Brain difference in psychopaths identified

Aug 04, 2009
Modern human brain
Modern human brain. Credit: Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison Brain Collection.

Professor Declan Murphy and colleagues Dr Michael Craig and Dr Marco Catani from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London have found differences in the brain which may provide a biological explanation for psychopathy. The results of their study are outlined in the paper 'Altered connections on the road to psychopathy', published in Molecular Psychiatry.

The research investigated the brain biology of psychopaths with convictions that included attempted murder, manslaughter, multiple rape with strangulation and false imprisonment. Using a powerful imaging technique (DT-MRI) the researchers have highlighted biological differences in the brain which may underpin these types of behaviour and provide a more comprehensive understanding of criminal psychopathy.

Dr Michael Craig said: 'If replicated by larger studies the significance of these findings cannot be underestimated. The suggestion of a clear structural deficit in the brains of psychopaths has profound implications for clinicians, research scientists and the criminal justice system.'

While psychopathy is strongly associated with serious criminal behaviour (eg rape and murder) and repeat offending, the biological basis of psychopathy remains poorly understood. Also some investigators stress mainly social reasons to explain antisocial behaviours. To date, nobody has investigated the 'connectivity' between the specific brain regions implicated in psychopathy.

Earlier studies had suggested that dysfunction of specific brain regions might underpin psychopathy. Such areas of the brain were identified as the amygdale, ie the area associated with emotions, fear and aggression, and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the region which deals with decision making. There is a white matter tract that connects the amygdala and OFC, which is called the uncinate fasciculus (UF). However, nobody had ever studied the UF in psychopaths. The team from King's used an imaging method called in vivo diffusion tensor (DT-MRI) tractography to analyse the UF in psychopaths.

They found a significant reduction in the integrity of the small particles that make up the structure of the UF of psychopaths, compared to control groups of people with the same age and IQ. Also, the degree of abnormality was significantly related to the degree of psychopathy. These results suggest that psychopaths have biological differences in the brain which may help to explain their offending behaviours.

Dr Craig added: 'This study is part of an ongoing programme of research into the biological basis of criminal psychopathy. It highlights that exciting developments in brain imaging such as DT-MRI now offer neuroscientists the potential to move towards a more coherent understanding of the possible networks that underlie psychopathy, and potentially towards treatments for this mental disorder.'

Source: King's College London (news : web)

Explore further: Inadequate mental health care for blacks with depression and diabetes, high blood pressure

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How do filicide offenders differ from other murderers?

May 29, 2009

People who commit filicide, the killing of their own child, are no more psychotically disordered than other homicide offenders. Research published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry has shown that prevention of fil ...

Boys have biological reason to be troublesome

Sep 25, 2007

A team of researchers working with UQ's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) has discovered more compelling evidence that attention-deficit disorder in young boys is substantially attributable to brain development.

Recommended for you

What sign language teaches us about the brain

21 hours ago

The world's leading humanoid robot, ASIMO, has recently learnt sign language. The news of this breakthrough came just as I completed Level 1 of British Sign Language (I dare say it took me longer to master signing ...

Why do men prefer nice women?

22 hours ago

People's emotional reactions and desires in initial romantic encounters determine the fate of a potential relationship. Responsiveness may be one of those initial "sparks" necessary to fuel sexual desire and land a second ...

Study reveals how to be socially successful

22 hours ago

Romantic, personal and professional relationships are fraught with danger, but a University of Queensland researcher has found the secret to interacting successfully with others in such settings.

User comments : 27

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
2 / 5 (4) Aug 04, 2009
NONSENSE. please stop with the phrenology.
QubitTamer
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 04, 2009
Phrenology was the study of skull bumps and external skull diameter / size measurements and then attempted to shoehorn criminals into some kind of close-set eyes along with medial ridge bump morphologies... This is totally different... plus it will greatly aid the understanding and treatment of folks with traumatic brain injuries who suffer all kinds of personality changes and life disruptions after their injury...
defunctdiety
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
Just so long as they don't start using this crap for a defense, trying to spin it as a disease or some bullshit.

"He's not responsible for his actions, your honor. His uncinate fasciculus has a deficient matter tract."
MorganW
4.7 / 5 (3) Aug 04, 2009
Do ALL psychopaths engage in gruesome criminal behavior? If not, what's the medical difference between those that apparently care enough about their freedom to obey the law (or not get caught) and those that don't?
GaryB
3.6 / 5 (5) Aug 04, 2009
Do ALL psychopaths engage in gruesome criminal behavior? If not, what's the medical difference between those that apparently care enough about their freedom to obey the law (or not get caught) and those that don't?


I'd be interested to know, for example, how many "tough" CEOs, wall street traders etc have this trait.

NonRational
3 / 5 (4) Aug 04, 2009
The implications of these findings are highly significant, which is why plenty of people are quick to defend their own status in a power hierarchy by approaching new ideas with cynicism and speculation. It makes you look smart. For what I can see, there is little anybody can add to this without doing more research. So keep up the irrelevant, sensationalist comments, it's a good laugh.

