How Psychologists Put Us All at Risk by Confusing Categories and Reaching Wrong Conclusions: Is Fear Deficit a Harbinger of Future Psychopaths?
Association for Psychological Science Thu, 19 May 2011 05:34 CDT
Psychopaths are charming, but they often get themselves and others in big trouble; their willingness to break social norms and lack of remorse means they are often at risk for crimes and other irresponsible behaviors.
One hypothesis on how psychopathy works is that it has to do with a fear deficit. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that children with a particular risk factor for psychopathy don’t register fear as quickly as healthy children.
Comment: Risk factor? This term is usually applied in reference to any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease, illness (mental illness, for example), or injury.
But there is a difference between “mental illness” and psychopathy. Mental illness is what non-psychopaths may or may not have: emotional problems caused by trauma, toxins, abuse, etc. Psychopathy is completely different. Yes, psychopaths may have some apparently useful qualities, but they’re incidental to the underlying psychopathy. Yes, they may be charming and good talkers, but that’s an act. Yes, they may not kill, but they manipulate and harm others in different ways. It’s just the way they are.
And while we are aware of the hesitancy among the psychological community to diagnose young children as psychopaths without resorting to mental gymnastics or looking for ways to “fix” them, considering the above, failing to accurately assert the real nature of psychopathy puts us all at grave risk of continuous exposure to the danger, while our attempts to cure them don’t do much than train them how to be better manipulators.
There was the failed experiment at Oak Ridge, in Canada, where psychopathic offenders were treated with LSD and encouraged to “share their feelings”, engaging in group therapy where they acted as each other’s psychotherapists. The inmates showed remarkable improvement and were released into the world, reformed beings eager to start life anew. At least, that’s what the doctors thought. But the therapy had simply taught them to be better manipulators, and it seemed to have gone to their heads. Their recidivism rates ended up being even higher than ordinary psychopaths…As psychopathy expert and author of the Psychopathy Checklist, Bob Hare, says, psychopaths are born psychopaths. You can’t treat them.
The hypothesis that psychopaths don’t feel or recognize fear dates back to the 1950s, says the study’s primary author Patrick D. Sylvers, of the University of Washington. “What happens is you’re born without that fear, so when your parents try to socialize you, you don’t really respond appropriately because you’re not scared.” By the same token, if you hurt a peer and they give you a fearful look, “most of us would learn from that and back off,” but a child with developing psychopathy would keep tormenting their classmate.
Some recent research has suggested that the problem is attention; that people with psychopathy just don’t pay attention to fearful faces. That would mean you might be able to help troubled children recognize fear by training them to look into people’s eyes, for example. Some studies have suggested that might help.
Comment: Then we would suggest psychologists to watch some National Geographic movies. Looking directly in the eyes never stopped a predator from turning its prey into a dinner.
Fear is the most basic survival instinct. If a child without pronounced neurological disorders like autism is unable to register something so basic to the rest of the human species, perhaps this should make psychologists pause and take notice?
Jon Ronson in his latest book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry says the following:
Bob [Hare] said it’s always a nice surprise when a psychopath speaks openly about their inability to feel emotions. Most of them pretend to feel. When they see us non-psychopaths crying or scared or moved by human suffering, or whatever, they think it’s fascinating. They study us and learn how to ape us, like space creatures trying to blend in, but if we keep our eyes open, we can spot the fakery. (p. 100-101)