Inside the brains of psychopaths
Three scientists examine three dimensions of psychopathy: neurological, social, and criminal.
KEVIN DUTTON: Although psychopaths don't feel emotions like us. They are masters at pushing those emotional hot buttons that elicit emotions in others, in us. Sympathy being one of the major, major motivators.
JAMES FALLON: They're not going to kill you or rape you or maybe even take your money but they're going to manipulate the situation, make you look bad or use you in some way. Something bad is going to happen and if you sense that, people have a sense that something is wrong with somebody, you walk away. You don't fight these guys because they're an intraspecies predator. A human that is a predator on other humans.
KEVIN DUTTON: They're not really attuned to your feelings. They don't really care about your feelings. Really, ultimately, the world surrounds them. Psychopaths are also very charming. They're very manipulative, especially when they're in a crowd. Especially when they're in company. But behind the scenes when they're alone with you they can be very, very controlling, sometimes, but not always, aggressive. But psychologically controlling as well, okay.
JAMES FALLON: It's hard to look at the actual behavior of a psychopath and say 'that thing is psychopathic or not.' Because psychopaths will come to the rescue of people. "Can I help you up, ma'am?" They can see the outward behaviors and they just can mimic it to get along. But fundamentally they don't feel it.
KEVIN DUTTON: We all know about the psychopath's enhanced killer instinct, their finely tuned vulnerability antennae. But it may surprise you to know that there are some situations in which psychopaths are actually more adept at saving lives than they are at taking them. So, let me give you an example of what I mean by that. Imagine you've got a train and it's hurtling down a track. In its path, five people are trapped on the line and cannot escape. Fortunately you can flick a switch which diverts the train down a fork in that track, away from those five people but at a price. There is another person trapped down that fork and the train will kill them instead. Though the thought of flicking the switch isn't exactly a nice one, the utilitarian choice, as it were, killing just the one person instead of the five represents the least worst option.
But now let me give you a variation. You've got a train speeding out of control down a track and it's going to plow into five people on the line. But this time you are standing behind a very large stranger on a footbridge above that track. The only way to save the people is to heave the stranger over. While the score in lives is precisely the same as in the first scenario—five to one—one's choice of action appears far trickier. Now, why should that be? Well, the reason, it turns out, all boils down to temperature, okay. Case one represents what we might call an impersonal dilemma. It involves those areas of the brain primarily responsible for what we call cold empathy. For reasoning and rational thought. Case two on the other hand represents what we might call a personal dilemma. It involves the emotion center of the brain known as the amygdala, the circuitry of hot empathy, what we might call the feeling of feeling what another person is feeling. Now, psychopaths, just like most normal members of the population, have no trouble at all with case one. They flick the switch and the train diverts accordingly killing just the one person instead of the five. But, this is where the plot thickens. Quite unlike normal members of the population, psychopaths also experience little difficulty with case two. Psychopaths, without a moment's hesitation, are perfectly willing to chuck the fat guy over the rails if that's what the doctor orders. Now, moreover, this difference in behavior has a distinct neural signature.
MICHAEL STONE: There are a number of areas in the brain that are very important in social decision making and moral attitudes. And there's a more primitive part of the brain that deals with emotion called the limbic system. In the limbic system there is a small organ called the amygdala that registers emotion but particularly has an ability to recognize when somebody else out there has a fearful face or is in a state of fright or upset. The interesting thing about the kind of coldhearted murderers is that their amygdalas don't function properly the way ours does and they may recognize, dimly, that so and so out there is afraid, but they don't have the concern that you or I would, let's say, if we saw a crying kid in a department store who probably got separated from its mother. They would recognize it but they would take advantage of the child, pretend to take it to the information booth to get it reconnected with its mom and then kidnap the kid or something like that.
Another important area is the front part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex. That area is involved in moral decision making, figuring out what's right versus what's wrong, that we learn as we grow up and are instructed by our parents and our teachers. So if that area of the brain is not operating at full tilt it may be possible then to carry out an act which would be repugnant and very much against the law. But think of the orbitofrontal cortex as A kind of a braking system which, if it's operating, will put the brakes on a thought or a desire that may have preceded it that 'I'd like to kill that son of a bitch' or 'I want to take that kid and kidnap him.' Then when thinking of the consequences, 'Oh my god, I'd be eating cheese sandwiches in jail for the rest of my life. I won't go there.' But if that cortex is not operating the person would just go ahead and do it.
