a few weeks ago i had a conversation with someone about psychopaths. since i can’t remember for the life of me who i had this conversation with (hmmmm … should i make my next post about memory?), i thought i’d post here a link to a very interesting article about this topic, and hopefully that person is among my readers.

the article is about joseph newman, a psychologist at the university of wisconsin. here is an excerpt:

[Newman] believes that psychopathy is essentially a type of learning disability or “informational processing deficit” that makes individuals oblivious to the implications of their actions when focused on tasks that promise instant reward. Being focused on a short-term goal, Newman suggests, makes psychopathic individuals incapable of detecting surrounding cues such as another person’s discomfort or fear.

In a study he repeated in different prison populations, for instance, Newman examined how quickly psychopathic and non-psychopathic individuals respond to a series of mislabeled images, such as a drawing of a pig with the word “dog” superimposed on it. Researchers flashed each image and then timed how long it took for subjects to name what they saw.

Over and over again, Newman found that non-psychopathic subjects subconsciously stumbled on the misleading labels and took longer to name the images. But psychopathic subjects barely noticed the discrepancy and consistently answered more quickly.

Newman says the result is one instance of how psychopathic individuals have difficulty processing peripheral cues, even when those cues are entirely obvious to everyone else. Furthermore, the study task didn’t involve any of the emotions that people commonly associate with psychopathy, such as anger or a lack of fear. So the fact that psychopathic subjects barely noticed the wrongful labels – even in the absence of emotional cues – supports the idea that a psychological deficit might be at play.

read more here …

i had often thought that at least in some instances, psychopathy might involve something like what newman proposes.

i have worked in prison environments, and would not say i have met many psychopaths there – and the ones that i did meet were actually not the ones with the most serious crimes.

particularly, i remember one person who had shot someone (yup, compared to some of the other offenders, that wasn’t very serious), who then ended up in a wheelchair.

the offender had a complete and quite baffling lack of interest (never mind concern or even compassion) for the victim. it was as if there was a hole where that concern would normally be found in other people.

i had noticed that before in other people who i wouldn’t necessarily call sociopaths or psychopaths, but who still would show a strange lack of connection in certain situations.

the first time i noticed that was with someone who nowadays might be classified as a sex addict. he was very charming, very intelligent – but completely nonchalant about the far-reaching effects his addiction had on the people around him. having worked with people battling with addiction, i find that unusual; often people with addictions are quite uncomfortable about the fallouts from their behaviour. but not so with that person. i remember thinking that it seemed like a part of his psyche had been amputated.

if you’re interested in a more academic treatment on the topic of psychopathy, you might want to read this article by linda mealey. it’s a little old but still quite interesting.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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