Category Archives: News

A simple math problem? Stopping school shootings

Dan Patrick

Dan Patrick: Lt. Gov. from Texas (R) GETTY IMAGES

The manner in which our represented officials approach school shootings can be absolutely mind boggling.

Speaking about the recent shooting at a Santa Fe High School, Dan Patrick, a Lieutenant Governor from TX, commented that “four or five guns to one” was the best way to stop a gunman. The logic behind such thinking should immediately disqualify him from representing the public.

This idea of increased numbers suggests that some kind of arms race is necessary to keep ahead of these evil people who come out of the woodwork from time to time. Is there an ideal ratio? How about ten guns to one? For what is undoubtedly a complex social problem, are we really willing to rely on a ‘more is better’ approach? Is that the best that our elected officials can manage?

There is also something deeply unsettling in that a ‘more is better’ would clearly drive profit margins for the very tools that were used to commit the atrocity. When tragedy becomes lucrative it should make any rational person ask for greater transparency, especially between the industry and our elected officials. What would we make of an increased sale of crowbars, related to how well Ted Bundy used them?

I don’t necessarily think that officials like Patrick are ill-intentioned, but there is clearly something about the gun that appears to be “morally cleaner” than a crowbar. The NRA has often touted that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” but would we feel the same if the adage was, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a crowbar is a good guy with a crowbar”? You can substitute “gun” with any other noun to realize that there is clearly something very special about the “gun” in American society.

The showdown, at High Noon, where the good guy finally triumphs over evil, perhaps?

Is this romantic idea what is polluting the minds of our aging white male public representatives? The gun clearly provides the luxury of being impersonal, which provides the illusion that shooting someone is morally cleaner than swinging a crowbar into their head.

Substitute gun for crowbar and morally speaking you start to realize there isn’t really a good guy with a crowbar. It can start to seem acceptable in the context of self-defense, perhaps, but even if it can be shown to have been necessary for a person to smash an unconscionable aggressor in the face with a crowbar to stop them doing something terrible, nobody is ever going to feel normal again afterwards, even with the solace that the tragic event was interrupted or prevented. This is the kind of stuff that has driven our veterans and police to the edge of their sanity, and they were trained to deal with situations such as this.

The ‘more is better’ approach also misses one crucial point about spree and school shootings: The perpetrators do not care if they lose their own life, and they have already accepted this. It is common that the shooter will shot by police, or they will shoot themselves at a key moment not long after they began the shooting.

This psychology makes them just as dangerous as suicide bombers, and also undermines the argument that ‘more is better’ is somehow a deterrent to these shooters.

It is highly unlikely that even a “trained” civilian cares if they themselves die in the exchange; they may be willing to sacrifice themselves for others, but that is not the same thing. By wanting more guns in school, you’re not just requesting more gun carriers, you are requesting people who are openly willing to kill another person.

How rigorous does the training have to be to prepare somebody for this event scenario? There is a reason psychological testing is crucial for the police and our military. When you ask a person to be prepared to kill another, you are asking them to be prepared to circumvent their own conscience and live out the rest of their lives knowing what they have done. There is a personal cost to killing another person, and the only people who do not pay this cost, are those without a conscience – and I think we can agree that we do not want these people in our schools.

I think what has changed, with the increased level of awe-inspiring activism, is that people are beginning to realize that these events are much more than the shooting – a young loner, walking into a school, and shooting others. Political inaction is simply not good enough, anymore, and simple responses are offensive. It is high time we stop romanticizing over easy and poorly thought out solutions. Polarizing the world into good and bad is not productive and it does not result in a pragmatic approach to solving this problem.

Anyone who would have you believe otherwise, does not represent you.

Thank you, Everyone! Request for readers

typewriterI just wanted to reach out and thank everyone for reading my blog over the years. I’ve tried to maintain and enforce a scientific basis for some of the more research and commentary pieces, and have freely expressed speculation and opinion in others. Regrettably, there is never a shortage of violent events in the world, and I will still seek to chip away in my own corner, trying to understand why violent events happen and hopefully generate some insight into how it could be prevented.

In addition, I’ve been exploring fiction writing for some time now, as a way to try and capture the fragility of the human mind, and the struggle many of us have with simple day to day activities and expectations. This writing has mostly been short stories, as I try to present snapshots of the moments in life where we are the most mentally fatigued or helpless. I feel there is a connection between the fatigued mind and the potential onset of mental illness or disorder, those times when we feel that we might “go off the rails” and never return.

I would be honored if readers gave these stories a go, and only if enjoyed, to share them with others. In return, I open my time to read the work of others, and share within my networks, and to have constructive conversation on any interesting topics.

In addition to a novella that I have written (Recreation of Meaning), I currently have two types of stories available from the stories page. Asylum stories, which are short stories focused on characters who have lost their ability to think clearly, and are presented with circumstances that defy normality, and serial killer/killer stories, that seek to capture how unprepared we are when those we love (or least suspect) reveal this side of their life to us.

I wish all of you a great day and I hope to interact with you soon!

Jay

Can anosognosia help explain some public acts of violence?

Anosognosia has been traditionally discussed when explaining why patients with Alzheimer’s disease (Perrotin et al., 2005), Schizophrenia (Gerretsen et al., 2015), and various lesions (Moro et al., 2016) have resulted in the patient lacking awareness of the functional deficits associated with their disease or affliction. There are two competing models to explain anosognosia; a psychological model, which claims the individual is protecting themselves from the stress caused by their disease, and a neurological model, which posits that the lack of the patient’s insight into their own disorder is due to a failure of neurocognition (Lehrer & Lorenz, 2014). However, both models are in agreement that it is the disease that results in anosognosia: The disease results in the patient not recognizing they have the disease – or at least some symptoms of the disease.

