Psychopathology and Teen Killers
SOME PEOPLE ARE DEPRAVED PSYCHOPATHS EVEN AS TEENS
Thankfully, the numbers of teen psychopaths globally is very small. But the facts are -sadly – the facts. This page is devoted to the work of caring experts who work to make our world a safer place by helping us to understand, identify and intervene in the cases of the most serious kinds of mental illness that make some few dangerous people commit horrific murders.
.We note with solemnity that MOST people who are mentally ill are completely non-violent, and that they are much, much more often victims of violent crime – not the perpetrators. We heartily applaud and support ongoing medical and psychological research work to bring best practices and best information to all the ways that mental illness and the criminal justice system intersect. NAMI has criminal justice committees around the nation who are experts and a great resource for helping policy makers determine guidelines in sentencing, for example. NAMI has several publications, this one for example, that help frame the discussion.
Nonetheless, rarely, psychopaths do exist and are often extremely dangerous. One of the reasons that many victims families, as well as a vast majority of the American and UK public, often support natural life or very long term sentences for extremely violent offenders, even ones who are only 16 or 17 at the time of the crime, is because of the very sad reality of the biological brain disorders under the umbrella term “psychopathology”. Some people are just too dangerous to be allowed to walk among us – probably for life.
How and where we keep them away from us – in prison or secure hospital – is a valid discussion for policy makers to have. Proper medical treatment of the incarcerated population is, of course, vital.
We are thankful for the increasingly good assessment tools that psychiatrists have available to them and feel they should be broadly used to evaluate inmates who commit violent crimes. We can certainly debate whether or not these offenders should be housed in hospitals or prisons (or prisons with good medical staff). And we can all certainly pray, hope, and work for treatments. The best we can do right now is to be much more aware and to translate that awareness into PREVENTION.
But since many of us have seen how dangerous they can be, first hand, we have little doubt of what science is already telling us.
Psychopaths exist. Psychopaths exist sometimes even during adolescence. Psychopaths are often incurable. Psychopaths are dangerous, probably for all of their lives.
This is not about blame. Mental illness has so many tragic aspects to it, especially illnesses as severe as we are talking about here. But there are very real questions of public safety that we must address as a society.
Psychopathology and the Brain
New research provides the strongest evidence to date that psychopathy is linked to specific structural abnormalities in the brain. The study, led by researchers at King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) is the first to confirm that psychopathy is a distinct neuro-developmental sub-group of anti-social personality disorder (ASPD).
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Healthat the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London and published in Archives of General Psychiatry.
Most violent crimes are committed by a small group of persistent male offenders with ASPD. Approximately half of male prisoners will meet diagnostic criteria for ASPD. The majority of such men are not true psychopaths (ASPD-P). They are characterized by emotional instability, impulsivity and high levels of mood and anxiety disorders. They typically use aggression in a reactive way in response to a perceived threat or sense of frustration.
However, about one third of such men will meet additional diagnostic criteria for psychopathy (ASPD+P). They are characterised by a lack of empathy and remorse, and use aggression in a planned way to secure what they want (status, money etc.). Previous research has shown that psychopaths’ brains differ structurally from healthy brains, but until now, none have examined these differences within a population of violent offenders with ASPD.
Dr Nigel Blackwood from the IoP at King’s and lead author of the study says: ‘Using MRI scans we found that psychopaths had structural brain abnormalities in key areas of their ‘social brains’ compared to those who just had ASPD. This adds to behavioural and developmental evidence that psychopathy is an important subgroup of ASPD with a different neurobiological basis and different treatment needs’
‘There is a clear behavioural difference amongst those diagnosed with ASPD depending on whether or not they also have psychopathy. We describe those without psychopathy as ‘hot-headed’ and those with psychopathy as ‘cold-hearted’. The ‘cold-hearted’ psychopathic group begin offending earlier, engage in a broader range and greater density of offending behaviours, and respond less well to treatment programmes in adulthood, compared to the ‘hot-headed’ group. We now know that this behavioural difference corresponds to very specific structural brain abnormalities which underpin psychopathic behaviour, such as profound deficits in empathising with the distress of others.’
The researchers used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 44 violent adult male offenders diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD). Crimes committed included murder, rape, attempted murder and grievous bodily harm. Of these, 17 met the diagnosis for psychopathy (ASPD+P) and 27 did not (ASPD-P). They also scanned the brains of 22 healthy non-offenders.