KEVIN DUTTON: The pattern of brain activation in both normal people and psychopaths is identical on the presentation of the impersonal moral dilemma, but radically different when things start to get a bit more personal. Imagine that I went to hook you up to a brain scanner, a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, and were to present you with those two dilemmas. What would I observe as you went about trying to solve them? Well, at the precise moment that the nature of the dilemma switches from impersonal to personal I would see the emotion center of your brain, your amygdala and related brain circuits, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, for example, light up like a pinball machine. I would witness the moment, in other words, when emotion puts its money in the slot. But in psychopaths I would see precisely nothing and the passage from impersonal to personal would slip by unnoticed because that emotion neighborhood of their brains, that emotional zip code, has a neural curfew. And that's why they're perfectly happy to chuck that fat guy over the side.
JAMES FALLON: Orbital cortex and the amygdala. Orbital cortex is involved in inhibiting your behavior. Now the amygdala on the other hand really causes behavior and normally they're in balance, they inhibit each other. Now, in a psychopath they're both turned off so they don't inhibit each other and they don't regulate it so the normal balance of animal drives and your social interactions, your morality, are not right. That's never right. There's a time for aggression. There's a time for killing, even. There's a time for sex. And part of it is how the rest of the brain is able to tell your orbital cortex the social context is correct now. Psychopaths don't have that. They're doing things completely out of context, out of social context, and that's the problem.
KEVIN DUTTON: If we remove the definition of psychopath away from the kind of more clinical setting to an everyday life scenario, psychopaths tend to have quite a few positive characteristics going for them. They tend to be assertive. They don't procrastinate. They focus on the positives of situations. They don't take things personally. They don't beat themselves up when things go wrong.
JAMES FALLON: Another thing is you're not very susceptible to pain. Pain doesn't bother you. And also, when you're caught doing something, you have no tells. You could be caught red handed having an affair with somebody and you could say 'No, that's not me.' It's like, are you going to believe me or your lying eyes? And so it's the ability to lie without any tells.
KEVIN DUTTON: Those kinds of characteristics can actually really help us get along in life so let's give you a very simple example if you like. The Nike slogan, Just Do It—there's a psychopathic slogan for you if ever there was one. Psychopaths do not procrastinate. Psychopaths, if they want something, they go for it and they go for it now. Top sportsmen are very high in certain psychopathic characteristics. Now, let me just go through them. You've got ruthlessness, you've got fearlessness, you've got mental toughness, you've got coolness under pressure, you've got the ability to focus remorselessly on a goal. I mean, these things are straight out of the sports psychology textbooks in many ways so anyone from top golfers to top cyclists to top boxers to top athletes, they are going to be high on these psychopathic characteristics.
JAMES FALLON: Usually the question is what percent do you think is due to genetics and what percent is due to environment? And it turns out not to be the great question to ask, because it looks like the answer is if you are born with the biological markers for psychopathy, for example, that is the genetics and the altered brain pattern early on, if you are a susceptible kid then environment means everything. It means a lot, maybe 80 percent.
KEVIN DUTTON: Where we start getting into the realms of criminal psychopaths is when we look at natural aggression levels and perhaps natural levels of intelligence. If you've got those characteristics right there that I've told you about and you happen to be naturally violent and you also happen to be naturally stupid—not a very politically correct word there—but you happen to be low in intelligence, then your prospects, to be perfectly honest with you, are not going to be that great, okay. You're going to wind up smacking a bottle over someone's head in a bar and you are going to wind up in prison pretty quickly, okay. However, if you've got those traits I've just mentioned to you and you are not naturally violent and you are also intelligent then it's a different story altogether. Then, as the famous Reuter's headline once mentioned, you are more likely going to make a killing in the market than anywhere else.
- How are the brains of psychopaths wired differently? In this video, psychologist Kevin Dutton, neuroscientist (and psychopath himself) James Fallon, and professor of psychiatry Michael Stone take the wiring apart.
- In neurotypical people, the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex inhibit one another to allow for reasonable, moral decision-making. Psychopaths don't have that mechanism.