It's even pathologic!
GaryB
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2009
Just so long as they don't start using this crap for a defense, trying to spin it as a disease or some bullshit.

"He's not responsible for his actions, your honor. His uncinate fasciculus has a deficient matter tract."


It's not BS, we are much more creatures of our underlying desires than we dare admit. Your innate drives, good and bad, almost always determine who you will be. For sociopaths who have no empathy, they'll do terrible things ... since they don't have any empathy.

I'm fine with such defenses too, as long as they go with the consequences: "Therefor, we must lock you up until such time as a cure/fix is found or until your death".
NonRational
3 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2009
Do ALL psychopaths engage in gruesome criminal behavior? If not, what's the medical difference between those that apparently care enough about their freedom to obey the law (or not get caught) and those that don't?


"The psychopath is defined by an uninhibited gratification in criminal, sexual, or aggressive impulses and the inability to learn from past mistakes."

Your ability to care about the law has to be evidenced in the brain, that's who 'you' are. Caring is not implanted into you by god, it's what we're biologically programmed to do. That is unless you are a psychopath. Yes, despite nature, you can nurture caring into someone, but it is going to manifest physically somehow, most likely in the brain. If you don't come equipped to care though, you can't.
defunctdiety
1 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2009
It's not BS...
I'm fine with such defenses too, as long as they go with the consequences: "Therefore, we must lock you up until such time as a cure/fix is found or until your death".

I'm not saying this discovery is not real, but I am saying when people (lawyers) deflect responsibility for actions by any means possible, it is criminal in itself and no justice will ever be found along that path. It is far too easily abused.

It would be disgusting, indeed in-humane, to make the actual victims of such "biological victims" pay for their assailant to live on, probably in better conditions than perhaps the majority of the people on this planet.

Some things qualify a person to have their life taken from them, biological deficiency or no.
defunctdiety
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
For what I can see, there is little anybody can add to this without doing more research. So keep up the irrelevant, sensationalist comments, it's a good laugh.

You certainly did your part in adding to the irrelevant comment category.
NeilFarbstein
3 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2009
Defunct diety is definitely complying with your wishes to keep it up!
Nik_2213
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
Hmm: Perhaps Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation could jump-start the under-performing region, give such potential Perps a 'conscience', even temporarily ?

It would also be a terrible threat: Behave, or you *will* regret it.
defunctdiety
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
Defunct diety is definitely complying with your wishes to keep it up!

My OP was quite relevant (while cynical and speculative), if not to this particular article's subject, certainly to the article's greater implications to society, which is arguably more important.

NonRationals OP was more masturbatory and pathological in intent than the Oscars, Emmies and Grammies combined. He was guilty of everything he derided in it (except it just made him look like an ass, instead of smart).

Hey, NonRational NeilFarbstein, this is an open forum. People can and will post what they want, for whatever reason they want, your inability to accept that and deal with it in a non-constructive manner just makes you look juvenile.
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
They once thought they had something with the differences in the brains of gays and lesbians from those of 'normal' people. Turned out that the changes in the brain came about because of the practices of these people and not the other way around.

It is likely the same with psychopaths. It is likely that they will find that changes to the brain occurred as a result of the acts of the individuals the same as cab drivers having differing structures associated with memory of locations and directions. In this case also, changes resulted from the day-to-day practices of the cab-drivers.

More study needs to be done but that is my prediction for this case as well as the others mentioned.
zevkirsh
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
this is phrenology at its core..


QubitTamer
not rated yet Aug 05, 2009
zevkirsh, let me make your understanding much easier...

Here ----> http://en.wikiped...y#Method

is the wiki article on Phrenology that goes right to the methodology where it plainly states that phrenology is about reading the bumps on the skull.. They were not trepanning people to look at the folds of their brains...
murray
5 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2009
As Nietzsche presciently observed over a century ago, the maturation of a society is the degree to which criminal justice evolves away from punishment and into health care. This is a welcome development.
getgoa
1 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2009
White matter and its growth is a suppose cause of schizophrenia(http://www.physor...7.html), and schizophrenics are not violent(http://www.physor...9.html)?
MorganW
not rated yet Aug 05, 2009
I'm just guessing but psychopathology (?) is probably an evolutionary trait that gets manifested (unfortunately and for unknown reasons) in certain individuals. Perhaps it was necessary to survival at some point far in the past to be able to kill without empathy or at minimum, suppress empathetic feelings for certain durations (sort of like sickle-cell trait helps protect against malaria). I totally agree with GaryB however; just because we (might) understand it, doesn't mean we don't lock it away to protect ourselves.
defunctdiety
not rated yet Aug 05, 2009
...the maturation of a society is the degree to which criminal justice evolves away from punishment and into health care...

I'm curious which of his works this comes from? Can you throw me a bone murray, or anyone?
Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 06, 2009
Just so long as they don't start using this crap for a defense, trying to spin it as a disease or some bullshit.

"He's not responsible for his actions, your honor. His uncinate fasciculus has a deficient matter tract."