Researchers are still vying for a comprehensive neurological profile of this lack of awareness, and even though the diseases and the injuries that are associated with anosognosia are diverse, there is overlap in the parts of the brain that are impacted. Patients with anosognosia have been found to have hypometabolism in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) (Perrotin et al., 2015; Therriault et al., 2018; Vannini et al., 2017), hypometabolism in the hippocampus (Vannini et al., 2016), and reduced gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex (Spalletta et al., 2014). Some studies posit that reduced right hemispheric volume, which could occur through disease atrophy or injury, relative to the left hemisphere, particularly of the angular gyrus, the medial prefrontal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, insula, and anterior temporal lobe, lead to a lack of awareness in schizophrenic patients (Gerretsen et al., 2014).

To date, there appears to be little research on the prospect of anosognosia concomitantly occurring with an empathy or a moral deficit. This is surprising for two reasons. First, the aforementioned brain regions listed above, are also known to be involved in moral decision making (Baron-Cohen, 2012) and empathic responses (Alegria et al., 2016). Second, it is sometimes symptomatic of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease (Liljegren et al., 2016) and Schizophrenia (Del Bene et al., 2016) to behave violently towards others, which means that any anosognosia could extend to a patient’s unawareness of their own harmful behavior.

THE IMPORTANCE OF EMPATHY IN MORAL DECISIONS

If an illness or a lesion results in both a loss of empathy or moral decision making, as well as the self-awareness of these, the behavioral intentions of the individual could change. This is extremely dangerous when the deficit is empathy, because empathy helps to inform humans about harmful behavior; if we observe another human in pain, most of us are able to recreate a sense or a feeling of that pain and thus feel that the behaviors and actions that have led to this are wrong. This mechanism can be behind our drive to prevent harmful behaviors and, and cause us to strive to ease the pain of others. If we stop or ease the pain of another individual, we prevent the need for an empathic response, and thus we stop or ease the empathic pain in ourselves.

The presence of an empathic response to seeing others in pain can thus lead to the stymieing of bad behaviors, not necessarily while they are being carried out, but even stopping them before they are carried out. The absence of an empathic response to pain could lead one to have the perception that some harmful behavior is okay, because this person is missing the internal response that would inform them otherwise. Our view of behaviors being right or wrong, due to our empathic response, will also shape our guiding philosophies and worldviews. If we feel that something is right or wrong, we tend to try and understand these feelings by providing a rationale, and this rationale contributes to our own moral code.

HOW ANOSOGNOSIA WITH AN EMPATHY DEFICIT COULD LEAD TO A DANGEROUS SHIFT IN IDEOLOGY OR WORLDVIEW

Anosognosia involving an empathy deficit could have a profound impact on the person’s life and their choices. Before the onset of anosognosia and the empathy deficit, the person might feel that certain behaviors are wrong, such as assault and violence; with empathy, these behaviors can be understood as deeply destructive, and function to prevent one engaging in them. The onset of anosognosia and an empathy deficit could lead to a person transitioning from feeling that a certain behavior is bad, to amoral or even good behavior.

Our sense of what is normal also informs our moral code and how we should treat others. Most people tend to think of themselves as rational and fair minded (even though some are open to considering the views of others), and so what they think as right or wrong about the world (including behavior) feels true because it has come from a balanced place. If a person was unaware that they had an empathy deficit, they would still consider themselves rational and fair minded, as they don’t recognize a deficit to undermine this view of themselves. This could mean as their moral code is subtly changing due to an absence of empathy, the change feels true, and thus right, further validating their new view of certain behaviors. If they attribute a recently adopted ideology to this shift in their view, the ideology, too, would be further validated.

A cursory glance at any number of manifestos, penned by murderers before they acted, will inform you of how the way they saw the world changed, and finally how this change brought on their actions, which they felt were necessary. A deliberate act of murder is clearly a failure of empathy, and one cannot help wondering if the murderer was even aware of their empathy deficit.

SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF ANOSOGNOSIA WITH AN EMPATHY DEFICIT

If an empathy deficit is observed in a patient, or individual, it is therefore of the utmost importance to understand if they recognize this deficit. A person who could understand that they have an empathy deficit, even if it’s temporal, could perhaps take measures to ensure they behave in an innocuous manner, through counseling, or through supervision by friends, family, or healthcare professionals.

It is also crucial to know if a person was aware of an empathy deficit before they acted destructively towards others, because it introduces accountability when the suspect is tried. In some cases of homicide, if mental illness, disorder, or mental illness is suspected, the prosecution often has to argue against a defense that claims the defendant was not accountable due to temporary or permanent insanity, or the defendant acted in a way that was out of their control, because of a clinical difference in brain or mental functioning. If it can be shown that the defendant was aware of their empathy deficit, the legal system could hold them accountable for their actions.

Jack Pemment © 2018

 

REFERENCES

Alegria, A. A., Radua, J., & Rubia, K. (2016). Meta-analysis of fMRI studies of disruptive behavior disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 173(11), 1119-1130.

Baron-Cohen, S. (2012). The science of evil: On empathy and the origins of cruelty. Basic books.

Del Bene, V. A., Foxe, J. J., Ross, L. A., Krakowski, M. I., Czobor, P., & De Sanctis, P. (2016). Neuroanatomical Abnormalities in Violent Individuals with and without a Diagnosis of Schizophrenia. PLoS one, 11(12), e0168100.

Gerretsen, P., Menon, M., Mamo, D. C., Fervaha, G., Remington, G., Pollock, B. G., & Graff-Guerrero, A. (2014). Impaired insight into illness and cognitive insight in schizophrenia spectrum disorders: resting state functional connectivity. Schizophrenia research, 160(1), 43-50.

Gerretsen, P., Menon, M., Chakravarty, M. M., Lerch, J. P., Mamo, D. C., Remington, G., … & Graff‐Guerrero, A. (2015). Illness denial in schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Human brain mapping, 36(1), 213-225.

