If we take Watson’s logic one step further, it may be possible to mold someone into a psychopath. Psychopathy, also called sociopathy, is defined by a lack of empathy, deceitfulness and complete selfishness. Current thinking is that although certain genes may predispose people toward psychopathy, their environment seems to provide the ultimate catalyst. Thus, a person who possesses the particular genes associated with this malady and is brought up in an abusive or neglectful household will be at a higher risk of exhibiting the traits associated with this disorder.
Severe trauma to specific regions of the brain can cause a person to undergo marked personality changes, such as in the famous case of Phineas Gage. While working as a railroad construction foreman in Vermont in 1848, he survived an accident in which a large iron rod was driven through his head, damaging much of his brain’s left frontal lobe. Although he did not become a sociopath, the reported effects on his personality and behavior were so profound that friends saw him as “no longer Gage.”
An incident two decades ago supports the idea that brain trauma can lead to psychopathic behaviors. In 1991 convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido kidnapped 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard and kept her as a prisoner in his home for 18 years. Experts believe that Garrido experienced severe brain damage after a serious motorcycle accident as a teenager, which was compounded by intense drug use. Garrido’s father said that his son had been a “good boy” as a child but that he had changed radically after the accident and had become unstable.
Recently neuroscientists have identified areas of the brain related to psychopathic behaviors. Subtle damage to the amygdala, a brain region that helps us process our emotions, may explain why psychopaths act so cruelly and cannot express emotions properly. Psychopathic behaviors are also associated with injury to the cerebral cortex, which regulates memory and self-awareness, and the frontal lobe, which is responsible for self-control and judgment. Continue reading “Can You Make a Sociopath—Either Through Brain Injury or Other Types of Trauma?”
There are seven social processes that grease “the slippery slope of evil”:
- Mindlessly taking the first small step
- Dehumanization of others
- De-individuation of self (anonymity)
- Diffusion of personal responsibility
- Blind obedience to authority
- Uncritical conformity to group norms
- Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference
Continue reading “The Lucifer Effect”
Those who have engaged with psychopaths or narcissists often retroactively report having had an initial feeling that something was off, but they did not heed it. Some actually said that they felt queasy or sensed a coldness in the individual, but brushed it aside because they wanted to like the person or were flattered by his attention.
Neither a perfectly-crafted mask nor the world’s most charming repartee can fully camouflage a lack of emotional empathy, which is the defining hallmark of both psychopathy and narcissism. A person cannot wholly fake that which they do not experience, even if they say and do “all the right things.” So while your conscious mind focuses on an individual’s statements and conversational style, your subconscious registers possible discrepancies between that person’s outward comportment and his hidden feelings. Stay attuned to both avenues of information if you suspect you are in the presence of a person who wants to manipulate you, or who is nothing like the entity they are conjuring in conversation. Continue reading “Non-Verbal Clues”
You may walk out of a social encounter or a date and realize you have not been asked one single question about yourself, despite having learned a ton about the individual (see above). Pay attention to the degree of informational asymmetry: Does he disclose an enormous amount without asking or expecting you to reciprocate?
What’s going on: If nothing is asked of you and no interest expressed, then script delivery is the entire point of the encounter. If he asks a ton of questions but moves quickly from one to another, rather than allowing the conversation to organically unfold, he may be mining you for data, including information that can be used to gain a sense of your vulnerabilities. When chatting with a new target, psychopaths frequently strive to elicit information about stressors or life problems, so that they can ingratiate themselves with offers of assistance. This is an effort to gain your trust, of course. Continue reading “Asks no personal questions or asks very pointed questions.”
The stories about the wife who took his fortune or the top-secret government contract may be repeated verbatim or near verbatim from one encounter to the next. Sure, we all have our pet narratives and canned stories that engender eye rolls amongst those who have heard them multiple times. So pay close attention to the nature of the information that is repeated.
What’s going on: If self-serving or self-aggrandizing information is repeatedly recycled, the individual is likely using a script, one that he’s forgotten that he’s already deployed with you. Psychopaths in particular are glib, and mendacity is their lingua franca. Sometimes they lie for no reason other than their own amusement. But they also lie to further specific agendas, and that is when they are most likely to go on auto-pilot in the delivery of false, scripted stories. Because people are interchangeable in the eyes of a psychopath or a narcissist—one-dimensional beings in whom they have no genuine interest—it can be hard for them to remember what they’ve said, and to whom. Continue reading “Repeats “confidential” information that he’s already shared with you.”
Individuals with psychopathic or narcissistic traits* frequently use false personas to interact with others, sometimes tailoring their masks so that they appear to share the interests of their targets. From small talk to bombastic speeches, any spotlight presents the opportunity to craft a mask, and to test, dominate, or even malign unwitting interlocutors.
Fortunately, there are conversational clues to such extreme duplicity: a person’s focus on you is too intense; his self-disclosure too early, too pat. The tactics below may read as at odds with one another (i.e. asking no questions or asking too many probing questions). But in context there is always a method to a psychopath’s conversational aberrance.
