Can psychopaths learn empathy?

Can psychopaths learn empathy?

Psychotic people often have characteristics such as self-centeredness, psychological manipulation of others, violence and possibly criminals. But can people who exhibit these traits overcome them and learn to feel empathy?

Before addressing this question, you should know that the medical definition of psychopathy is very complex and experts are still debating what this term should include. Katarina Haner, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, to Live Science “Psychopathy is not a diagnosis in itself and is a personality disorder that is closely related to criminal and antisocial behavior,” he said.

Like other personality disorders, psychopathy is diagnosed through life history interviews, in which psychiatric professionals explore all aspects of a person’s life, looking for patterns of psychopathic traits such as callousness and quick aggression.

“People with psychopathic traits are focused on themselves and their needs,” Haner explained. They lack empathy and do not experience shame or guilt. There is a kind of arrogance and impulsiveness in them; In the sense that they think they can do anything without thinking about the consequences.”

Although, according to Haner, that doesn’t mean psychopaths don’t have empathy at all. Psychologists divide this complex feeling into several subcategories. “Psychopaths don’t show emotional empathy, meaning they can’t feel the emotions other people are showing,” he said. But they have the ability of cognitive empathy. This type of empathy is more like mind reading, meaning you can think how the other person is thinking or feeling. Psychopaths are usually skilled in this field and use it to psychologically manipulate people.

Psychopaths are at high risk of committing violent crimes or reoffending after release from prison

The apparent lack of emotional empathy is what makes psychopathic people seem cold and ruthless. Although studies consistently show that these people have the capacity to experience this type of empathy under the right circumstances.

Ariel Baskin Summers, a psychologist at Yale University, said: “When you ask psychopaths to identify the type of emotion that a face in an image clearly shows, they can do so with great accuracy, but if they quickly dismiss the images, or mix emotions, psychopaths get into trouble. “The problem is not that they don’t have that empathy, it’s that they don’t have the natural ability to do it easily.”

But is emotional empathy an ability that psychopaths can learn? There are many reasons to believe this, Baskin Summers told LiveScience. That they can experience empathy, and that this ability changes depending on the situation, is a promising sign.

But why does psychosis occur in the first place? Scientists aren’t exactly sure, although evidence suggests a combination of environmental and genetic factors play a role in the condition. But while the cause is unknown, the effect of psychosis on the brain is well demonstrated.

Studies have shown profound differences both in the structure of the brain and in the way different brain regions are connected in psychopathic individuals. The size, structure and function of the amygdala, the region of the brain responsible for our emotional processing, is different in people with psychopathy. Also, we usually see differences in the prefrontal structures of the brain that are related to general cognition and behavioral control.

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Psychotic people have fundamentally different brains. These neural differences mean that psychopaths do not process emotions in the same way that other people do, and it is difficult to overcome this physical disparity.

Psychopathy is a condition that needs support and treatment

Current treatments rely on a combination of approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, but there is no simple cure to help psychopaths experience empathy more easily. Strategies focused on rewarding good behavior have been partially effective in helping patients adjust to society, and Haner and Baskin-Summers say therapeutic interventions should focus on this.

Baskin Summers said, “Current data suggest that psychosis is as treatable as other psychiatric disorders. “There is an unfortunate narrative about psychosis that these people are fundamentally evil, but society needs to recognize that this is a condition that deserves support and needs treatment.”

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