Lehrer, D. S., & Lorenz, J. (2014). Anosognosia in schizophrenia: hidden in plain sight. Innovations in clinical neuroscience, 11(5-6), 10.

Liljegren, M., Naasan, G., Temlett, J., Perry, D. C., Rankin, K. P., Merrilees, J., … & Miller, B. L. (2015). Criminal behavior in frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer disease. JAMA neurology, 72(3), 295-300.

Moro, V., Pernigo, S., Tsakiris, M., Avesani, R., Edelstyn, N. M., Jenkinson, P. M., & Fotopoulou, A. (2016). Motor versus body awareness: Voxel-based lesion analysis in anosognosia for hemiplegia and somatoparaphrenia following right hemisphere stroke. Cortex, 83, 62-77.

Perrotin, A., Desgranges, B., Landeau, B., Mézenge, F., La Joie, R., Egret, S., … & Chételat, G. (2015). Anosognosia in Alzheimer disease: Disconnection between memory and self‐related brain networks. Annals of neurology, 78(3), 477-486.

Spalletta, G., Piras, F., Piras, F., Sancesario, G., Iorio, M., Fratangeli, C., … & Orfei, M. D. (2014). Neuroanatomical correlates of awareness of illness in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment who will or will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease. cortex, 61, 183-195.

Therriault, J., Ng, K. P., Pascoal, T. A., Mathotaarachchi, S., Kang, M. S., Struyfs, H., … & Gauthier, S. (2018). Anosognosia predicts default mode network hypometabolism and clinical progression to dementia. Neurology, 90(11), e932-e939.

Vannini, P., Hanseeuw, B., Munro, C. E., Amariglio, R. E., Marshall, G. A., Rentz, D. M., … & Sperling, R. A. (2017). Anosognosia for memory deficits in mild cognitive impairment: Insight into the neural mechanism using functional and molecular imaging. NeuroImage: Clinical, 15, 408-414.

 

The Date

frozen yoghurt

I’m all peopled out.

The mental staples holding up the corners of my mouth are losing their grip, and the disc spinning out my laugh, my positive affirmations and my platitudes, is now worn and splintered.

I had somehow got swept up in this wave that pulsed around the office in the afternoon. A leaving get-together for Tanya in contracts. I knew Tanya, she was nice. No reason to not wish her well. But outside of work? Outside of the office? Outside of the walls I had deliberately built in my head to protect me from this shit in the first place?

When work people intruded into my private life, my personal time, they were but apparitions, phantoms, for the soulless careerists that they were. Go talk about climbing Everest or charity work in Africa to your Linked-In profile. You only regain meaning to me when we’re back in the office on Monday, and that’s when I note your location to avoid you on my way to the coffee machine.

But here we were, outside of work. Patting me on the shoulder, asking me about some banal crap that had been mentioned in a pointless teleconference before the Sun had had even a chance to yawn. My nerves prickled, and I felt myself becoming clammy, still in my work clothes.

A green beer bottle was thrust towards me, and a hand gripped my shoulder. Someone’s loud and chicken wing-ed breath was in my ear.

“I think Aquaflux are our best option. They’ll give us want we want much faster than Blue Seas.”

I stood up.

I had had far too much work today. I had given far too much of myself to these bastards already; it was like being stalked by a slot machine.

“I have to go,” I declared to no one and everyone, and I had to finish it up with something definitive and conclusive. Something that couldn’t be questioned and that wouldn’t rope me into more frivolous conversation.

Clubbing baby seals, court-ordered highway clean-up, masturbation, necrophilia, irumatio.

“I need to pick out a casket for my grandmother. Those things aren’t cheap.” I hurried to the door and threw it open, leaving the inferno of pitiless self-promotion and office clichés behind me in the black hole of their own corporate filth.

My mind instantly cleared in the absence of voices and I could finally hear my own again.

A date. Victoria from the comic-con. She had dressed as Hawk Girl, and I as Green Lantern. We’d waited in line for five hours to see Mark Hamill, and chatted extensively about why humans fantasized so much about other humans with super powers. Her smile had been alluring, and her laugh hypnotic. Two things I’d been looking forward to as we’d remained in touch, reading each other’s fanfiction.

Both my stroll and my breathes deepened, and the anxiety working my nerves finally let go. Cars passed me by down Main Street, jiving to the euphoric beat of a Friday evening.

I was heading to a frozen yogurt place that had jut opened up on the corner of fifth street. Victoria had suggested it and I was willing to go along with whatever; could’ve been a park bench for all I cared, but it was probably best one of us kept the date within social norms.

The bright pink and green lights for Dysgeusia punched through the night and for some reason I was reminded of Japanese pornography. The line at the counter was already growing with people from off the street, but only a few seemed to remain behind in the booths.

I crossed the street and pushed open the turquoise doors with the slightly darker half moon handles. The smell of sugar immediately swirled up my nose and circled my head, stimulating every single neuron whose job it was to bathe my tongue in saliva. I swallowed and stepped to the side, curious to see if Victoria had arrived.

She had. And was sitting in an empty booth by the window with a small pastel green tub, heaped with a rainbow of small candies. She looked up and waved at me. She now had pink bubblegum hair and black lipstick, and was wearing a purple dress underneath a white baseball jacket. I wanted to lick her.

“There you are!” she grinned, reaching ot as she stood up.

I hugged her back. “I wasn’t sure if you’d make it.”

Victoria put her hands on her hips. “I always keep my promises,” she said. “Now, go and get your yogurt. This shit is awesome.”

I joined the line and listened to the requests being made ahead of me. A series of orders, delivered with and without pleases and thank yous. Sounded like I was back at work.

“What would you like, sir?” asked the young women behind the blue and green apron. I thought taking a breath to buy myself some time would help. It didn’t. “Oh, just,” I waved my hand. “Surprise me.”

