Do psychopaths feel emotions and respond to emotions in others?
Hare: The emotional life of psychopaths lacks the range and depth found in most individuals. It often is described as shallow and barren, consisting mostly of “proto-emotions,” somewhat primitive responses associated with their own needs and experiences. Their displays of anger, hostility, envy, and response to frustration are likely to be much more intense and genuine than their feelings of empathy, love, shame, and sorrow. While at times they may appear cold and unemotional, they are prone to dramatic, shallow, and short-lived displays of feeling. They are able to mimic emotions rather convincingly, but an astute observer may be left with the impression that they are play-acting and that little is going on below the surface. This, of course, raises an interesting question. If their own emotional life is relatively barren how are they so adept at “reading” and responding to the emotions of other people? The answer seems to be that they have learned that what others describe as a given emotional state is reflected in a distinct pattern of verbal cues and body language. Psychopaths are able to use this information to intuit an emotional state that they don’t really understand. In this sense, they are like a color-blind person who “recognizes” color because of the context in which it occurs (the red light is at the top of the traffic signal) and therefore gives the appearance of color perception. However, no amount of training and practice will allow the color-blind person to really understand color or the psychopath to really understand the emotional life of others, except in a vague intellectual, inferential sense. To put it simply, they don’t know how you feel, nor do they much care.