The brains of psychopathic criminals who have been convicted of murder, rape, and other violent crimes have clear evidence for structural abnormalities that distinguish them from other people, according to British scientific research. The study suggests that psychopathy is ultimately a distinct developmental disorder of the brain.

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry of the King’s College London, led by Nigel Blackwood, said that the potential use of brain imaging techniques to identify and diagnose the specific violent psychopaths is important from the therapeutic point of view since cognitive-behavioral therapy is often effective in this case.

The new research has shown that psychopaths who are characterized by a lack of empathy for other people have less gray matter in those parts of the brain that are important for understanding the feelings and intentions of others.

The findings, in addition to their importance for distinguishing mentally ill people from non-psychopaths, are also significant for the judicial system.

The British researchers used functional MRI to visualize the brains of 44 violent individuals convicted in Britain for various crimes and 22 healthy people for comparison. 17 of 44 were diagnosed with psychopathy with antisocial personality disorder and 27 were not found to be psychopaths but were suffering from an antisocial personality disorder.

The comparative study showed that psychopaths had significantly smaller gray matter volume in the anterior prefrontal cortex and temporal regions in relation to non-psychopaths and healthy people who hadn’t committed crimes.

It’s been long known that in healthy people, damage in these areas of the brain (due to trauma, an illness, etc.) is associated with the impairment of emotional processing, as well as a lack of fear, guilt, and anxiety.

The most violent crimes, according to the scientists, are performed by a small group of people categorized as either “hothead” (those with an antisocial personality disorder but not psychopathy) or as “unemotional” with cold heart (psychopaths).

The psychopathic criminals, according to Blackwood, begin to manifest their criminal behavior earlier, conduct a broader range of crimes, and respond worse to treatment programs compared with the first category of antisocial non-psychopaths.

Anna LeMind, B.A.

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