A smirk warmed her young greasy skin and she held my gaze for a moment. “So, just…”

“Anything,” I finished for her, “Yes.”

In a series of well-coordinated scoops, she filled my tub and passed it back to me. I moved onto the cashier, gave him ten dollars and didn’t wait for my change. I saw his lips move, and immediately shot him down. “Keep it.”

I was starting to realize that when you stop giving a shit, you don’t really have to make any more choices.

I stepped out of the line and joined Victoria in the booth.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this date,” I smiled, this time without mind staples. “Work is just so boring, and my evenings are just a series of coping mechanisms to power through to the weekend.”

Victoria seductively cleared her white plastic spoon and dropped it in her now empty tub. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said, and reached over to pinch my shoulder. “I love my job, but it’s my dream job. I work in a library.”

“Do you mind if I ask? What is it about your job that you like?”

“It’s just what I’ve always wanted to do. Just surrounded by knowledge, and fantasy worlds. Even the stupid questions and noisy children don’t bother me.”

I pressed my head back against the cushioned headrest and sighed. “I’ll have to hang around you more. It sounds like you’ve found the secret to getting through life.”

Victoria shrugged and her toe ran up and down the side of my shinbone.

Her deep brown eyes sparkled and I saw the gateway to an entire universe.

“Have you thought about…” she stopped and jarred her head to look out of the window. There were now flashing blue lights in the street, and the sound of a siren rose and fell.

The sound of feet shuffling and gasps made me turn my head, and without warning both Dysgeusia’s doors were thrown open and three police officers entered.

Victoria’s face darkened and her brown irises were swallowed by her pupils.

One of the officers saw her and immediately pounced to our table and drew her gun. “Hands up,” she yelled, pointing at Victoria. We both raised our hands and my breath got stuck in my throat.

The female officer advanced, took hold of Victoria’s arm, gun still pointed, and pulled for her to follow out of the booth. Once she was on her feet and facing the table, the officer guided her arms behind her back and immediately cuffed her wrists.

“Victoria Ritter, I am arresting you for the kidnap and murder of Nathan Walker. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney before talking to the police and the right to have an attorney present for questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one can be provided to you by the state.”

Victoria squinted and flicked her eyes towards me. Her teeth unsheathed from behind her black lips. “The secret, Chris, is don’t get caught.”

The police led her away and left me sitting in the booth with my hands still behind my head. The customers in line at the yogurt counter continued to glance at me, wondering why the police hadn’t taken me, too.

I was all peopled out.

And I suddenly wanted to be at home, in the dark, masturbating to the sound of silence.

Manifesto: The relationship sociopaths have with themselves

ManifestoINTRODUCTION

Violent crime in the United States unfortunately remains a daily occurrence, and while domestic violence is undoubtedly the most common (and underreported), there now seems to be an increased interest in the role of ideology and murder. The recent shootings in San Bernadino, CA, and Philadelphia, PA, have been attributed to murderers who have been motivated by the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and only in early October, 2015, Chris Harper Mercer killed nine people near Roseburg, Oregon, after penning his own manifesto that presumably explored his murderous inclinations. In 2014, Elliot Roger shot and killed six people and injured fourteen, after writing a manifesto entitled ‘My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Roger.’

The motivations behind killing are complex and widely disputed, but it is time for some serious scholarship on the role that ideas play in dampening the conscience, at least temporarily, to provide an individual with a window of time where they have given themselves permission to kill. The role that ideology plays in the act of killing can be explained within the framework of sociopathy, but first this has to be distinguished from its estranged cousin, psychopathy.

 

PSYCHOPATHY

Psychopathy is noted as a mental disorder that is characterized by an emotional deficit and antisocial behavior [1]. Neuroscientists have found some profound differences in the brains of psychopaths when compared to the non-psychopathic, and these differences seem to result from developmental errors [2, 3]. Two key features of the psychopathic is the lack of empathy and remorse, and while many psychopaths are killers, a significant proportion of killers are psychopaths [4]. Psychopathy is also a clinical diagnosis, and so for somebody to truly be called a psychopath, they have to have been assessed by a professional mental health expert.

 

THE ROLE OF WORLDVIEWS AND IDEOLOGIES

When moving through our passage in life, we all develop a sense of what is right about the world, and figuring this out is probably one of the greatest sources of consternation many of us face on a daily basis. There seems to be a duality to this sense; feeling what is right, and then understanding conceptually what is right. When the two fit together, feeling right and being able to describe in words and ideas why we feel right, is an amazing and stable feeling, and the ideas are likely to become part of how we see the world. However, when our ideas and thoughts no longer feel right, or we feel right but do not know why, we are left feeling confused and perhaps even irritated.

Eventually, when we have had enough experiences and self-reflection, we start to develop a complex set of ideas that reflect what we think is true about the world.

During these pensive moments we suspend speculation and possibility surrounding the veracity of the idea, and it moves towards becoming a belief. This suspension could very well mark the difference between the scientific mind and the religious mind, as science only ever deals in probabilities, whereas the religious mind attributes absolute rightness to the core ideas, and this is known as faith (probabilities allow for‘wrongness’, a catalyst for the converse of faith, doubt). Indeed, always allowing a margin of error could mean that a person never has beliefs.

Regardless of how much truth currency we end up placing in our ideas, they become the mental lens that guides our behavior, gives us our sense of morality, and shapes how we will or will not understand the many more concepts and behaviors that will eventually cross our stream of consciousness. The new ideas and behaviors will be measured up against what we already have in our mental banks, and their acceptance into our worldviews will likely be a reflection of how well they agree with the rest of what we think is true about the world. Needless to say, this process can be excruciatingly hard work and can sometimes result in our peace of mind and sense of self being at stake.

