Psychopaths share this quality with people who have frontal brain damage.
A lack of empathy is one of the most obvious signs of a psychopath, research finds.
People diagnosed with psychopathy tend to behave in an extremely anti-social way, with a total lack of compassion for others.
Psychopaths can appear immune to negative feelings, along with being aggressive and, sometimes, dangerous.
While psychopaths lack empathy, they are able to understand other people’s minds.
In other words, they can guess what people are thinking, but cannot guess, do not feel, or totally disregard, other people’s emotions.
This is why psychopaths are so good at manipulating people and causing harm.
One study has compared 17 people diagnosed as psychopathic with 25 others who had suffered brain damage.
They were given tests of empathy and cognitive ability.
Dr Simone Shamay-Tsoory, the study’s first author, explained the results:
“Our findings show that people who have psychopathic symptoms behave as though they are suffering frontal brain damage.”
Both people with damage to the frontal areas of their brains and psychopaths had difficulty showing empathy.
However, psychopaths scored the same as normal people on tests of what other people are thinking.
So, psychopaths are able to ‘read other people’s minds’ in the normal way that we can all guess what other people are thinking to a certain extent.
However, they are not constrained by what other people are feeling.
Dr Shamay-Tsoory said:
“Seeing as psychopathic behavior is similar to that of a person with brain damage, it could be that it could benefit from similar forms of treatment.”
There is evidence, though, that there are two types of psychopaths: primary and secondary.
Primary psychopaths can be cooperative, helpful and friendly.
Secondary psychopaths, though, are usually destructive, unhelpful and perform badly at work.
So, not all psychopaths are evil — in fact many are quite the reverse.
Professor Gerhard Blickle, who has studied psychopaths in the workplace, says:
“Even persons with marked psychopathic traits do not necessarily exhibit antisocial behavior.
Persons with a high degree of fearless dominance can even be selfless heroes in everyday life, such as life-savers, emergency physicians, or firefighters.”
The study was published in the journal Cortex (Shamay-Tsoory et al., 2010).
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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.