Science of the Spirit

Eye 1

Brain scans can identify psychopaths even in childhood because they have no empathy when seeing people in pain

Some psychopaths display disturbing symptoms from a young age, such the main protagonist in Lionel Shriver's book We Need to Talk about Kevin.
Brain scans can be used to identify children who may be potential psychopaths, new research has shown.

Scientists have found that certain areas of a psychopath's brain showed a reduced activity in response to images of others in pain.

The regions affected are those known to play a role in empathy, the ability to relate to other people's feelings.

Scientists say the patterns could act as a marker to single out children at a risk of becoming adult psychopaths.

A total of 55 boys aged 10 to 16 were assessed in the study.

Of these, 37 met the criteria for children with 'conduct problems' (CP) according to questionnaire answers provided by parents and teachers.

CP children display a plethora of antisocial traits including aggression and dishonesty.

Like the central character in Lionel Shriver's novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, they can be callous and cruel.

Youngsters with conduct problems are not likely to follow in Kevin's footsteps and commit a school massacre, but the research findings suggest at least some could grow up to be psychopaths.

Comment: Psychopathy is genetic, therefore one cannot "grow up to be a psychopath". This point should be emphasized, especially when it comes to children' diagnosis and misguided attempts to "cure" psychopathy. It's important to note, that psychopathy can be both categorical and dimensional. That is, there are types and gradations of psychopaths. Martha Stout makes this pretty clear in The Sociopath Next Door. Some of them can be very covert, some can be "raging" mad dog types, others can be pitiful/poor me game players, etc.

Or, there can be individuals who are not psychopaths who react psychopathically when triggered because that is the kind of programming they have from their upbringing and exposure to pathological behavior. In that case, it is not really a psychopath, but rather a sociopath/ a "situational psychopath" who can also be described as a secondary psychopath.

Read the following books to learn more on the topic:

Political Ponerology - A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes by Andrzej M. Lobaczewski.
The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, M.D.
Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak, Ph.D., and psychopathy expert Dr Robert D. Hare.

'Our findings indicate that children with conduct problems have an atypical brain response to seeing other people in pain,' psychologist Professor Essi Viding from University College London said.

'It is important to view these findings as an indicator of early vulnerability, rather than biological destiny.

Persistent pain after stressful events may have a neurobiological basis

© UNC School of Medicine
This is the study's senior author, Samuel McLean, M.D., M.P.H., University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
A new study led by University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers is the first to identify a genetic risk factor for persistent pain after traumatic events such as motor vehicle collision and sexual assault.

In addition, the study contributes further evidence that persistent pain after stressful events, including motor vehicle collisions and sexual assaults, has a specific biological basis. A manuscript of the study was published online ahead of print by the journal Pain on April 29.

"Our study findings indicate that mechanisms influencing chronic pain development may be related to the stress response, rather than any specific injury caused by the traumatic event," said Samuel McLean, MD, MPH, senior author of the study and assistant professor of anesthesiology. "In other words, our results suggest that in some individuals something goes wrong with the body's 'fight or flight' response or the body's recovery from this response, and persistent pain results."

The study assessed the role of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, a physiologic system of central importance to the body's response to stressful events. The study evaluated whether the HPA axis influences musculoskeletal pain severity six weeks after motor vehicle collision (MVC) and sexual assault. Its findings revealed that variation in the gene encoding for the protein FKBP5, which plays an important role in regulating the HPA axis response to stress, was associated with a 20 percent higher risk of moderate to severe neck pain six weeks after a motor vehicle collision, as well as a greater extent of body pain. The same variant also predicted increased pain six weeks after sexual assault.

Me, Me, Me: People who overuse the first-person singular are more depressed

© Dreamstime
"Me, Myself, and I" words linked to depression.
Researchers in Germany have found that people who frequently use first-person singular words like "I," "me," and "myself," are more likely to be depressed and have more interpersonal problems than people who often say "we" and "us."

In the study, 103 women and 15 men completed 60- to 90-minute psychotherapeutic interviews about their relationships, their past, and their self-perception. (99 of the subjects were patients at a psychotherapy clinic who had problems ranging from eating disorders to anxiety.) They also filled out questionnaires about depression and their interpersonal behavior.

Then, researchers led by Johannes Zimmerman of Germany's University of Kassel counted the number of first-person singular (I, me) and first-person plural (we, us) pronouns used in each interview. Subjects who said more first-personal singular words scored higher on measures of depression. They also were more likely to show problematic interpersonal behaviors such as attention seeking, inappropriate self-disclosure, and an inability to spend time alone.

Those resistant to 'love hormone' may also be easier to hypnotize

Susceptibility to hypnotism is linked to a gene variant known to affect social bonding.
People with genes that make it tough for them to engage socially with others seem to be better than average at hypnotizing themselves. A study published today in Psychoneuroendocrinology1 concludes that such individuals are particularly good at becoming absorbed in their own internal world, and might also be more susceptible to other distortions of reality.

Psychologist Richard Bryant of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and his colleagues tested the hypnotizability of volunteers with different forms of the receptor for oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust and social bonding. (Oxytocin's association with emotional attachment also earned it the nickname of 'love hormone'.) Those with gene variants linked to social detachment and autism were found to be most susceptible to hypnosis.