 

PSYCHOPATHS AND IDEOLOGY

Our own personal worldviews and ideology tend to develop as we reflect on past experiences, contrast them with new ideas in the present, and then use ourworldview and ideology for perpetual self-reflection and interpreting new events as they arrive. From the case studies of psychopaths described by Cleckley [5] and Hare [4], psychopaths present as individuals who have little to no regard for their own future, let alone the futures of those they interact with. The psychopath appears stuck in the present, with an inability to make long term plans, and also has precious little regard for the past, and so it is questionable that a psychopath can develop a complex worldview.

Our worldview is also a reflection of our sense of morality. The ideas that we come to regard as good ways to live are built into how we see and interpret the world. Therefore, it stands to reason that if a psychopath has a limited sense of morality, any potential worldview or ideology is at an automatic deficit. When asked to justify their criminal behavior, many psychopaths will just admit that there was a rightness to it, mostly because they felt the dire urge to carry it out. The truth criteria behind their reasoning doesn’t fit into a complex philosophical framework, only that as
they felt they had to do it, it must have been the right thing to do.

 

SOCIOPATHY

The terms psychopath and sociopath are often used to describe the same type of person, that is an emotionless individual with a sense of grandeur and is prone to the manipulation of others, but the root words psycho and socio denote different developmental origins. As Hare notes [4], those who prefer the term sociopah tend to think that social forces and early experiences can explain this type of individual, whereas those preferring psychopath think that psychological, biological, and genetic factors offer the best explanation.

This polarized view of the etiology for psychopathy is terribly outdated, and falls victim to the old nature versus nurture discussion on the origin of behavior. Traditionally, a line seems to have been drawn at the skin of individuals, and everything on the inside reflects nature, anything on the outside is nurture, and they are mutually exclusive. While this framework perhaps provides a useful starting point for discussion, we now know that social influences and biology can interact together in very profound ways to influence the future path of an individual from the level of the cell all the way up to the organism. Our senses are lapping up so much information on a daily basis, and all of that information is creating changes in our biochemistry, especially in our nervous system. If a parent yells continually at their child, we may think, “Well, that’s terrible nurturing,” but it is also elevating the level of cortisol in the child’s circulatory system; soundwaves stimulating cells, sending signals that prompt tissues and organs to release molecules into the blood. All sensory stimulation leads to biological changes and activity, which is why this distinction between the two terms denoting etiological differences does not work.

Crucially, Hare and Babiak describe the sociopath as someone who has a sense of morality, but their sense of right and wrong has been informed by a subculture [6]. This
difference between the psychopath and the sociopath is profound, because unlike the psychopath, the conscience and the ability for rationalization in the sociopath are fully intact, which indicates an entirely different neurology. If sociopaths have an ideology, ideas of right and wrong, these ideas must be behind their eventual murderous behavior, and also goes a long way to explain the spree killer.

The term spree killer refers to an individual who is motivated, with varying extents of planning, to commit an act or acts of atrocity in a short space of time. One of the striking features about these types of events is that there is no attempt to hide or conceal the destruction or any associated fatalities or injuries. There is only the event, which must be completed, and often the only outcomes for the killer will be death by a shootout with law enforcement, death by suicide, death by sentence of the death penalty, or lifelong incarceration.

These outcomes provide some insight into the minds of these individuals leading up to and during the act of atrocity. It is inconceivable that at least the majority of these types of killers had no awareness of what would befall them after the event, which means at least one of two things. First, the act itself was valued by the killer more than their own life, and second, there was a physiological drive so powerful in their mind for completing the act that no other behavior was possible in the moment. The necessity of the act, which the killer could have justified to themselves many times, is heavily idea based, and because of this they were likely to have had a worldview containing ideas that devalued the lives of others.

 

THE GREATER GOOD

The idea of the ‘greater good’ is intriguing because when it is placed within an ideological framework that is supposed to promote the good or health of a group as a whole, it inevitably leads to the denial of the rights or even life of an individual or a subgroup of individuals. When the rights of people are often trampled upon for the greater good, the justification for this treatment is often seen as a necessary sacrifice, or once the new ideas or policies are in place, everyone will benefit (legislating common sense).

In order to implement a social or political system that is predicated upon greater good ideas, those with power have to be convinced, legitimately through debate or tacitly through violence. The style of the fight employed for the realization of these ideas is indicative of how well these ideas are to be received and the immediacy with which the advocate needs them to be realized. A potentially receptive audience and a debate reflect an advocate that is patient and willing to modify or compromise. A perceived unreceptive audience and violence reflect an advocate that feels compelled to act and is not willing to compromise. We can spot instances of these behaviors throughout history, particularly in terms of governmental behavior, but the desire for self-expression and the acceptance of ideas also operates on a much smaller scale.

For many, seeking acceptance among peers, or perhaps more potently in school, is a natural, but often painful, part of life. Finding a personal happy medium between what friends think is right and what you think is right is a daunting experience. To add to this, teenagers, by virtue of being young, do not have many other experiences with which to compare their immediate experience in school; this lack of experience in determining what is right for them results in grief and anxiety, and often puts them at the mercy of going along with a group that has met with their approval, even though there is sometimes respect for those who have the confidence to be different and not be influenced by the group, perhaps because it is such a huge pressure to overcome. The acceptance of ideas and behavior in these environments is similar to political expression at a higher social level, and could even be all the worse because of the huge emotional price tag of group acceptance. The perceived receptivity of the group and the compulsion for ideas and behaviors to be accepted could determine a change in tact of how an individual will later confront the group.

Even though many spree killers have no doubt accepted their own demise before they act, it is this notion that fuels their drive to act. They feel that their expression has been permanently blocked by those that need to validate these ideas (and related behavior), and so the only conceivable route of expression becomes violence to those who are blocking. This creates a fertile ground for accepting ideologies that dehumanize these ‘blockers.’ With resentment already in place towards those preventing self-expression, dehumanizing ideology towards these individuals will become palatable and sticky. This ideology, if unchecked, becomes the greater good for the individual in question.

