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Is psychopathy untreatable? Why researchers are starting to change their minds.
A growing body of research suggests that the "clinical pessimism" over treating psychopathy is unwarranted.
- Psychopathic individuals generally show impairments in several brain regions, a finding that's helped to promote the view that psychopathy is virtually untreatable.
- Still, there's been no concrete evidence to support this view.
- New treatments show some promising signs that psychopathy is treatable, even if it's not curable.
Treating psychopathy has long seemed like a lost cause to many forensic practitioners and psychologists.
One reason is that psychopaths lack the neural "equipment" that enables them to empathize with others, and brain imaging studies show that psychopaths seem to have irregular mirror neuron systems, as well as less gray matter in regions of the brain associated with emotion regulation and self-control.
Psychopaths also don't respond well to punishment: Prisoners who score high on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), the most commonly used measure of psychopathy, are much more likely to commit violent crimes upon release. That's partly why psychopaths represent 25 percent of prisoners, even though they represent 1 percent of the general population.
A 2006 empirical review of psychopathy treatments noted:
"... psychopaths are fundamentally different from other offenders and that there is nothing 'wrong' with them in the manner of a deficit or impairment that therapy can 'fix.' Instead, they exhibit an evolutionarily viable life strategy that involves lying, cheating, and manipulating others."
But is this kind of "clinical pessimism" warranted? According to Rasmus Rosenberg Larsen, a lecturer at the University of Toronto Mississauga who recently published a review of decades of studies on psychopathy in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, this view is largely based on "erroneous, unscientific conclusions," and it's counterproductive to developing effective treatments for psychopathy.
"A lot of what people understand about psychopaths is not really rooted in research reality," Larsen told U of T News. "There was no evidence for the hard claim that a psychopath cannot be treated successfully. There was also no evidence that treating a so-called psychopath will result in faster recidivism or that they will be worse afterwards. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that conventional treatment programs have positive impacts on psychopaths. This is important because it informs how we prioritize treatment and rehabilitation efforts."
Larsen noted that many psychopathic criminals seem to benefit from the same standard treatments administered to other offenders. But more interesting are the recent approaches that have been used to treat psychopathy in recent years, the results of which, Larsen wrote, show that "optimism is generally warranted."
One of the most promising interventions is the "Decompression Model." This approach, developed by staff at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Wisconsin, rewards psychopathic individuals for positive behavior instead of punishing them for negative behavior.
"What starts out as a pat on the shoulder graduates to a candy bar, which graduates to the right to play video games, and so on and so forth," reads an article published by Real Clear Science. "The youth were being introduced to the simple benefits of social society."
The results showed that youths in the program had a 34 percent lower recidivism rate compared to juveniles in other centers, and that they were 50 percent less likely to commit a violent crime. What this rewards-based treatment seems to promote is cognitive empathy, which is essentially the ability to see things from another person's perspective. The treatment doesn't necessarily help psychopaths with emotional empathy, which is generally described as:
- Feeling the same emotion as the other person
- Feeling our own distress in response to their pain
- Feeling compassion toward the other person
Treatable, if not curable
Given the neuroplasticity of the brain, it remains an open question whether any kind of intervention could significantly change the structure of a psychopath's brain. It's also important to note that psychopathy exists on a spectrum; there's no clear line distinguishing a psychopath from a neurotypical person, though in the U.S. it's defined as scoring a 30 out of 40 on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised.
Psychopathy may never be "cured." But for many, developing treatments that measurably improve behavior would be enough, as Barbara Bradley Hagerty, a journalist who's written about the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, told NPR:
"... when you talk to the psychologists at Mendota they say, 'Hey, we're not looking for Mother Teresa. We're just happy if they're not committing armed robbery and killing people.'"
- A (potentially) promising sign for treating psychopaths - Big Think ›
- Inside the brains of psychopaths - Big Think ›
These alien-like creatures are virtually invisible in the deep sea.
- A team of marine biologists used nets to catch 16 species of deep-sea fish that have evolved the ability to be virtually invisible to prey and predators.
- "Ultra-black" skin seems to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps fish camouflage themselves in the deep sea, which is illuminated by bioluminescent organisms.