1) Confides in you immediately.
He was betrayed by a wife who took everything, but has succeeded in rebuilding his fortune. He’s on retainer with the NSA: Can’t get into it today, but you’ll be reading about it in the news this year. Yes, he is married, but only because his wife is highly unstable; she would fall apart if he leaves right now. Whatever the disclosure, it comes before he even knows whether or not you are trustworthy. And it involves a way in which he is vulnerable or powerful; wholly transparent or movie-star mysterious. Continue reading “5 Things Psychopaths and Narcissists Will Do in Conversation”
Impairments in processing fearful faces have been documented in both children and adults with psychopathic traits, suggesting a potential mechanism by which psychopathic individuals develop callous and manipulative interpersonal and affective traits. Recently, research has demonstrated that psychopathic traits are associated with reduced fixations to the eye regions of faces in samples of children and community-dwelling adults, however this relationship has not yet been established in an offender sample with high levels of psychopathy. In the current study, we employed eye-tracking with paradigms involving the identification and passive viewing of facial expressions of emotion, respectively, in a sample of adult male criminal offenders (n = 108) to elucidate the relationship between visual processing of fearful facial expressions and interpersonal and affective psychopathic traits. We found that the interpersonal-affective traits of psychopathy were significantly related to fewer fixations to the eyes of fear faces during the emotion recognition task. This association was driven particularly by the interpersonal psychopathic traits (e.g., egocentricity, deceitfulness), whereas fear recognition accuracy was inversely related to the affective psychopathic traits (e.g., callousness, lack of empathy). These findings highlight potential mechanisms for the subset of the interpersonal-affective traits exhibited by psychopathic individuals. (PsycINFO Database Record) Continue reading “Psychopathic Traits Are Associated With Reduced Fixations to the Eye Region of Fearful Faces”
Lead author, Dr. Dan Burley, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: “Our findings provide physical evidence of an emotional deficit common to psychopathic offenders.
“The pupil has long been known to be an indicator of a person’s arousal. Card sharks have learnt to look carefully at the eyes of their opponents to gauge if they have a great hand, and many an astute salesperson knows to up their price if your eyes reveal your excitement at their product. Likewise, the pupil usually dilates when an image shocks or scares us. The fact that this normal physiological response to threat is reduced in psychopathic offenders provides us with an obvious physical marker for this condition.”
Professor Nicola Gray, a clinical and forensic psychologist from Swansea University, who provided clinical supervision for the project, added: “This is one of the first times we have objective, physiological, evidence of an emotional deficit underpinning the offending behaviour of psychopathic offenders that does not depend on invasive methods or expensive equipment. We hope to be able to develop this methodology to assist with clinical assessment and intervention in offender populations.”
Interestingly, the psychopathic offenders’ eyes showed a normal response to positive images, such as puppies or happy couples, showing that psychopathy is not associated with an overall difficulty in responding to emotion, but rather a specific insensitivity to threatening information.
Professor Robert Snowden from Cardiff University, who supervised the research, concluded: “many psychopathic offenders appear to be bold, confident, and can act in cold-blooded manner. It’s much easier to act bold if you have no feelings of fear, and to be cold-blooded if there is no emotion to get in the way of the act.” Continue reading “You might be able to spot a psychopath by their eyes”
- A psychopath’s pupils do not dilate when they look at distressing or sad scenes
- This is the exact opposite behaviour as is expected for a non-psychopath
- Most people experience some empathy and their pupils dilate as a response
- Researchers say this shows psychopathy is not associated with an overall difficulty in responding to emotion, but insensitivity to threatening information
Experts discovered that the eyes of people that suffer from the personality disorder have a unique reaction to horrific scenes – their pupils do not widen. Pupils of non-psychopaths dilate when they see upsetting or distressing images as part of a natural response.
While the eyes of a psychopath behaved abnormally when looking at distressing scenes, the researchers were amazed when they saw their eyes behaved normally when looking at positive pictures.Lead author, Dr Dan Burley, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: ‘Our findings provide physical evidence of an emotional deficit common to psychopathic offenders. Continue reading “How to spot a psychopath? It’s all in their EYES”
A sociopath feels no such tension, since they regard you or me the same way we would regard a bicycle: as a tool to be used. Ergo, no expression. (I’ve seen this up close, and been struck by it.)
Now think of the way your face feels when you’re watching a somewhat boring, late night rerun on TV which is gradually lulling you to sleep. You feel zero social stress, so you’re completely relaxed, and are wearing no expression. At that moment, you, too, have the “blank, empty eyes” of a sociopath.
The difference is, that is not the expression you wear for social situations.
Having said all this, I should also point out that sociopaths are usually consummate actors, and can often feign emotions so convincingly that they appear more heartfelt than those of non-sociopaths who are actually feeling those emotions.
But, if you know what to look for, sociopaths will also always give themselves away in various ways, and one of those ways is that they sometimes wear a completely blank, empty expression.
Continue reading “The “empty eyes” of a sociopath”