The Neuroscience of Psychopaths

Throughout the past few years the scientific study of criminology has been combining their studies with neuroscience. These two scientific communities have come together to study the correlation of biology in the brain and criminal activity. In several studies there have been major differences between the brains of violent psychopaths and healthy ‘normal’ brains.

The definition of a psychopath is, a person who engages repeatedly in criminal and antisocial behavior without remorse or empathy for those victimized. In recent studies of the human brain, scientists would take CT (Computerized tomography) scans, these scans are a type of x-ray that show different 3D cross sectional views of the brain and it’s functionality.

It was found that in comparing CT scans of psychopaths as compared to healthy brains there were obvious differences between the two.

brain scans
brain scans

As shown in the image above, the ‘normal’ brain is eliciting an emotional response, while the scan of the psychopath’s brain is completely inactive in the frontal lobe. Within the frontal lobe is the amygdala, which control emotional responses, and the hippocampus which is responsible for memories and emotional ties. These portions being dark, shows that in the brain of a psychopath, they not only don’t feel emotions, but they don’t have any emotional ties, memories, or responses at all.

These findings put into perspective just how blatant the difference can be between criminals and the victimized. The biggest issues in trying to prosecute these individuals however, is that they can be born without this feeling of empathy, or through their childhood and environmental exposure can be turned into criminals. Without knowing directly what causes this neurological response, treating it is extremely difficult, and the prosecution of these criminal individuals is difficult as well. Because yes, these people can be kidnappers, rapists, and murderers, all cut and dry violent crimes, but the severity and time span of their punishment by law comes into question when the point is broached, whether or not they were able to control themselves.  

To put it further into perspective let me ask you this, if you were unable to feel compassion, empathy, passion, or remorse for your actions, would you think it fair for you to be sent to prison for your criminal actions? Would you argue that without understanding emotions you couldn’t fully understand your actions? These are the questions scientists have been researching through clinical trials and brain scanning of convicted criminals, jury members, criminals themselves, and the families of those individuals as well as those who’ve been victimized.