- There are likely more, and potentially much darker, ultra-black fish lurking deep in the ocean.
The Pacific blackdragon
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p>When researchers first saw the deep-sea species, it wasn't immediately obvious that their skin was ultra-black. Then, marine biologist Karen Osborn, a co-author on the new paper, noticed something strange about the photos she took of the fish.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can't see any detail," Osborn told <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">Wired</a></em>. "How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?"</p><p>After examining samples of fish skin under the microscope, the researchers discovered that the fish skin contains a layer of organelles called melanosomes, which contain melanin, the same pigment that gives color to human skin and hair. This layer of melanosomes absorbs most of the light that hits them.</p>
A crested bigscale
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"But what isn't absorbed side-scatters into the layer, and it's absorbed by the neighboring pigments that are all packed right up close to it," Osborn told <em>Wired</em>. "And so what they've done is create this super-efficient, very-little-material system where they can basically build a light trap with just the pigment particles and nothing else."</p><p>The result? Strange and terrifying deep-sea species, like the crested bigscale, fangtooth, and Pacific blackdragon, all of which appear in the deep sea as barely more than faint silhouettes.</p>
David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL<p>But interestingly, this unique disappearing trick wasn't passed on to these species by a common ancestor. Rather, they each developed it independently. As such, the different species use their ultra-blackness for different purposes. For example, the threadfin dragonfish only has ultra-black skin during its adolescent years, when it's rather defenseless, as <em>Wired</em> <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">notes</a>.</p><p>Other fish—like the <a href="http://onebugaday.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-new-anglerfish-oneirodes-amaokai.html" target="_blank">oneirodes species</a>, which use bioluminescent lures to bait prey—probably evolved ultra-black skin to avoid reflecting the light their own bodies produce. Meanwhile, species like <em>C. acclinidens</em> only have ultra-black skin around their gut, possibly to hide light of bioluminescent fish they've eaten.</p><p>Given that these newly described species are just ones that this team found off the coast of California, there are likely many more, and possibly much darker, ultra-black fish swimming in the deep ocean. </p>
Using machine-learning technology, the genealogy company My Heritage enables users to animate static images of their relatives.
- Deep Nostalgia uses machine learning to animate static images.
- The AI can animate images by "looking" at a single facial image, and the animations include movements such as blinking, smiling and head tilting.
- As deepfake technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, some are concerned about how bad actors might abuse the technology to manipulate the pubic.
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But that's not to say the animations are perfect. As with most deep-fake technology, there's still an uncanny air to the images, with some of the facial movements appearing slightly unnatural. What's more, Deep Nostalgia is only able to create deepfakes of one person's face from the neck up, so you couldn't use it to animate group photos, or photos of people doing any sort of physical activity.</p>
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But for a free deep-fake service, Deep Nostalgia is pretty impressive, especially considering you can use it to create deepfakes of <em>any </em>face, human or not. </p>
How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?
- How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
- Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
- Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
Plato used the allegory of the cave to explain that what humans see and experience is not the true reality.
Credit: Gothika via Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0<p>When scientists and mathematicians use the term <em>Platonic worldview</em>, that's what they mean in general: The unbound capacity of reason to unlock the secrets of creation, one by one. Einstein, for one, was a believer, preaching the fundamental reasonableness of nature; no weird unexplainable stuff, like a god that plays dice—his tongue-in-cheek critique of the belief that the unpredictability of the quantum world was truly fundamental to nature and not just a shortcoming of our current understanding. Despite his strong belief in such underlying order, Einstein recognized the imperfection of human knowledge: "What I see of Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility." (Quoted by Dukas and Hoffmann in <em>Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives</em> (1979), 39.)</p> <p>Einstein embodies the tension between these two clashing worldviews, a tension that is still very much with us today: On the one hand, the Platonic ideology that the fundamental stuff of reality is logical and understandable to the human mind, and, on the other, the acknowledgment that our reasoning has limitations, that our tools have limitations and thus that to reach some sort of final or complete understanding of the material world is nothing but an impossible, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2JTGIA?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">semi-religious dream</a>.</p>