Scans Reveal Differences in Psychopathic Brains

Findings could explain their anti-social tendencies, researchers say

TUESDAY, Nov. 29, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Differences seen in the structure and function of psychopaths' brains could help explain their often callous and impulsive anti-social behavior, U.S. researchers report.

They compared brain scans of 20 prisoners diagnosed as psychopaths and 20 prisoners who weren't psychopaths.

The scans revealed that psychopaths have fewer connections between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in feelings such as empathy and guilt, and the amygdala, which mediates fear and anxiety.

"This is the first study to show both structural and functional differences in the brains of people diagnosed with psychopathy," Michael Koenigs, an assistant professor of psychiatry in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a university news release. "Those two structures in the brain, which are believed to regulate emotion and social behavior, seem to not be communicating as they should."

The study was led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience.

"The combination of structural and functional abnormalities provides compelling evidence that the dysfunction observed in this crucial social-emotional circuitry is a stable characteristic of our psychopathic offenders," Joseph Newman, a psychology professor at UW-Madison, said. "I am optimistic that our ongoing collaborative work will shed more light on the source of this dysfunction and strategies for treating the problem."

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SOURCE: University of Wisconsin-Madison, news release, Nov. 22, 2011
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