- Up to 80% of who a psychopath will turn out to be is down to environment. Intelligence, natural aggressiveness, and your family and friends determine whether a psychopath will grow up to make a killing or just "make a killing in the market," as a famous headline once said.
- Harvard-Yale Study Unveils A New Understanding of Psychopaths ... ›
- Did humanity evolve to have psychopaths? - Big Think ›
- Psychopaths can empathize. They choose not to, says study - Big ... ›
- Is psychopathy untreatable? New research shows promising signs ... ›
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Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97ac37e6c7f6f22ec130ea2d56871701"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB78NV2WpWc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.</p><p>In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank">One study</a> compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2005.00006.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">another Florida study</a> found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oklahoma</a> and another out of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016813478823" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Minnesota</a>, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.</p><p>The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. <a href="https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/economics_of_private_prisons.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Hamilton Project analysis</a> noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.</p><p>"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."</p>
A vertical map might better represent a world dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic.
- Europe has dominated cartography for so long that its central place on the world map seems normal.
- However, as the economic centre of gravity shifts east and the climate warms up, tomorrow's map may be very different.
- Focusing on both China and Arctic shipping lanes, this vertical representation could be the world map of the future.
The world, but not as we know it<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTkwMjIyNn0.qmQfwUdjQka8JX6q4KGANagleiuucpWay5ytMenZxUU/img.jpg?width=980" id="b95e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac088ec55c0585a93a9a310faab9a4c7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A Chinese 'vertical world map,' showing the world in a different perspective from the one we're used to.
Image: Prior Probability<p>Europe is tucked away in a corner, an appendage of Asia dwarfed by neighboring Africa. North America is stood on its head, facing the rest of the world from the top of the map — cut off from South America, which cuts a solitary figure at the bottom. Africa is justifiably huge, but equally eccentric. </p><p>The eye scouts elsewhere for a place to land: not the Indian Ocean, which dominates the middle of the map, but some terra firma. Antarctica and Australia are too small, mere stepping stones for the land mass of Asia. Ultimately our gaze is drawn toward China, the lynchpin of this unfamiliar world. </p><p>Managing to leave both poles intact, this "vertical" world map is about as far away as you can get from the classic Mercator projection – which slices up both, giving center stage to a puffed-up Europe. Perhaps this new map will become more familiar soon: It may do more justice to the world of the near future, dominated by China and determined by shipping routes across the iceless Arctic. <br></p>
China's 'ten-dash line'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTI4MzQyNn0.sBe0oFTif4Jef1vWh1kAnUylU_QMPXT5xQjm-5aA3sA/img.jpg?width=980" id="a3b81" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80fc6e4f5c9c1c978f698be2c8de5484" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
'China without any part left out': includes Taiwan and the islands and atolls in the South China Sea, surrounded by a ten-dash line
Image: Global Times<p>While there's no indication that this map represents the Chinese government's "official" worldview, it is no secret that China has a thing with maps – and more specifically, the country's representation on them. </p><p>In China, the country's current economic success is seen as a redress of the unequal treatment meted out by western superpowers in the 19th century. China's world dominance is a return to a more natural state of world affairs, many feel. Cartographic rectifications are a symbolically significant corollary of that sentiment.</p><p><a href="https://www.citylab.com/equity/2015/12/china-cracks-down-on-politcally-incorrect-maps/421032/" target="_blank">Fines are regularly imposed</a> on companies – domestic and foreign – that fail to represent China to the fullest extent of its external borders, disputed though they may be by others (e.g. India, Taiwan and any of the countries with claims overlapping China's in the South China Sea). But the People's Republic's cartographic obsession doesn't end at China's territory itself. It also includes the country's position on the world map. <br></p>
The Kingdom at the Middle of the World<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTkwODEzMX0.SGrAZBH6iJVggFYSaIahzv9GvfEh17y1SwUNINbVicQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1774c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99790d80a909d17a948f7c5d463d7d98" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Early Japanese color copy of Ricci's world map
