Psychopaths?who have no ability to comprehend the feelings of others and therefore commit the most horrendous crimes?are made, not born. But what makes them the way they are? And how can we spot them before they act?
Caroline Ryan writes in BBC News Online that scientists have found that telling a lie causes increased brain activity, meaning it’s easier to tell the truth. But psychopaths’ brains don’t increase their activity in response to lying because they find it as easy to lie as to tell the truth.
Researcher Sean Spence says, “When we’re lying, there is a moral part of us that doesn’t wish to manipulate others or take advantage of them. In psychopaths, there is no activity in that area of the brain, and deception is OK to them. They don’t have any qualms about doing it.”
Psychopaths are created around the age of 3 or 4, the age when children learn to lie. It’s also the age when we develop the ability to empathize with others. But the brains of children who are mistreated by adults don’t always develop the ability to understand other people’s feelings and also don’t learn to tell the difference between lying and telling the truth.
Psychiatrists think that psychopaths are people who had no good relationships with adults when they were children. Spence says, “Even if people have had an experience such as sexual abuse, if they have had at least one good relationship with an adult figure, they don’t become delinquent.”
Diet plays a role as well. Psychologist Adrian Raine gave a group of three-year-olds from Mauritius an enriched diet, exercise and the mental stimulation of being read to and involved in conversation. By the age of 11, these kids showed increased activity on brain scan readings, and by 23, they were 64% less likely to have criminal records. He says, “This is not a silver bullet to solving crime and violence, but I think it’s certainly one of the ingredients?the seeds of crime are sown early in life.” He also thinks alcohol and drug abuse may damage the brain and cause psychopathic behavior.
But what still puzzles scientists is why people who have never shown signs of being psychopaths can sometimes act like them. Raine says, “In Rwanda, around 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Most people doing the killing had been ‘normal’ before?it was something in their environment that changed.”
The ancient Egyptians tried to build their graves in a way that would keep marauders from looting them. But they built one grave in order to keep the evil inside from ever getting out. Learn all about it on this week’s Dreamland!
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