Have parents of psychopaths children of psychopaths

Children with psychopathic traits cannot recognize an emotion

Fayaz Kabli / Reuters

This is an excerpt from the book "The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between " from Abigail Marsh:

Overall, all children with psychopathic traits reported that they felt anxiety or fear only very rarely or irregularly. For example, when asked how often they were afraid of something on a scale from 1 to 7, the average response rarely came in above 4. Michael and Amber both circled the "1" ("never").

These answers underscored the stories we heard during our interviews. Michael was constantly hurting himself trying to do stunts - for example, riding his bike off the school roof; Amber's mother said, somewhat perplexed, that Amber liked to run away during preschool times to play alone in the deepest darkness in the creepy basement of her house.

Some of these psychopathic children have reported feeling frightened as they sat on a roller coaster that suddenly came to a standstill or watched a tree fall close to their house during a storm. However, when we asked them what this fear felt like, they did not tell of the same intense physical effects that the healthy children reported; for example tensing the muscles, shaking or changing breathing. Two of the psychopathic children surveyed even said that they had never felt anything like fear in their life. Not a single one of the healthy children said anything like that.

Courtesy of Hachette Book Group, Inc.A 13-year-old girl gave an answer to a survey about feelings of fear that I probably find best of all because it is so meaningful: "(There is nothing to scare me!) #Nothing"

We could not confirm this pattern of behavior for the other emotions we examined - both healthy and psychopathic children had similar responses, responding almost the same. Our study was not the only one to demonstrate this quirk; various other institutions presented results that roughly matched ours and confirmed that the physiological and subjective fear perception of psychopathic children differed drastically from that of healthy ones.

This also underscores the previous findings of a patient who showed neither physiological nor subjective signs of fear of things that most people find scary. Even in attempts to scare her off by showing her through a haunted house or handing a house snake to her hand, she showed no reaction - apart from curiosity.

Similar fearlessness was observed in patients with severe amygdala injuries and animals whose amygdala had been artificially disrupted in experiments. It either appears in connection with psychopathy or is associated with Urbach-Wiethe syndrome. Something like this can end in various types of damage: for example, in the difficulty of recognizing the fear of other people, or of feeling some oneself.

In my opinion, this opens up new perspectives that go beyond the VIM model and other models that try to explain psychopathy: The point is that the amygdala dysfunction not only affects behavior, but that those affected lack the fundamental ability to To sympathize with other people's fear.

It is widely agreed that an intact amygdala is essential for the interaction of physiological subjective processes that are expressed in a sense of fear. It is by far not their only function, but it is their core function. If an outside threat is detected, the sensory cortex transmits detailed information about its origin: is it a snake? Is it a gun Is it the end of a cliff The amygdala - known as the most densely networked structure in the brain - then instructs neurons to respond.

Also read: Psychiatrists Say: This Test Shows Your Real Emotions - How Are You Performing?

The messages are sent to older brain structures below the cerebral cortex that control behavior on a small basis and provide hormonal responses to any type of danger; for example to the hypothalamus or the brain stem. These structures reliably ensure that heartbeat and blood pressure increase, air supply is maximized, adrenaline production is cranked up, blood is pumped into the muscles and away from the core, and more sugar is drawn into the bloodstream for more energy.

The amygdala also carries information about the specific threat to different regions of the cortex that lets you know that there is a problem. It optimizes your upcoming behavior in such a way that injuries are avoided as far as possible. Without an intact amygdala, none of these processes can function well. Different independent regions continue to work, but not to the same coordinated extent, in response to a hazard.

Moreover, researchers believe that the subjectively amorphous feeling of fear stems from an interplay of all of these coordinated brain activities; this is also lost in patients with injuries to the amygdala or in highly psychopathic people. When a psychopathic sexual offender was interviewed by renowned psychopathic researcher Robert Hare, when asked why he couldn't feel compassion for his victims, he replied, “They were scared, right? But, you see, I can't quite understand that. I was also scared, but that wasn't uncomfortable at all. "

I think we all agree that this is not a statement from a person who knows what it really means to be afraid of something.

Also read: 15 signs that your colleague is a psychopath

And if someone really doesn't know what true fear feels like, how can you expect them to know how others are feeling right now? In fact, as our collected data shows, it can't.

Without a normally functioning amygdala, young adults - and adults probably too - do not recognize fear as such; they cannot understand how the affected person feels. As a result, they don't understand what's wrong with making someone feel that way either.

Some recent studies that I've done with my student Elise Cardinale show that, unlike healthy people, people with psychopathic traits assume that it's okay to talk to people with words like "I could hurt you very easily" or "You should." rather take good care of yourself ”to instill fear. In a study by the fMRI, we proved that these dissenting judgments corresponded to those of people with reduced amygdala activity.

When Amber threatened her parents with arson and violence, when Dylan pointed a knife at his mother, when Brianna swore to her schoolmates that she would be made into a pulp, they did so because they had learned that threatening violence is an appropriate tool to get what they wanted. They could not judge what emotional suffering they were causing.

Dysfunctions in the amygdala and in the interplay of the brain regions to which it is networked have robbed children of an essential form of empathy: the understanding of an experience of fear. They may have difficulty recognizing the emotion they are seeing as "fear," and in all likelihood they will not be able to describe exactly how it feels or what is wrong with causing it.

Excerpt, adapted from "The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between" by Abigail Marsh. Copyright © 2017. Available from Basic Books, Perseus Books, a division of PBG Publishing, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Abigail Marsh is a professor of neurology and psychology at Georgetown. She heads the award-winning Social and Emotional Neurology Laboratory. She lives in Washington, D.C.