Psychopaths Might Have an Impaired Empathy Circuit: Scientific American

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