New Research On Possible Sources Of Psychopathy Brain Abnormalities

Science Daily reports:

Earlier studies had suggested that dysfunction of specific brain regions might underpin psychopathy. Such areas of the brain were identified as the amygdale, ie the area associated with emotions, fear and aggression, and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the region which deals with decision making. There is a white matter tract that connects the amygdala and OFC, which is called the uncinate fasciculus (UF). However, nobody had ever studied the UF in psychopaths. The team from King’s used an imaging method called in vivo diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DT-MRI) tractography to analyse the UF in psychopaths.

They found a significant reduction in the integrity of the small particles that make up the structure of the UF of psychopaths, compared to control groups of people with the same age and IQ. Also, the degree of abnormality was significantly related to the degree of psychopathy. These results suggest that psychopaths have biological differences in the brain which may help to explain their offending behaviours.

In the past whenever I’ve read about the differences in psychopaths’ brains, I’ve always just focused on the question of what it means for revealing the normal morality-ready character of normal brains by contrast or what it means for how we assess the culpability of people with different brain structures or how this all relates to Dexter.  But tonight, this line from the article above struck me:

exciting developments in brain imaging such as DT-MRI now offer neuroscientists the potential to move towards a more coherent understanding of the possible brain networks that underlie psychopathy, and potentially towards treatments for this mental disorder.’

Wouldn’t it be amazing if they could cure psychopathy?  I’m kind of embarrassed about my previous lack of imagination that only thought of this in terms of what it said about people being fated to be killers, rather than possibly freed not to be based on our increasing knowledge and mastery of our brains.

I take it we’re a long way off, but it’s exciting to dream and worthwhile to be grateful to the science and technology that make our dreams something more than dreams—hopes.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Evangelos

    Curing psychopathy; it sounds like the top of a slippery slope for me, but it’s definitely an admirable goal.

  • Dan Fincke

    I’m glad you went there, Evangelos—as I was writing the post I was about to effuse that while I was concentrating on the psychopaths fated immorality they were thinking about how to make him more moral through brain chemistry—and then I saw the slippery slope and limited my enthusiasms to the curing a pathology part!


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