Hypnosis has intrigued scientists since the nineteenth-century physician James Braid used it to alleviate pain in a variety of medical conditions, but it has never been fully understood. Hypnotized people can undergo a range of unusual experiences, including amnesia, anaesthesia and the loss of the ability to move their limbs. But some individuals are more affected by hypnosis than others - and no one knows why.

Preying on the weak: Children who use self-deprecating humour among their peers are more likely to be bullied

© Unknown
Children bullied at school are more likely to make jokes at their own expense
A study from the University of Keele has examined links between bullying and different styles of playground humour.

It found that some positive types of humour were used by children to raise their status and show social skills.

But researchers found children who were victims of bullying were more likely to make "self-defeating" jokes at their own expense or about their appearance.

The boundaries between bullying and teasing and "just joking" have always been blurred, but this study of more than 1,200 children aged 11 to 13, has examined how different forms of humour are associated with bullying and aggression.

'Class clown'

Psychologist Dr Claire Fox says that humour can be deployed positively as a weapon to prevent bullying.

Wrong reality: How our brains warp the world

© Youtube
Photographs of celebrities side-by-side appear to morph when one member of a pair has a face that is structured very differently from the other.
Tom Cruise, Keira Knightly, Angelina Jolie: When viewed one at a time on a computer screen, photographs of gorgeous celebrities highlight pleasing features on generally symmetrical faces.

 But if you look at the same images side-by-side while focusing on a cross between them, something bizarre happens. The faces begin to morph, becoming bulbous and grotesque, especially when one member of a pair has a face that is structured very differently from the other.

The optical illusion, as described in a 2011 research paper and illustrated in a disturbing YouTube video, is just one example of how our senses often distort reality -- a concept illustrated in a recent Dove ad that showed how other people tend to see us as more beautiful than we see ourselves. In the video, an FBI forensic artist drew women as they described their own faces and as others described them.

Through studies of illusions like these, along with research on vision, brain science and memory, researchers are beginning to understand the limits of our ability to interpret the endless reams of input that we absorb all day long. We often see things that aren't there and don't see things that are.
Magic Wand

Encountering connections may make life feel more meaningful

Experiencing connections, regularities, and coherence in their environment may lead people to feel a greater sense of meaning in life, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, conducted by graduate student Samantha Heintzelman of the University of Missouri, along with advisor Laura King and fellow graduate student Jason Trent, suggests that meaning in life has an important adaptive function, connecting people to the world that surrounds them and, thereby, boosting their chances of survival.

"Meaning in life tells the individual when the world is making sense," say Heintzelman and colleagues.

The research may help to explain previous findings that show that people who say that they have highly meaningful lives seem to be better off in many ways - reporting higher quality of life, better health, and fewer psychological disorders, among other outcomes.
Heart - Black

Those who choose utilitarian ethics have empathy deficit, new study finds

Those who would sacrifice one person to save five others score low on one particular measure of empathy, but not other measures, according to research published this month in the scientific journal PLoS One.

The study of 2748 people by Ezequiel Gleichgerrcht of the Institute of Cognitive Neurology in Argentina and Liane Young of Boston College found individuals who experienced low levels of compassion and concern for other people were more likely to embrace utilitarian ethics, which advocates the greatest good for the greatest number - even if that means harming a minority in the process.

"Utilitarian moral judgment in the current study was specifically associated with reduced empathy and not with any of the demographic or cultural variables tested," they wrote in the study. "Moreover, utilitarian moral judgment was determined uniquely by levels of empathic concern, independent of other aspects of empathic responding including personal distress and perspective taking."

Decoding 'noisy' language in daily life: Study indicates how people make sense of confusing statements

© Christine Daniloff/MIT
Suppose you hear someone say, "The man gave the ice cream the child." Does that sentence seem plausible? Or do you assume it is missing a word? Such as: "The man gave the ice cream to the child."

A new study by MIT researchers indicates that when we process language, we often make these kinds of mental edits. Moreover, it suggests that we seem to use specific strategies for making sense of confusing information - the "noise" interfering with the signal conveyed in language, as researchers think of it.

"Even at the sentence level of language, there is a potential loss of information over a noisy channel," says Edward Gibson, a professor in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) and Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.

Gibson and two co-authors detail the strategies at work in a new paper, "Rational integration of noisy evidence and prior semantic expectations in sentence interpretation," published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Magic Wand

Do you obsess over your appearance? Your brain might be wired abnormally

Body dysmorphic disorder is a disabling but often misunderstood psychiatric condition in which people perceive themselves to be disfigured and ugly, even though they look normal to others. New research at UCLA shows that these individuals have abnormalities in the underlying connections in their brains.

Dr. Jamie Feusner, the study's senior author and a UCLA associate professor of psychiatry, and his colleagues report that individuals with BDD have, in essence, global "bad wiring" in their brains - that is, there are abnormal network-wiring patterns across the brain as a whole.

And in line with earlier UCLA research showing that people with BDD process visual information abnormally, the study discovered abnormal connections between regions of the brain involved in visual and emotional processing.

The findings, published in the May edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, suggest that these patterns in the brain may relate to impaired information processing.

"We found a strong correlation between low efficiency of connections across the whole brain and the severity of BDD," Feusner said. "The less efficient patients' brain connections, the worse the symptoms, particularly for compulsive behaviors, such as checking mirrors."