A new study may explain why some psychopaths are ‘successful’

Psychopathy is widely recognized as a risk factor for violent behavior, but many psychopathic individuals refrain from antisocial or criminal acts. Understanding what leads these psychopaths to be "successful" has been a mystery. A new study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University sheds light on the mechanisms underlying the formation of this "successful" phenotype. "Psychopathic individuals are very prone to engaging in antisocial behaviors but what our findings suggest is that some may actually be better able to inhibit these impulses than others," said lead author Emily Lasko, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. "Although we don't know exactly what precipitates this increase in conscientious impulse control over time, we do know that this does occur for individuals high in certain psychopathy traits who have been relatively more 'successful' than...

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Neurological basis for lack of empathy in psychopaths

When individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and be connected to other important regions involved in affective processing and decision-making, reports a study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow affect, glibness, manipulation and callousness. Previous research indicates that the rate of psychopathy in prisons is around 23%, greater than the average population which is around 1%. To better understand the neurological basis of empathy dysfunction in psychopaths, neuroscientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on the brains of 121 inmates of a medium-security prison in the USA. Participants were shown visual scenarios illustrating physical pain, such as a finger caught between a door, or a toe caught under...

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John Rao: Pandemic reaction is a ‘horrifying illustration’ of the ‘diabolical disorientation’ accompanying ravages of modernity

The respected Catholic historian John Rao has written the following incisive reflection on the coronavirus pandemic which places much of the current disturbing situation in context. For many years, Dr. Rao, who is associate professor of history at St. John's University in New York City, has run the Roman Forum which was founded in 1968 by Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand as a means of defending Catholic doctrine and culture following internal Church disputes over Humanae vitae. These lectures, which now take place in Gardone, Italy, and New York City, have become increasingly popular. The Forum is now in its 28th year. ...

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SOTT FOCUS: Ethics and Fundamental Values in Times of Corona

When it comes to the so-called Corona crisis, everyone seems to be talking about numbers. Isn't the virus not much worse than the flu? If so, why didn't we have a lockdown during the flu season? And even if Covid-19 is worse - aren't the lockdown measures actually killing more people than the virus itself? While these are valid and important arguments, they still operate on a simplistic utilitarian understanding of ethics: it's all about calculating the best outcome, counting the dead, maximizing humanity's well-being by weighing one thing (the virus) against another (the measures). The dispute is just about the variables. But I think most of us who are critical of the current madness feel it in our bones that there is something deeply wrong here, and it has little to do with the numbers. Suppose that this virus...

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Notions of freedom

We are living in strange times indeed, this crisis raises many questions about the nature of freedom and what our expectations are, or should be. Everyone has their own notions about what freedom means and how far that should extend to oneself and indeed, to everyone else. I want to start with a look at where we've come from before I look at where we are now, as I feel it gives a better understanding of our definitions of freedom and a better context for viewing where we are, at this moment in time. Society probably started with the tribe - maybe not even having a leader if the numbers were small enough, say 10 people. Tribes of scores or more obviously became hard to manage and so, undoubtedly, this led to the idea of a leader or a group...

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SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: Sufism: An Introduction To Its Meaning And Purpose

Over the past few decades a large amount of the Western public's attention has been drawn to Islam in the form of fundamentalist belief and practice. This movement, and its effects on the Muslim community and Middle Eastern societies in particular, has proved nothing short of disastrous for many. But what is largely unknown to most is the inner tradition, wisdom and philosophy known as Sufism; what some consider to be the 'mystical' dimension of Islam. Through the poems of Rumi, the writings of Ibn Arabi, and analysis by academics like Prof. William C. Chittick we come to learn that Sufism - as it was inspired and conceived - laid out a cosmology for individuals that sought to help individuals grow 'spirituality' through the rigorous use of their minds. This week on MindMatters we discuss several ideas central to Sufism:...

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Defining emotions: The importance of addressing our feelings with clarity

The language we use to describe the the way we feel can shape our emotions and mental well-being. With an uncertain timeline for shelter-in-place and higher baseline anxiety levels across populations, it's become harder than ever to find a straightforward answer to the simple question: "how are you?" While many of us tend to respond with an all-encompassing, "Things are crazy right now," or "I'm doing okay," psychologists recommend being as honest as possible — at least for our own sake if not for others'. According to Mark Miller — a Mindful USC coordinator, clinical psychologist and avid meditator of 25 years — accurately identifying our emotions can help us understand what we're experiencing. "When we're able to label and know what we're experiencing, then we objectify the experience a little bit," said Miller. "It's still our experience, right? We're...

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Stoicism in times of pandemic: Some guidance from Marcus Aurelius

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the last famous Stoic philosopher of antiquity. During the last 14 years of his life he faced one of the worst plagues in European history. The Antonine Plague, named after him, was probably caused by a strain of the smallpox virus. It's estimated to have killed up to 5 million people, possibly including Marcus himself. From AD166 to around AD180, repeated outbreaks occurred throughout the known world. Roman historians describe the legions being devastated, and entire towns and villages being depopulated and going to ruin. Rome itself was particularly badly affected, carts leaving the city each day piled high with dead bodies. In the middle of this plague, Marcus wrote a book, known as the Meditations, which records the moral and psychological advice he gave himself at this time. He frequently applies Stoic...

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New study finds sexist beliefs are associated with narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism

The dark triad is a combination of three negative personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. It is more common for this set of traits to be found among men, and it can be spotted through characteristics like selfishness, impulsivity, and opportunism. Those who gain success at the workplace without regard to getting along with others are likely to score high on measures of the dark triad. How does one develop these traits? Is it due to genetics or does society play a role in forming individuals with these undesirable personality characteristics? A study published in Personality and Individual Differences attributes it to sexism. Researchers from the University of Florida suggest that the dark triad might be misproduced by society's promotion and maintenance of men's dominant social position over women. To test this, Melissa Gluck and her colleagues set out to...

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‘Successful’ psychopaths learn crucial skills that let them walk among us

They walk among us — psychopaths. These individuals possess a unique constellation of traits: callousness to others' suffering, a grandiose sense of self-worth, and a manipulative approach to dealing with others. Typically, such antisocial tendencies result in incarceration and other forms of exclusion from society. Yet some psychopathic individuals are able to suppress their psychopathic impulses enough to remain members of society. Many even rise to the upper ranks of business, law, and government. Yet, what allows some psychopathic individuals to wind up as 'successful' versus those who find themselves incarcerated for their harmful and impulsive behavior? In a recently-published article in the journal Personality Disorders, Emily Lasko, M.S., and I tested whether a very specific psychological process, impulse control, contributed to the development of 'successful' psychopathy. We analyzed data from the Pathways to Desistance study, which followed over 1,000...

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