A Look Into the Dark Minds of Psychopaths
Wed, April 21, 2021

A Look Into the Dark Minds of Psychopaths

Psychopaths. Most of us would describe them as someone who has no feelings. Someone who probably set a kitchen on fire or tortured animals for fun when they were little / Photo by: Volodymyr Melnyk via 123RF

 

Psychopaths. Most of us would describe them as someone who has no feelings. Someone who probably set a kitchen on fire or tortured animals for fun when they were little. The word itself has become a synonym for a certain type of evil since the psychopaths we know are those who murder people or commit disturbing crimes. We see them as bloodthirsty predators who lack empathy, impulse control, and remorse. They are prepared to do the worst to get what they want. 

Research suggests that 1 in 100 people are psychopaths who tend to blend in, like cold-blooded chameleons. About 70 percent of repeat violent offenders are serial killers and sex offenders. Psychopaths also make up 15 to 20 percent of the prison population. Often, psychopaths are so charming and charismatic that we don’t see them as people capable of the most heinous crimes. 

They hide behind a well-cultivated mask of normalcy for years and perhaps their entire lives. While authorities have caught a few of them, namely the “Ken and Barbie Killers” Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, “Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy, and others, there’s a high possibility that more of them are just out there waiting for their next prey. 

Despite their disturbing past, psychopaths are three times more likely to be released than their non-psychopathic counterparts. Also, they get paroled three times faster. These are some of the reasons why they are called “sick minds” or “suffering souls” back in the 1800s. A book titled “The Mask of Sanity” written by psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley called psychopaths “the forgotten man of psychiatry.”  

According to Discover Magazine, an online site that reports captivating developments in science, medicine, technology, and the world around us, psychopaths exhibit “a perfect mask of genuine sanity, a flawless surface indicative in every respect of robust mental health.” This is why they are released from psychiatric hospitals in just a short time. Psychopathic criminals, though repeat offenders, tend to do only short prison stints.

How Psychopaths View the World

Psychopaths view the world far different than the rest of us. They thrill at the idea of manipulating people. For them, everything is like a game. They will stop at nothing even if they are caught doing a crime. They will romance, con, plagiarize, swindle, embezzle, extort, or do anything until they are satisfied. 

Researchers believe that psychopaths have different brain activity patterns compared to non-psychopaths. For instance, there is less activity in the amygdala where fear is processed and in the orbital frontal cortex or region where decision-making happens. Our amygdala is the one that processes empathy, fear, and emotional regulation. Kent Kiehl, an executive science officer at the Mind Research Network forensics lab, discovered that psychopaths have functional and structural anomalies that affect emotions, impulse control, and cognition.

Kiehl visited local prisons with a mobile fMRI machine. He tracked prisoners and exposed them to neutral and violent words and imagery. His research identified two types of psychopaths: primaries and secondaries. The primaries are insensitive, remorseless, and manipulative while the secondaries act without thinking about the consequences. They are also impulsive and violent.

Psychopaths view the world far different than the rest of us. They thrill at the idea of manipulating people. For them, everything is like a game / Photo by: dotshock via 123RF

 

American psychologist Robert Hare, who has spent 30 years studying the concept of psychopathy, stated that the majority of psychopaths aren’t criminals contrary to popular belief. The truth is, psychopaths have suffered long years of abuse and pain that they turned out like this, sometimes even worse of what we could imagine. Previous studies showed that they suffer emotionally as a consequence of separation, divorce, death of a beloved person, or dissatisfaction with their own deviant behavior.

While we know psychopaths as people who can do worse things, it’s also important to understand that they have been silently suffering. According to Psychiatric Times, the largest privately held medical media company in the US, loneliness, social isolation, and associated emotional pain in psychopaths may precede violent criminal acts. As they grow old, they tend to believe that the world is against them. They are eventually convinced that they deserve special privileges or rights to satisfy their desires. Some turn into violent criminals, ultimately reaching a point of no return.

How Some Psychopaths Can Control Their Dark Impulses

While many psychopaths ended up being controlled by their dark impulses, there are those who can control themselves. The researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University conducted two experiments to explore why certain people with psychopathic traits are able to successfully control their antisocial tendencies while others are not. 

The first experiment involved 80 adults in long-term relationships. The team took a high-resolution scan of their brain after they were placed in an MRI scanner. Then, the participants were given questionnaires that measured the "dark triad" of personality traits. The second involved 64 undergraduate students who were assessed for psychopathic traits and tendencies. Their brains were also scanned and questioned. 

Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, reported that the researchers observed a gray matter density in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex that they call "a hub for self-regulation," which was associated with psychopathic traits. They concluded that "successful" psychopathic individuals develop inhibitory mechanisms to compensate for their antisocial tendencies.

The researchers also discovered that these "successful" psychopathic individuals have certain neural advantages that allow them to counteract their selfish and hostile tendencies. This gives them an opportunity to coexist with others despite their antisocial impulses. The compensatory model posits that these individuals have enhanced self-regulation abilities, which are able to compensate for their antisocial impulses and facilitate their 'success’,” lead author Emily Lasko said. 

While many psychopaths ended up being controlled by their dark impulses, there are those who can control themselves / Photo by: Aleksey Mnogosmyslov via 123RF