Awareness Education

Who is a psychopath and why should we magnify on the concept of psychopathy?

What notions do we have of a psychopath? They live in abandoned houses, living in a place that is dark, lonely and eerie. This is the most common stereotype regarding psychopaths that they have a dark personality, they look creepy or you can easily spot them. Now think of all those movies and series that portrayed a psychopath, how that person looked? What was his personality like? How did that person become like that? Most importantly, how he managed to do all that what he did. These are few questions that can tell us about a psychopath and what made him like that.  

According to live science, there are 1% psychopaths in the total population.  Psychopathy was first identified in 19th century when terms like “manie sans delire (insanity without delirium), moral insanity or moral weakness” were used to describe Psychopathy (Patrick and Drislane, 2015). This understanding gave an incomplete explanation as it talked about one aspect of psychopathy. American Psychological Association describes psychopathy as a synonym for antisocial personality disorder and a psychopath is a former name for an individual with antisocial personality disorder. This explanation again makes us question that what is an antisocial personality?  It can be a tricky task in understanding psychopath and process the things that they do. The fact that there have been people who were known globally for being a psychopath and their crimes were daunting. India too saw some terrifying psychopaths like Raman Raghav, M Jaishankar, Thug Behram, and Umesh Reddy and so on, they were murderers and rapists.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder. If we describe a psychopath, it can be said that they are charming, likeable, spontaneous, manipulative, social predators, using people to achieve their ways, does not worry much, they will do anything to please them and has their way of using people to achieve what they want. They are also remorseless, lacking feelings for others and are intimidating. At firs,t it might appear that these aspects are present in each and everyone, but the degree of these aspects is what that separates normal people from psychopaths. Just like intelligence, extroversion, introversion spectrums, psychopathy is also a spectrum but again the degree to which it is present in an individual differentiates it. The life experiences and ways in which they perceive morals and values are also very different. Their consciousness is severely restricted; they might claim that they have understood the things verbally but the way in which they will process it will be completely different. They claim that they have higher values and standards but those values and standards have no connection with their behavior. Even though they have a restricted development in this aspect, their intellectual development is generally normal. It is observed that they have their ways of communicating with people, a way which makes them noticeable and make them appear as charming. For some psychopaths, it is a very easy task to make new friends. They seem to have a good insight of the needs and weaknesses of other people; this makes it easier for them to exploit them. Psychopaths are liars; they lie again and again, make amends and then continue with their behavior. They are irresponsible and have impulsive behaviors. They have a high thrill seeking tendency and they break laws and rules in order to gain a level of satisfaction. They need immediate gratification of need; it can be very difficult for them to control their urges. Psychopaths learn to take rather than to earn what they wanted. Researchers have found that some psychopaths have high rate of alcohol abuse and dependence on other substances.

These were the traits that we just read, now what can be the factor behind being a psychopath? This question has no straight answer as human behavior in itself is complex and understanding and assigning factors to a psychopathic behavior is a very complex task.

Some researchers have found that some important features of psychopathy are considered as heritable (Blonigen 2003, Hare 2012, Waldman and Rhee 2006). Psychopaths are callous, exploitive, show low anxiety traits and have a poor conditioning to fear. This is because of the deficits in the amygdala.  Lykee in 1957 did a classic research, which showed that psychopaths fail to acquire conditioned reactions that are essential for avoidance of punishment. Another research by Lykee showed that psychopaths are deficient in the subjective and some physiological components of fear. They don’t feel scared before doing things that can get them in trouble or harm the other person. Psychopaths have emotional deficits. They develop their own way of reacting to stress. It is also common that, they in general, don’t experience stress which keeps them unaware of how difficult it is. They have low empathy and show less or no physiological reaction to stress. Since, they themselves don’t feel stressed or feel pain, for them, the idea of others experiencing pain can be pleasing. This factor can be associated with why they have decreased moral reasoning. Factors such as early parental loss, parental rejection and inconsistency in parenting can lead to an increase in the tendencies. The tendency of this behavior starts developing for childhood. Some children have a lot of difficulty in regulating their emotional reactivity, including aggression and antisocial behaviors when it comes to dealing with a stressful situation. Such children have an increased risk of developing unhealthy behaviors. There can be various categories and differentiations for psychopaths across different cultures as the socialization needs change. For instance, psychopaths in China may be much less likely to engage in aggressive violent behavior as compared to other western countries (Cooke, 1996); in cultures, factors such as competitiveness, self confidence and independence. Individualist cultures are more likely to promote some characteristics and if they are taken to an extreme level then they can turn into psychopathy. These can be few additional factors but it depends on the person that what aspect holds the most value in his life and also influences it.

It is a personality disorder that can not only harm the life of an individual but also of other people as well. It is important to have knowledge about behaviors they show and their understanding. People with psychopathy would even understand or agree to the fact that they are causing trouble to others, that they can be taken care of. It is important to understand these aspects from a psychological perspective so that other cultural and social interpretations of the behaviour. It also important to know and understand that, people with such conditions would need an environment where they can find space to develop certain changes. It can be easy for people to not accept them but is just not the solution. We need to gain perspectives that can develop a sense of responsibility for people with such conditions.

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