What is a psychopath?

What sort of traits do they have and what's happening in the brain?
10 January 2017



Rachel asks: What constitutes a psychopath?


Chris Smith put Rachel's question to Cambridge University's Kyle Treiber...

Kyle - This is a good question. Psychopathy is a term that’s got a lot of attention right now in criminology, but it’s still a very nebulous concept. The term itself “psychopathy” it’s a disease of the mind. It’s very broad but generally when we’re talking about a psychopath, we’re talking about people who have particular what we call psychopathic traits, and these tend to be things like being callous, unemotional, self-aggrandisement.

They’re typically associated, I think, most predominantly with emotional deficits and these may be deficits, in some cases, people's ability to experience emotions. But also, there’s a lot of evidence that there may be ability to experience emotions but then not to use that information later on when people are making decisions about behaviour and, of course, that can lead to a lot of challenges in actual decision making. And one of the things that’s really useful from this area of research is that is has brought attention to the emotions and the role of emotions in criminal decision making.


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