Image: public domain<p>China's name for itself is <em>Zhōngguó</em>, which means 'Central State' or 'Middle Kingdom', reflecting its ancient self-image as the civilized center (<em>Huá</em>) of the world, with wild tribes (<em>Yí</em>) at the edge. That view is not unique to China. Vietnam, for example, at certain times also styled itself as the "central state" (<em>Trung Quóc</em>) – considering the Chinese in turn as the uncouth outsiders.</p><p>It may be surprising to recall, but Europeans themselves once considered their own continent a relative backwater, viewing Jerusalem as the true center of the world. That changed with the Age of Discovery, which placed Europe at the center of an ever-expanding world. Maps reflected that worldview, and largely continue to do so. That's why today's standard world map still has Europe at its center – with China off toward the periphery on the map's right-hand side. </p><p>The most notable feature of the very first major modern world map produced in China, the <em>Kunyu Wanguo Quantu</em> (1602), is that it places China firmly at the center of the world. Produced for the Chinese emperor by Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, it was the first map ever to combine that perspective with modern western knowledge: it was the first Chinese map to show the Americas, for instance. </p><p>That representation may not have taken off elsewhere, but it will be instantly recognizable to Chinese students, as it's the standard format for world maps in China's schools today.<br></p>
America on its head<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1Nzg2My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzQ5NTc0MH0.EqadI2Yp-2dPwi3VccFZelIDK4V9t0ZOfTfHjdB6wVw/img.jpg?width=980" id="97104" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b66e8de389b3d736bc28e019e445cd0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Upside down you turn me: North America on its head, in Chinese characters
Image: Prior Probability<p>For those used to "classic" Eurocentric world maps, Europe's marginalization may come across as a bit of an upset. America's new position on the horizontal Chinese world map is less jarring: It merely moves from the left- to the right-hand side of the picture. But then there's this vertical world map, which deals a similar blow to the American land mass: divided in two and pushed to the upper and lower edges of the map.</p><p>Unfamiliar? Sure. Shocking? Perhaps. Wrong? Not really. First off, no world map is totally right, since it's mathematically impossible to transfer the surface of a three-dimensional object onto a flat surface without some distortion. And since the world is a globe, where you center that map is a matter of purely subjective choice.<br></p><p>Those choices have historical reasons. Mercator's map was not specifically designed to put an inflated Europe at the center of the world. That was just a side effect; its main purpose was to aid shipping: Straight lines on the map correspond to straight lines sailed on the seas.</p>
By 2050, a completely melted Arctic could enable the Transpolar Passage, shortening trade routes between Asia and Europe and boosting business for Alaskan ports like Nome and Dutch Harbor.
Image: The Maritime Executive<p>The vertical world map, showing the relative proximity of China (and the rest of Asia) to Europe and (even the East Coast of) North America, has a similarly maritime <em>raison d'être</em>, or it will have by mid-century. <a href="https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/the-arctic-shipping-route-no-one-s-talking-about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Experts project</a> that by 2050 (if not sooner), the Arctic will be sufficiently ice-free to enable the so-called Transpolar Passage, i.e. shipping straight across the North Pole. </p><p>That would shave more than three weeks off a traditional sea voyage between Europe and Asia, via the Suez Canal – and even be significantly faster than other northern alternatives like the Northwest Passage (via Canada) or the Northern Sea Route (hugging the Siberian coast). Since ships would not need to go through locks or pass over shallow waters, it would also remove current restrictions on tonnage per ship. <br></p><p>The only country seriously preparing for such a future: China. None of the other Arctic powers is giving the Transpolar route any strategic thought. On the other hand, China's Arctic Policy document, released in January 2018, already matter-of-factly refers to the Transpolar route as the 'Central Passage' – one of several 'Polar Silk Roads' that China seems to want to develop. And they already have the world map to go with it.</p>
What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?
- Traditionally, intelligence has been viewed as having all the answers. When it comes to being innovative and forward-thinking, it turns out that being able to ask the right questions is an equally valuable skill.
- The difference between the right and wrong questions is not simply in the level of difficulty. In this video, geobiologist Hope Jahren, journalist Warren Berger, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, and investor Tim Ferriss discuss the power of creativity and the merit in asking naive and even "dumb" questions.
- "Very often the dumb question that is sitting right there that no one seems to be asking is the smartest question you can ask," Ferriss says, adding that "not only is it the smartest, most incisive, but if you want to ask it and you're reasonably smart, I guarantee you there are other people who want to ask it but are just embarrassed to do so."