Study: Psychopathy could be caused by impaired attention mechanisms in brain
Psychopathy is a “wildly misunderstood corner of mental health research,” according to the author of a new study on psychopathy and attention mechanisms in the brain.
A new study on psychopathy suggests the disorder could be caused by impairments to brain regions associated with attention.
Psychopathy is a “wildly misunderstood corner of mental health research,” according to study author Nathaniel E. Anderson.
“The public tends to view psychopaths as monsters and lost causes,” Anderson told PsyPost. “I want to encourage the recognition that this is a serious mental health condition that can be addressed with the same tools we use to study things like schizophrenia, autism, and depression.”
Anderson and his colleagues recruited 168 adult male prisoners to participate in an auditory oddball task, in which participants were instructed to click a button whenever they heard a particular tone. The auditory task was conducted inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine that measures activity in various regions of the brain.
Each participant was also measured for psychopathic traits using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), a commonly used psychological test that measures psychopathic personality traits like shallow affect, parasitic lifestyle, pathological lying and proneness to boredom.
The results showed that participants who scored higher on the psychopathy checklist also displayed abnormalities in brain regions associated with attention, including the anterior temporal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, dorsal anterior cingulate, temporoparietal junction, and posterior cingulate cortex.
“The basic message is pretty simple. Psychopathic traits are commonly attributed to deficits in emotional processes that lead to the severe consequences in judgement and behavior,” Anderson told PsyPost.
“What this study shows is that there may be even more fundamental processes that are impaired – specifically, the way the brain encodes differences between what is important and what is not, even without emotional content involved – and this has more to do with attention.”
The study authors suggest psychopathy might be caused by an inability of different functional networks of the brain to integrate properly. For example, psychopaths might not be able to efficiently switch from a wakeful rest state (default mode) to one in which they can readily make decisions.
“The reason emotional processing might be impaired in psychopaths to begin with, is because a psychopathic brain doesn’t attend to emotional information in the same way a healthy brain does,” Anderson said. “So it’s not integrated strongly into more complex processes like decision-making.”
However, the study is limited in that it only examined adult male prisoners performing one specific task under an fMRI machine. Still, Anderson hopes studies like his will continue to shed light on psychopathy, which he said has too often been framed as a disorder fueled by evil instead of fundamental brain abnormalities.
“As a consequence, the behaviors and traits that we would most benefit from preventing and treating go unattended,” Anderson told PsyPost. “People with psychopathic traits are unfortunately among the most neglected by one of society’s best tools: scientific research.”
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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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