Does lack of fear drive psychopaths?

May 20th, 2011 - 5:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 20 (IANS) Psychopaths’ willingness to break social norms and lack of remorse may drive them to commit crimes and irresponsible behaviour but their whole orientation may have something to do with a lack of fear, say researchers.

“What happens is you’re born without that fear, so when your parents try to socialize you, you don’t really respond appropriately because you’re not scared,” says co-author Patrick D.Sylvers of University of Washington in a study in journal Psychological Science.

By the same token, if you hurt a peer and they give you a fearful look, “most of us would learn from that and back off,” but a child with developing psychopathy would keep tormenting their classmate, he says.

Some recent research has suggested that the problem is attention; that people with psychopathy just don’t pay attention to fearful faces.

Sylvers and his co-authors, Patricia A. Brennan and Scott O. Lilienfeld of Emory University, wondered if something deeper was going on than a failure to pay attention.

They recruited boys in the Atlanta area who got in a lot of trouble at home and school, and gave them and their parents a questionnaire about some aspects of psychopathy.

For example, they asked the boys whether they felt guilty when they hurt other people. The researchers were most interested in “callous unemotionality” - a lack of regard for others’ feelings. Kids who rank high on callous unemotionality risk developing psychopathy later.

Each boy also watched a screen that showed a different picture to each eye. One eye saw abstract shapes in constant motion. The other eye viewed a still image of a face which faded extremely quickly, just as abstract shapes also faded as quickly.

Healthy people notice a fearful face faster than they notice a neutral or happy face, but this was not the case in the children who scored high on callous unemotionality. In fact, the higher the score, the slower they were to react to a fearful face.

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