Inside the mind of a psychopath

Could you possibly be one?

According to a 2017 study led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, psychopaths have reduced connections in the areas of the brain that control fear, anxiety, empathy, and sentimentality. Psychopathy is typically diagnosed using a 20-item checklist called the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.

In our everyday lives, we often use the words “psychopath” or “psychotic” when referring to a person or situation that is outside the borders of normality. But what exactly is a psychopath, and how can we tell them apart from the rest of the crowd?

Psychopathy falls into the spectrum of personality disorders characterized by antisocial behaviour and lack of empathy. What does this mean?

A psychopath is a person who has a lack of empathy, display of emotions, and absence of consciousness overall. Common traits of psychopaths are a grandiose sense of self-worth (though it should not be confused with a narcissistic personality disorder), pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse or guilt, empathy, and other behavioural problems.

These people are not the serial killers we see in movies. Though it is possible, it is rarely a case that this personality disorder can turn into this kind of danger. Not every psychopath is a dangerous person to society in terms of harming other people and the laws. Still, when they decide to, they are the dangerous organized criminals that are rarely caught because of their calculating and calm nature. Most psychopaths, because they care too much about how people perceive them, are very charismatic, and it is tough to differentiate them. Most people of power and authority show psychopathic tendencies.

So they are charming. To the outside world, they seem to have their life under control, manipulating others without realizing it to get what they want. But what is going on in the inner world inside their minds? Is a psychopath born or made?

Liza Polyanskaya | Unsplash

Psychopaths’ brains show differences in structure and function

According to a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, psychopaths have reduced connections in their brains between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the amygdala.

The vmPFC is responsible for sentimentality, empathy, and guilt and the amygdala mediates fear and anxiety. So this is the reason psychopaths lack empathy, guilt, and consciousness. So it is not that these people wake up and choose not to have emotions of this kind, but it is just that they are not capable of feeling like the rest of us.

Psychopathy and Sociopathy often get confused, so here is the main difference between them. While we saw that psychopathy is a brain dysfunction usually inherited, sociopaths are made and trained to become the way they are, usually because of trauma, tough childhood, or other environmental issues while growing up and developing. So sociopaths lose their ability to behave normally and generally react to things over time because of different external factors, while psychopaths are born that way.

In conclusion, psychopaths are born, and because of their brain dysfunctions, they cannot feel empathy, guilt, or anxiety. They are calm and collected, which is why they fall into the dangerous personality types.

If you want to check if somebody you know or encounter is a psychopath, then I suggest ticking the Hare psychopathy Checklist online.

Dragana Andreevska

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