The study found that ASPD+P offenders displayed significantly reduced grey matter volumes in the anterior rostral prefrontal cortex and temporal poles compared to ASPD-P offenders and healthy non-offenders. These areas are important in understanding other people’s emotions and intentions and are activated when people think about moral behaviour. Damage to these areas is associated with impaired empathising with other people, poor response to fear and distress and a lack of ‘self-conscious’ emotions such as guilt or embarrassment.
Dr Blackwood explains: ‘Identifying and diagnosing this sub-group of violent offenders with brain scans has important implications for treatment. Those without the syndrome of psychopathy, and the associated structural brain damage, will benefit from cognitive and behavioural treatments. Optimal treatment for the group of psychopaths is much less clear at this stage.’
The research was funded by research grants from the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Psychiatry Research Trust and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.
Psychopaths Are Not Neurally Equipped To Have Concern For Others
Prisoners who are psychopaths lack the basic neurophysiological “hardwiring” that enables them to care for others, according to a new study by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago and the University of New Mexico.
“A marked lack of empathy is a hallmark characteristic of individuals with psychopathy,” said the lead author of the study, Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at University of Chicago. Psychopathy affects approximately 1 percent of the United States general population and 20 percent to 30 percent of the male and female U.S. prison population. Relative to non-psychopathic criminals, psychopaths are responsible for a disproportionate amount of repetitive crime and violence in society.
“This is the first time that neural processes associated with empathic processing have been directly examined in individuals with psychopathy, especially in response to the perception of other people in pain or distress,” he added.
The results of the study, which could help clinical psychologists design better treatment programs for psychopaths, are published in the article, “Brain Responses to Empathy-Eliciting Scenarios Involving Pain in Incarcerated Individuals with Psychopathy,” which appears online April 24 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Joining Decety in the study were Laurie Skelly, a graduate student at U Chicago; and Kent Kiehl, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.
For the study, the research team tested 80 prisoners between ages 18 and 50 at a correctional facility. The men volunteered for the test and were tested for levels of psychopathy using standard measures.
They were then studied with functional MRI technology, to determine their responses to a series of scenarios depicting people being intentionally hurt. They were also tested on their responses to seeing short videos of facial expressions showing pain.
The participants in the high psychopathy group exhibited significantly less activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala and periaqueductal gray parts of the brain, but more activity in the striatum and the insula when compared to control participants, the study found.
.I have some urgent requests for changes in sentencing for violent crime.
We are seeing an increase in numbers of violent senseless crimes all over the country. The US prison population stands at 2.3 million 55% higher than the population of Russia under Stalin.
There are 2 types of offenders:
1. Those who can be rehabilitated and re -enter society; and,
2. Those who are incurable.
The latter includes those afflicted with Psychopathic Behavior Disorder. Little was known about this disorder before 4 decades ago when Dr. Herve Cleckley of the University of Georgia began his research which shocked and surprised the professional community and resulted in his seminal work-The Mask of Sanity.
It was concluded that psychopaths lack conscience and compassion and can commit heinous crimes without feeling anything. They can also appear very normal and sane.
Dr. Cleckley’s work was continued by Dr. Robert Hare of the University of British Columbia. He was working in a prison and noticed a difference in some inmates. They were manipulative and often hard to diagnose. His conclusions were in the form of a book Without Conscience which is also very well regarded.
He also developed a test, the Hare Psychopathic check list (R) which must be administered by a trained professional. [ED NOTE: Here is a link to the “Youth Version” of one of these testing devices]
Both researchers thought the number of Psychopaths was about 2% of the population.
Those inmates who can be rehabilitated should be. And it would be an excellent result if they could re enter society as productive citizens.
This is not possible with Psychopaths.
They are incurable and 1 psychopath can commit 20 crimes. Since there is only one physical study, and this one at the University of New Mexico, the crime is the best diagnosis. The study at University of New Mexico indicated that the brain scans of violent criminals showed the amygdala (the emotion centre of the human brain) to be separated from the frontal lobe.
Still there would be no further proof needed than some of the crimes I will describe. They are beyond what the human mind can imagine.
The purpose of examining these crimes is not to spend time on the victims whom we of course value and are more than worthy of our grief. It is to examine the perpetrators, and the system to see if the crime could have been prevented and to look for correctable errors as this can be a life or death matter.
As the UK teenage killings sadly and tragically continue it is wise for journalists, police personnel, politicians, and educator to be more knowledgeable about the personalities of teen killers roaming around our City streets.
Arthur Cassidy Ph.D