Indeed, it could be useful to look at prejudicial worldviews in light of barriers to self-expression and a person’s right to the pursuit of happiness. Misogyny from men could result if men believe that women, by virtue of being women, will prevent their self-expression, especially sexual expression and subsequent gratification and acceptance. Likewise, Anti-Semitism results when an individual believes that Jews, by virtue of being Jewish, will always seek to prevent the self-expression and pursuit of happiness of non-Jews. At the heart of prejudice, there is always a lazy mind that is unwilling to evaluate people on an individual basis, as sweeping blanket condemnations seek to address painful and confused emotions. A lack of worldly experience, perhaps, would also prevent the person from having the cognitive maturity to make these individual assessments. It is worth asking, therefore, what is the object of the hatred preventing the subject from experiencing? When we have an answer to that question, it tells us all about how the subject thinks they should be able to exist in the world; behaviors they should be allowed to express, and ridding behaviors and ideas that muddy the waters of their idealized life. Knowing this could lead to methods of prevention or even intervention.

 

THE MANIFESTOS OF SOCIOPATHS

When reading a sociopath’s manifesto there are a few important points to note about the writing. The sociopath is usually presenting a history that supports the necessary action that will arrive by the end of the manuscript. As the sociopath’s mindset is heavily ruled by a guiding ideology, their main points or perceived milestones in their own development are likely to be heavily skewed or even fabricated.

However, much insight can be gained into their mind by realizing that the manuscript reflects back to them how they would like to be seen, perhaps not just by their community or the population after they carry out the devastating act, but also to themselves; the manuscript is how the sociopath would like to be seen in the mirror. Once the reflection pleases them, they are free to act.

The sociopath is likely to have spent months, maybe years, carefully crafting the manuscript and gone to painstaking detail to get it just right, and so this helps to combat the idea that they have intentionally gone out of their way to fabricate in order to trick readers. While this is still a possibility, the manuscript is usually a testament to what the sociopath believes is right about the world, after all, it provided them with the justification to act. While the history they present might not be objectively accurate, or perhaps even stunningly ignorant, the sociopath sees themselves ultimately as truthful and righteous, and no doubt want others to see them that way, too.

 

WHY WRITING CAN BE IMPORTANT TO THE SOCIOPATH

While not all manifestos are written, it is worth taking a long hard look at the ones that are. There is a very intimate relationship between an author and their writing, after all, writing is a way from them to organize and catalogue their own thoughts. The linguist, Noam Chomsky, is famous for noting that the majority of our language use is internal, and far exceeds our use of language in dialogue. Just take a moment to realize how frequently your thoughts are rolling through your mind, and how most of them drift in and out of a language, usually your primary one. Writing is the art of taking these ticker-tape thoughts and stabilizing them on the page, and the words can then be further manipulated until they meet with the satisfaction of the author, i.e. capturing (almost) perfectly the author’s intent.

For the confused or troubled mind, where thoughts and feelings are whizzing around like delocalized electrons, writing helps to pull them together into one place and provides the writer with focus. When an individual is experiencing emotional pain and confusion, therefore, this focus provides stability and a platform from which they can move forward. This is far from unique to the sociopath, and is most likely one of the main reasons that people keep diaries or write blogs. Writing facilitates clear thought, and clear thoughts, among other things, help to calm the mind and allow one to plan and project their future; goals can be determined and decisions made over the required behavior to meet those goals.

At some point in the life of the sociopath, the idea for committing an act of atrocity must enter their mind. The ease with which this idea is entertained will depend upon what they think is an accurate worldview (the right and wrong of the act), how necessary the action has become, and how compelled they feel to carry it through. This toxic idea will be stuck in their mind while they seek every justification for accepting it as more than just a good idea, but as something that they are compelled to act upon. During this time, there will likely be a high level of fantasizing and imagining, and an increased exposure to materials and ideas that facilitates the potential action in the mind of the sociopath; the act, slowly but surely, becomes inevitable.

The manifesto is a large part of making the act inevitable. It is worth bearing in mind that these acts are not a part of most people’s daily repertoire, including the soon-to-be-killer, and involve marathon amounts of planning and self-reflection. The sociopath needs to be able to see themselves actually doing the act, and there is very little room for doubt or uncertainty. This is why the manifesto is so important, because it allows the person to review and re-create their life history as if their life was always leading up to the deadly and devastating moment that they have decided is necessary. By cataloguing their history through the lens of their contemporary perturbed mind, therefore, right up until the present day, they are providing themselves with the consent and conviction that they need to go through with their plan.

This manufacturing of consent could also be why it is a good reason to stem the release of the manifesto after an act or at least hide many of the details surrounding the killer for as long as possible. If the manifesto was used as a tool to provide the author with consent to act, there is every chance it could be used by another individual with a similar history as a tool to act. If a like-mind is exposed to the manifesto soon after its author has acted, it could prompt the feeling of the immediacy to act again, perhaps resulting in a copy-cat killing. Silencing the thoughts and ideas of a killer after they have acted can only be effective for so long, but is still worth doing as a precautionary measure.

REFERENCES

1. Hare, R.D.; Harpur, T.J.; Hakstian, A.R.; Forth, A.E.; Hart, S.D.; Newman, J.P. (1990) The revised Psychopathy Checklist: Reliability and factor structure, Psychological Assessment: A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2(3), 338-341

2. Raine, A.; Lencz, T.; Taylor, K.; Hellige, J. B.; Bihrle, S.; Lacasse, L.; Colletti, P. (2003). Corpus callosum abnormalities in psychopathic antisocial individuals, Archives of General Psychiatry, 60(11), 1134-1142

3. Raine, A.; Ishikawa, S. S.; Arce, E., Lencz; T.; Knuth, K. H.; Bihrle, S.; Colletti, P. (2004). Hippocampal structural asymmetry in unsuccessful psychopaths. Biological psychiatry, 55(2), 185-191

4. Hare, R.D. (1999) Without Conscience, New York, Guilford Press

5. Cleckley, H. (2015) The Mask of Sanity (3rd Ed.), Brattleboro, Echo Point Books and Media, LLC.

6. Hare, R.D. & Babiak, P. (2006) Snakes in Suits, New York, Harper Collins

Why do we like psychopaths?

