Social apathy may arise from deficient connections among emotional brain centers
When most of us imagine someone in pain, we feel uncomfortable and want to help. Psychopaths do not: a callousness toward others’ suffering is the central feature of a psychopathic personality. Now an imaging study finds that psychopathic inmates have deficits in a key empathy circuit in the brain, pointing to a potential therapeutic target.
Jean Decety, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues used functional MRI to scan the brains of 121 male prison inmates while they looked at photos of a painful moment, such as a foot stepping on a nail or a finger being smashed in a drawer. The inmates were instructed to imagine the scenario happening to themselves or to another person, a perspective-switching technique that easily elicits empathy in most people.
By Meredith Knight