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As a society we are pretty obsessed with crime. We watch fictional crime shows, read mystery novels, and take a certain pleasure in dissecting the minds of those who have broken the law. And on the long list of what makes criminals different from the average person is psychopathy—a personality disorder that is present in about one-fourth of adult prison inmates. Researchers have been studying this disorder for years and now; a new study shows that psychopathy can be linked to certain subregions of the brain associated with decision making, planning, and learning—which could mean big things for understanding just what makes criminals, well, criminals.
Getting to know psychopathy and the way we think.
For those of you that don't spend your Saturdays watching CSI (no judgment either way), you might be wondering what psychopathy actually means. Well, according to researchers it's a "personality disorder characterized by callous lack of empathy, impulsive antisocial behavior, and criminal recidivism." Previous research on the brain has been able to link abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex to psychopathy, but these researchers take it a step further by identifying relationships between subregions of the prefrontal cortex and specific traits displayed by people with psychopathy.
Comparing the criminal brain to the average brain.
Getting specific about the subregions of the brain involved in psychopathy is important because they mediate specific factors like behavioral control, emotion, social cognition, and decision making. For example, the medial orbitofrontal cortex is thought to be heavily involved with "values of potential decision outcomes and adjusting those values based on learnings and experiences of reward or punishment." So basically, it controls the way we make smart decisions as we go through life, which is obviously pretty crucial when it comes to breaking the law or not.
This new knowledge could provide valuable insight into the way criminals think and make decisions, which may inform the way we prevent and handle crime. And while we still have a lot to learn about the connection between psychopathy and the brain, this gives us valuable insight into mental health and how we can better treat people with personality disorders by getting more specific when it comes to the brain.