People with psychopathy have a brain that is connected so that they overestimate immediate rewards and overlook future consequences of potentially dangerous or immoral acts.

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This emerges in a brand new study from researchers at the renowned Harvard University according to Science Daily.  

What's the driving force behind the psychopath's cruelty?

Professor Josh Buckholtz has been involved in the study which has involved almost 50 people. More specifically, the subjects were incarcerated in American prisons.

For a number of years, we have focused on the idea that psychopaths are people who do not have emotions and that is why they do all the terrible things, says Buckholtz.

But what we have been concerned with in meeting the psychopaths is not what feelings they have and do not have, but what choices they make. Psychopaths account for an incredible amount of crime, and this crime is both devastating to the victims and imposes astronomical costs on society as a whole.   

He goes on to say:

And although psychopaths are often portrayed as cold-blooded, almost like predators, we have shown that their emotional shortcomings are not necessarily the primary "driver" behind their poor choices.


Poor ability to assess future consequences

An important finding was that the subjects who scored high on psychopathic traits showed greater activity in a brain area called the ventral striatum, which is involved in our assessment of rewards.

The more psychopathic a person is, the stronger the response in the striatal brain area, Buckholtz says.

This suggests that it is the way they assess rewards that is dysregulated - that way they may overestimate the importance of immediate rewards. 

In the study, they also looked at connections between the ventral striatum and other areas of the brain that are known to be important in relation to decision making; specifically areas in the prefrontal cortex that are known to regulate the responses from the striatum.

We found that these connections were far weaker in people with psychopathy, says Buckholtz.

This lack of connection is believed to be able to explain why psychopaths do not consider future consequences of their actions, according to Science Daily.


Brain architecture was related to the number of criminal acts 

Buckholtz explains:

We need the prefrontal cortex to judge how an action will affect us in the future - "if I do this, terrible things will happen." We think that anyone would make bad choices, given that these connections in the brain were ruined, because they would not have information that could otherwise have guided them to a more functional way of making decisions.

This brain connection was very important as an explanation for psychopathic behavior, according to the study. The researchers could simply predict how many times the inmates had been imprisoned just by looking at how weak the connection was between the striatum and the prefrontal cortex.

In other words: The weaker the connection, the more psychopathic traits.

Buckholtz says that with their studies they want to contribute to psychopaths not being regarded as bloodthirsty monsters, but as people with a brain that is screwed together differently.

Psychopaths are not inhuman, says Buckholtz. They are just like you would expect them to be, due to this dysfunction in the brain.