Problem is, there's already precedent for this. There was a man exonerated for killing his entire family due to a deformity in his pre-frontal cortex. Effectively he didn't have enough forebrain to stop his amygdala from lashing out violently when threatened.
otto1923
not rated yet Aug 08, 2009
It's not BS, we are much more creatures of our underlying desires than we dare admit. Your innate drives, good and bad, almost always determine who you will be.
We are much more individuals of our own underlying defects. Rare to find a human being whose brain hasn't been damaged to the extent that it affects their cognition, judgement, behavior, self-control, etc.
@QuBitTamer
Here's one which might explain in what sense the people above were using the term 'phrenology'-
http://en.wikiped.../Sarcasm
-hey man, we're all defective one way or another.
@defunctDiety
 (lawyers) deflect responsibility for actions by any means possible, it is criminal in itself and no justice will ever be found along that path. It is far too easily abused.
It may still be real and treatable. I think you'll agree that the hope is we can discover and treat the biological causes of psychopathy before they lead to a tragedy. To do this we've got to discover and acknowledge them first. The hope also that maybe someday we won't NEED lawyers. 
zevkirsh
not rated yet Aug 09, 2009
zevkirsh, let me make your understanding much easier...
Here ----> http://en.wikiped...y#Method

NEUROSCIENTISTS ARE CONSTANTLY OVERSTATING THE DEGREE TO WHICH THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF AN OBSERVATION IN THE BRAIN RELATES TO THE CAUSATION/CORRELATION WITH AN ACTUAL BAHAVIORAL PHENOMENA. an example of this is the degree to which scientists looking for the juicy funding engaged in (excessive?) fmri research , and would state outlandish claims as their results just to justify their research. ......here , as in fmri research, the notion that the researchers had to assume in the notion of what comprises a psychopath usuing an arbitrary subjective-value laden sieve such as the dmv-diagnostic manual in order to select a suitable population sample, already renders the 'conclusions' of this study as meaningful as phrenology. that is not to say that the research and its observations are not useful contributions. its' to say by a mere scan of the research and its proclaimed results, it's obvious the scientists are overstating conclusions because they need funding. matching 'neural connections' to vaguely defined personality traits more often defined by the degree to which a person strays from social norms which are themselves arbitrary rather than the degree to which someone engages in a specific behavior...(for example biiting their nails.) is absurd at this point in the history of neuroscience, as we clearly don't understand enough yet to even explain why people get neurologically angry. why don't they point to some neurons and say..here, these are the anger neurons. why..it's not that simple.
novice
not rated yet Aug 09, 2009
Wow..I just joined this site this morning, expecting I might read differing points of view on various issues. But I never expected to see the same fears and close minded attitudes that I find on many mainstream news sites. It seems that I am hearing anger over this news...news that simply requires further research. And it appears that they are just as fear driven as mainstream news sites. Are we scared to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what the world would be like if we no longer had people to "blame" for every horror that befalls our fragile human existence. What would we do if we found that true criminal behavior (of which there is very little in our society) was the direct result of a biological dysfunction? Surely we need to protect ourselves form such people. But...what if they were "cured" biologically? Do we still keep them in prison? Are they very different from someone who passes on a deadly virus? Do we lock them in prison as well...or do we separate them until they are cured? Where will our anger, fears, and rightous indignation go to then?

Oh...by the way...where did "they" find this new evidence that homosexual activity causes brain change? Just the phrase "practices of these people" sounds homophobic. Maybe I am way off base, but I would be hard pressed to believe that any act of loving another human being results in some sort of trauma to the brain!
Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 09, 2009
Novice,

Most A-types are found to have symptoms of psychopathy. It's quite possible that they haven't identified a psychopathic process, but a normal process that is pronounced in psychopaths. There is far more research that needs to be done.
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Aug 10, 2009
I never said anything about trauma. I only mentioned that activities cause modification of brain tissue and structure. Studies have been done to show that a person's activities cause subtle changes in brain chemistry as well as form and development, as in the case of cab-drivers that I also mentioned above.

In point of fact, identical twins with identical DNA diverge over time to have different sets of genes activated in the twins as a result of differences in environment and practices. This information can be found pretty readily. Google is your friend. :)

If I were you, I would try not to be oversensitive and throw around the "homophobe" label when one speaks of the results of scientific inquiry. After all, there is not yet a word that carries the meaning of "straight-a-phobe" in the English language.
dizzy999
not rated yet Aug 11, 2009
Just so long as they don't start using this crap for a defense, trying to spin it as a disease or some bullshit.
If someone is brain impaired and causes a homicide,
surely that person has a right to use that impairment as a defense. If your brakes fail and you kill someone, wouldn't you use your faulty brakes as a defense. Dont say its different because its not.
You appear to want punishment or revenge. I would rather treatment or cure. Test yourself, If we had a magic pill that would cure Ian Huntley 100% would you set him free tomorrow. Responsibility does not come in to it. The majority of people still want punishment or revenge, even though he isn't responsible for his actions. Could you do what Huntley did? I would suspect no, simply because you do not, I hope, have any brain impairment.


"He's not responsible for his actions, your honor. His uncinate fasciculus has a deficient matter tract."