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Psychopathic Criminals Have "Empathy Switch" 347

Posted by timothy
from the why-some-people-think-I'm-nice dept.
dryriver writes "Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research. Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain. Only when asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt did the area of the brain related to pain light up. Scientists, reporting in Brain, say their research explains how psychopaths can be both callous and charming. The team proposes that with the right training, it could be possible to help psychopaths activate their 'empathy switch', which could bring them a step closer to rehabilitation. Criminals with psychopathy characteristically show a reduced ability to empathise with others, including their victims. Evidence suggests they are also more likely to reoffend upon release than criminals without the psychiatric condition."
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Psychopathic Criminals Have "Empathy Switch"

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  • That reminds me of (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GeekWithAKnife (2717871) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @10:33AM (#44380891) soldiers can kill people without remorse and then still be good dads

    Is being a "psychopath" really just an old term that means "sociopath" and is apparently 1 in 200 men? -often ruthless and in leadership positions?

    Trailing thought, are internet trolls like this?
  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @10:41AM (#44380977) Homepage Journal

    Military killing depends a lot on dehumanizing foes. Battlefield terminology for foes almost always takes the form of a very non-human noun, whether it's "targets", "hostiles", or "alpha", the words that are used are never words that inherently imply personhood. There's a well-researched book [] about how this corresponds to good people being capable of terrible things.

  • by draconx (1643235) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @10:47AM (#44381051) Homepage

    listening to Mozart, with eye drops in order that their eyes won't wither ? Sorry Dude, It's been already tried ...

    Nobody's tried Mozart; only Ludwig van Beethoven.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @10:48AM (#44381059) Journal

    They already know how to turn empathy on and off. When campaigning, turn empathy on. When legislating, turn empathy off.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @10:55AM (#44381125) Homepage Journal

    They simply won't accept that some people are born evil and need to be locked up for life or executed for the safety of the public. And many people have paid the price for that arrogance.

    You dismiss religious absolutism, but you're willing to accept the idea of someone being unavoidably "evil"? Do you realize how subjective that is? How hypocritical? Not everyone who disagrees with you does so because they are incapable of compromise, sometimes it's because you are.

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @11:23AM (#44381503)

    People with Aspergers (ASD) display limited empathy with others. Not the psychopaths' ability to switch it on and off. It is just lacking.

    Fake empathy is often used by con artists and sociopaths to manipulate people. And in some cases, people with Aspergers are more able to see through such social engineering than other people. There is an interesting story in The Big Short [] about an investor/fund manager who saw through the Wall Street bullshit surrounding mortgage backed securities and shorted them, making millions of dollars for himself and his clients.

  • Re:why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @11:45AM (#44381839)

    Not a parent, are you? Probably never had a girlfriend either.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @11:48AM (#44381873) Homepage Journal

    And, we've discovered that certain kinds intervention before age 18 is really effective at decreasing crime rates among these people. And notably, in spite of the fact that we have all these awesome criteria, less than 10% of those who meet our best criteria ever really do anything wrong. NOVA [] had a fascinating documentary about it. (I'm at work and can't verify that's the right video). If we could trivially split people into categories of "future murderer" and "non-murderer" it wouldmake life easier, but we cannot.

  • Mod parent up. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bussdriver (620565) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @11:55AM (#44381967)

    Furthermore, psychopaths NEED to be identified as mental cases and not criminal cases! We lock people up in an overly simplistic system that fails to work with the real world; we never address the root problem: The criminal system needs to deal with mental illnesses (that includes addiction) as disease and not as debts to be paid to society. It is not business nor should it ever be thought of like a business. Pedophiles for example, should be put into mental hospitals and NEVER released until safe... not automatically released after their "debt" has been paid.

  • Re:why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @12:02PM (#44382113) Journal

    The answer is, populations with the compulsion to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the group are more likely to reproduce themselves and abide, while populations without this compulsion are more likely to see their population decline and cease to exist.

    The existence of human beings is a testament to this. We, ourselves, are a culture of cells that work together and sacrifice themselves for the good of the culture. When they stop doing so, the composite being that we are dies, and ALL the cells that make us up also die.

  • by sjames (1099) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @01:45PM (#44383343) Homepage

    As long as you make sure that gone is gone, that is, they don't get to leave and still do business here, the vacuum left by their departure becomes an economic opportunity for the rest. It's not as if these people are the only ones who possess the ability to run a business and employ people.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @02:14PM (#44383639)

    So why don't we do that instead of electing them to public office or making them executives in the banking industry?

    Because there is evidence that psychopaths actually make better leaders. There was an article about this [] a couple months ago in the Economist. By ignoring the suffering of individuals, psychopaths are able to focus on bold action for the greater good. This is especially apparent in war time, where compassionate leaders are often dithering and indecisive, leading to a prolonged war and many more deaths and wounds than needed.

  • Peace in our time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TiggertheMad (556308) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @04:13PM (#44384847) Homepage Journal
    Your opinion is that of an armchair historian, with a very different perspective than leaders at the time had.

    It could be said that Neville Chamberlain was a compassionate leader...

"But this one goes to eleven." -- Nigel Tufnel