2016-01-11

Psychopathy and its Discontents

A business partner asked if I'd been tested for autism. I said,

I'm sure I could fake it. But that's why I'm not exactly autistic - I trained myself in college to turn on and off my inhibitions to all sorts of things, so I do tend to think of myself as a sociopath by training. I trained myself in college to turn on and off my inhibitions to all sorts of things, so I do tend to think of myself as a sociopath by training. Point of information - there's no technical definition for sociopathy - it's just a euphemism for psychopathy.

This is from the Wikipedia for psychopathy - it accurately describes my personal practices post-training (my empathy was probably more automatic, once - I trained to have more control over it). But even before college, I was raised in a religious family by religious leaders, so I had to study empathy from a pretty young age. So I haven't thought deeply about it, but who's to say which came first, the aptitude for psychopathy, or the trainings in the pro/con direction?

A recent study on psychopaths found that under certain circumstances, they could willfully empathize with others, and that their empathic reaction initiated the same way it does for controls. Psychopathic criminals were brain-scanned while watching videos of a person harming another individual. The psychopaths' empathic reaction initiated the same way it did for controls when they were instructed to empathize with the harmed individual, and the area of the brain relating to pain was activated when the psychopaths were asked to imagine how the harmed individual felt. The research suggests how psychopaths could switch empathy on at will, which would enable them to be both callous and charming. The team who conducted the study say it is still unknown how to transform this willful empathy into the spontaneous empathy most people have, though they propose it could be possible to bring psychopaths closer to rehabilitation by helping them to activate their "empathy switch". Others suggested that despite the results of the study, it remained unclear whether psychopaths' experience of empathy was the same as that of controls, and also questioned the possibility of devising therapeutic interventions that would make the empathic reactions more automatic.[70][71]

Scary isn't it? It appears to be scary to most people.

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