Tree faceI think all of us at one time or another have been fascinated by psychopaths, either from movies and books, or from biographical accounts of the many sadistic personages from history. We still find it hard to reconcile that the actions of some psychopathic killers were also the actions of a sane person, making the psychopath seem like a walking contradiction. This inability to grasp the motivations of the psychopathic has in the past, and no doubt today, too, led to many defendants being sent to a mental institution for treatment, rather than to prison or Death Row.

Trying to make sense of the actions of a psychopath is fraught with difficulty. The irony is that we apply our empathy to understand an individual who consistently fails to understand and feel different points of view.  Inevitably, our empathy fails to recreate anything, and we are left with nothing more than the cliched person suit before us. This subjective black hole leaves the psychopath to some extent undefinable, and like black holes will continue to suck us in as we philosophize over the nature of emptiness. It is this very quality that makes the psychopath a commodity for authors, and a delight for readers.

I am often wary of the admiration some have for the psychopathic, and have sometimes pondered the reasons behind such admiration. I’m the first to admit that I’m academically beguiled by psychopathy. The fact that mental health experts can use any validated psychopathy diagnostic tool to go on and find structural differences in the brains of psychopaths is mind blowing. However, I am also the first to admit how abhorred and repulsed I am when it comes to the behavior of psychopaths, especially when reading the testimony of victims.  This push-pull of intrigue and repulsion commands that a good deal of human thought time is dedicated to the conundrum of psychopathy. And to add another layer, it is not uncommon to see a history of abuse towards a child who later grows up to become a despicable monster – leaving us wanting to save the child, but condemn the adult.

I think psychopaths also represent a freedom to act. There are times when many of us become angry or frustrated with ourselves because we somehow failed to act during a defining or critical moment in our lives. The reason for inaction doesn’t really matter, if we are left feeling frustrated; this is made worse if it has been a continuation of precedent, where we have failed to speak up for most of our lives, and this most recent time was yet another reminder. Psychopaths are not bound by a conscience or a super ego, and so they usually have the motivation to act when they feel appropriate. Psychopaths are seen to get the job done, even if it (probably) means getting your hands dirty. This is a defining characteristic of many folklore and literary heroes.

In a weird way, I also think psychopaths are admired because they have a strong potential to do nasty things to other people. This isn’t to say that we all want to do nasty things to other people and we admire them for that, but being assured in ourselves that we could if we needed to, in a perverse way might reinforce our confidence; this feeds back into the satisfying idea that we could get our hands dirty if needed, within the right moral confines, of course.

We must remind ourselves, though, that it’s dangerous to preserve the psychopathic as a symbol, as a last ditch savior of the human race who can act without emotion. Acting without emotion is not by default a stronger or wiser position, in fact sometimes it’s quite the contrary.

This shows us another reason that people tend to admire the pathologically emotionless. Everyone has been hurt from a relationship, and during those times we have felt weak or humiliated, or just wished to become numb. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that emotions also make the world a very colorful and amazing place to live. Part of growing up is learning to take the rough with the smooth, and we must realize that without emotion life would be extremely dull. It is for this reason that I genuinely pity the psychopath because their disorder has robbed them of the richness and diversity of human experience.

Humans will always allow psychopaths to live on the border between reality and imagination, and it is for this reason they will remain an ever-alluring shadow to the human spirit. But every once in a while, we should remind ourselves of the extreme poverty of the psychopath experience.

Anosognosia, Psychopathy, and the Conscience

How people see and understand themselves is likely to have an impact on how they interpret interactions with others. Here, I briefly explore the brain areas implicated in anosognosia, how these areas are also relevant in psychopathy, and why anosognosia is important when considering the crime and the conscience.

ANOSOGNOSIA AND SELF BELIEF

Anosognosia is defined as the impaired ability of patients with neurological disorders to recognize the presence or adequately appreciate the severity of their deficits [1]. Torrey (2012) cites three examples of anosognosic patients; a stroke victim with a paralyzed arm claimed he couldn’t lift it because he had a shirt on; a woman with paralysis in her left arm was asked to raise it, and instead raised her left leg. When this was pointed out to her she responded that some people call it an arm, others a leg, and jokingly inquired as to the difference; the Supreme Court Justice, William Douglas, was paralyzed on his left side. He claimed this was a myth, and was still inviting people to go hiking [2].

NEUROLOGICAL FINDINGS IN ANOSOGNOSIC PATIENTS

Recent research on this phenomenon has identified deficits in the brain of the patients who in all honesty do not recognize that they are in some way impaired. By using fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) and single photon emission computed Tomography (SPECT) Perrotin et al. (2015) found that anosognosic Alzheimer’s patients had a disruption in connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) [1]. Ries et al. (2007) also implicated a compromised precuneus in anosognosic patients. These midline structures are susceptible to damage in those with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and stroke victims. Anosognosia is also experienced by schizophrenic patients; according to Gerretsen et al. (2015), 60% of schizophrenic patients experience moderate to severe illness awareness, and this can lead to medication non-adherence and poor treatment outcomes [4]; they found left hemispheric dominance in the left prefrontal cortex in anosognosic schizophrenic patients and cortical thinning in the temporoparietalocciptal junction (TPO).

There is still much work to be done to determine the mechanistic and functional basis of anosognosia, and to determine the subtleties between illnesses and disorders, but research is starting to identify suspect brain regions. This is useful if anosognosia is questioned in other disorders, because neurological studies exploring the disorder can be explored and legitimate avenues of scientific inquiry explored.

