul Babiak. A psychopath is exactly that: conscienceless. The most important thing to remember is that this is hidden from view behind a mask of normality that is often so convincing that even experts are deceived and, as a result, they become the Snakes in Suits that control our world. That’s the short answer.
Henry: Popular culture sees psychopaths as characters such as Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs, that is, as serial killers. However, while a certain number of psychopaths are criminals and have had run-ins with the law and some are, in fact, serial killers, there are a great number of them that never fall afoul of the law. These are the smarter ones, and they are the ones that are the most dangerous because they have found ways of working the system to their advantage.
There are a number of traits that we find in psychopaths: An obvious trait is the complete lack of conscience. They lack any sense of remorse or empathy with others. They can be extremely charming and are experts at using talk to charm and hypnotize their prey. They are also irresponsible. Nothing is ever their fault; someone else or the world at large is always to blame for all of their ‘problems’ or their mistakes. Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, identifies what she calls the pity ploy. Psychopaths use pity to manipulate. They convince you to give them one more chance, and to not tell anyone about what they have done. So another trait – and a very important one – is their ability to control the flow of information.
They are also incapable of deep emotions. In fact, when Hare, a Canadian psychologist who spent his career studying psychopathy, did brain scans on psychopaths while showing them two sets of words, one set of neutral words with no emotional associations and a second set with emotionally charged words, while different areas of the brain lit up in the non-psychopathic control group, in the psychopaths, both sets were processed in the same area of the brain, the area that deals with language. They did not have an immediate emotional reaction.
Continue reading “How can we distinguish between psychopaths and healthy people?”
Can pathological narcissism be induced by substance abuse or biochemical imbalances in the brain?
The narcissist’s moods change abruptly in the wake of a narcissistic injury. One can easily manipulate the moods of a narcissist by making a disparaging remark, by disagreeing with him, by criticising him, by doubting his grandiosity or fantastic claims, etc.
Such REACTIVE mood shifts are not provoked by the fluctuations in the narcissist’s body chemistry (for instance, his blood sugar levels), or with the presence or absence of any substance or chemical in his brain. It is possible to reduce the narcissist to a state of rage and depression AT ANY MOMENT, simply by employing the above “technique”. He can be elated, even manic – and in a split second, following a narcissistic injury, depressed, sulking or raging.
The opposite is also true. The narcissist can be catapulted from the bleakest despair to utter mania (or at least to an increased and marked feeling of well-being) by being provided with the flimsiest Narcissistic Supply (attention, adulation, etc.).
These swings are totally correlated to external events (narcissistic injury or Narcissistic Supply) and not to cycles of hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, sugar, or other substances in the body. Continue reading “Narcissists, Medication, and Chemical Imbalances”
Pathological narcissism is associated with reduced cortical thickness and cortical volume in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, according to a study published online this July in Neuroscience, which may explain impairments in the regulation of emotion.
Pathological narcissism, which differs from the normal form of narcissism (a normally distributed personality feature), can be defined as a personality characteristic involving arrogant behavior, feelings of entitlement, lack of empathy, and willingness to exploit other individuals. It is also often associated with aggression and dominance.
Pathological narcissism has been shown to predict psychological health, with individuals high in narcissism more likely to suffer mental disorders. For example, researchers have found that pathological narcissism is correlated with: anxiety, depression, loneliness, empathy, and neuroticism. Furthermore, individuals with a narcissistic personality exhibit avoidant attachment styles, maintain distance in relationships, claim not to need others, and are more sensitive to social rejection. Continue reading “Pathological narcissism associated with reduced frontal cortex thickness in the brain”
We all know a narcissist or two — the often-annoying colleagues, friends, and family members who seem to be constantly talking about themselves and touting their own achievements. In some ways, these characters are a paradox. They seem to be in love with themselves — and when they’re asked in questionnaires, they claim to have very high self-esteem — but their behavior poses an obvious question: If you were genuinely happy with yourself, why would you feel the need to constantly boast and seek admiration from others?
A new study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience potentially solves the mystery: Narcissists may talk and act confident, but their brains don’t lie. At a neural level, narcissists are needy. Continue reading “At a Neurological Level, Narcissists Are Needy”
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority, while also projecting displays of arrogance and vanity, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
One of the key traits of pathological narcissists is their clear lack of empathy, said Stefan Röpke, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany. Generally, these patients are able to recognize what others feel and think, but outwardly exhibit little compassion. [The 10 Most Controversial Psychiatric Disorders]
The left anterior insula region of the brain, which is thought to be involved with cognitive functioning and the regulation of emotion, has also been tied to the generation of compassion and empathy.
“This was already a region of interest for empathy, but for the first time, we were able to show that it is structurally correlated in the brain,” Röpke told LiveScience. Continue reading “Narcissists’ Lack of Empathy Detected in Brain Scans”
Narcissists are prone to risky decision-making, but why? This study tested—via behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) measures—two accounts: deficiencies in error monitoring and deficiencies in action updating. High and low narcissists were engaged in a monetary gambling task by choosing between a high-risk and a low-risk option while the electroencephalogram (EEG) was being recorded. Two ERP components relevant to outcome evaluation—feedback-related negativity (FRN) and P3—were analyzed, with the FRN serving as an index of error monitoring and the P3 as an index of action updating. Generally, high and low narcissists differed in the high-risk condition but not in the low-risk condition. At the behavioral level, high (vs low) narcissists made riskier decisions following high-risk decision outcomes, which was in line with past findings; at the neurophysiological level, while no FRN difference emerged between high and low narcissists, the outcome valence effect (positive vs negative) on the P3 was stronger among low narcissists than high narcissists following high-risk decision outcomes. One possible interpretation of the results is that narcissism is associated with reduced action updating. The findings contribute to the understanding of narcissistic decision-making and self-regulation. Continue reading “Narcissism and risky decisions: a neurophysiological approach”