RESEARCH PARALLELS WITH PSYCHOPATHY

A failure to recognize a disorder is also present in those with psychopathy. While anosognosia is yet to be explored thoroughly in those with psychopathy, there are behavioral items on the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) [5] that suggest anosognosia is present; grandiose sense of self-worth, lack of remorse, and failure to accept responsibility. The sense of self-worth and narcissistic traits of the psychopath clearly means that they think very highly of themselves. This negates the idea that the psychopath believes they suffer from a defect or a disorder; at the most they might recognize that most others are different, and perhaps inferior to themselves. If a lack of remorse is experienced, this is an explicit demonstration that they do recognize, at least on an emotional level, the consequences of their bad behavior as being wrong; if they do not believe their behavior is inappropriate, it stands to reason that they believe they behaved appropriately, and thus experience nothing ‘wrong’ about themselves. This aspect of self-belief and self-reflection is also seen in the psychopath’s failure to accept responsibility; if they are always good and right, there is little motivation to make amends.

Based upon this cursory examination of psychopathic behavior, it would seem reasonable to explore the neurological studies of psychopathy and see if there could be some overlap with previous studies on anosognosia, and in fact some of the same compromised brain areas are implicated. Many studies have demonstrated developmental differences in the PFC of the psychopath (for a review, see Umbach et al. (2015) [6]), and the white matter pathways, such as the uncinate fasciculus (UF) connecting to the PFC from the limbic regions [7]. Perrotin et al. [1] hypothesized that Anosognosia can result from a disruption in connectivity in the UF. When exploring connectivity in the frontoparietal network (FPN), Philippi et al. (2015) found reduced connectivity in those with higher scores on the PCL-R, which included the right precuneus. And to further the overlap, Glenn et al. (2009) [8] found that those with who scored high on the interpersonal factors of the PCL-R (manipulative, conning, deceitful), showed reduced activity in the PCC during an fMRI scan when having to make judgments during moral dilemma scenarios.

Anosognosia and psychopathy both demonstrate complex neurological constructs, and it is premature to conclude that the neurological basis for Anosognosia (itself still understood) would tuck neatly into the already known neurological research on the psychopath. However, given the neat juxtaposition of behavioral traits and neurological dysfunction, it is worth bringing psychopathy into discussions of Anosognosia for the following reason. The research on psychopathy is currently deeper and richer than the research on anosognosia, and behavior of the psychopath has been widely observed and studied. If we can reasonably conclude that psychopaths, particularly criminal psychopaths, are also anosognosics, their behavior can be assessed in light of what it means to recognize no disorder or defect within oneself. The parallel is further relevant with psychopathy when considering that a number of those with schizophrenia, and a minority of those with AD, have been known for antisocial, and sometimes criminal, behavior [9, 10].

ANOSOGNOSIA, ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR, AND THE CONSCIENCE

Those with schizophrenia and AD also suffer from abuse, but when they have been known to act violently, their behavior and motivations need to be understood. Torrey (2012) has documented extensively the violent acts of those with schizophrenia [2]. There is usually a history of progressively worse episodes of psychosis that can convince the patient that they are receiving supernatural or alien instructions to kill or harm individuals, and more often than not family members. Whether or not the auditory hallucinations slowly convince the patient over time of the necessity for deadly action, or whether the act is impulsive, after the event the patient often remains remorseless and attributes their behavior to necessary and mandated (often divine) reasons. This state of mind is similar to the violent psychopath, who also viewed his violent actions as necessary and fully justified. The problem is never attributed to the self; a disorder or defect is not recognized. While psychopaths are widely regarded as not having a conscience and experience only limited affect, more research is needed on the experience of conscience by schizophrenics, especially understanding the role that psychosis played in circumventing the conscience and providing them with permission to act. It is also crucial to discover how those events are remembered and felt post psychosis, perhaps when the patient has reconvened their medication.

In illnesses and disorders that can be associated with antisocial behavior or aggression, anosognosia could be a partial reason for the event of the behavior. Not recognizing any problems or defects, and thinking that one acted rightly or righteously, will affect personal judgments on the self-evaluation of behavior. This does not provide a fertile ground for remorse or responsibility, and if the behavior was aggressive, the patient could continue to remain dangerous, inflexible to a reasoned and peaceful behavioral change. This makes the search for the neural representation of anosognosia all the more crucial, treatment all the more pressing, and methods of identification all the more necessary.

© Jack Pemment, 2016

 

REFERENCES

  1. Perrotin, A. et al. (2015). Anosognosia in Alzheimer disease: Disconnection between memory and self‐related brain networks. Annals of neurology, 78(3), 477-486
  2. Torrey, E. F. (2012) The Insanity Offense, New York, W. W. Norton and Company
  3. Ries, M. L. et al. (2007). Anosognosia in mild cognitive impairment: relationship to activation of cortical midline structures involved in self-appraisal. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 13(03), 450-461
  4. Gerretsen, P. et al. (2015). Illness denial in schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Human brain mapping, 36(1), 213-225
  5. Hare, R. D. et al. (1990). The revised Psychopathy Checklist: Reliability and factor structure. Psychological Assessment: A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2(3), 338-341
  6. Umbach, R. et al. (2015). Brain imaging research on psychopathy: Implications for punishment, prediction, and treatment in youth and adults. Journal of criminal justice, 43(4), 295-306
  7. Motzkin, J. C. et al. (2011). Reduced prefrontal connectivity in psychopathy. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(48), 17348-17357
  8. Glenn, A. L. et al. (2009) The Neural Correlates of Moral Decision-Making in Psychopathy. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/neuroethics_pubs/55
  9. Fazel, S. et al. (2009). Schizophrenia and violence: systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med, 6(8), e1000120
  10. Lopez, O. L. et al. (2003). Psychiatric symptoms vary with the severity of dementia in probable Alzheimer’s disease. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 15, 346–353