Skip to main content

Psychopaths Feel Fear But Have Difficulty Detecting Threats

Psychopaths Feel Fear But Have Difficulty Detecting Threats

For many decades, fearlessness has been considered the hallmark trait of psychopathy and has been blamed for the bold risk-taking behavior commonly found in the personality disorder. Now new research shows that psychopathic people may be capable of feeling fear, but they seem to have difficulty detecting and responding to a threat.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, is the first to provide strong evidence that an individual’s conscious experience of fear as an emotion may be quite separate from his automatic ability to detect and respond to threats.

Researchers at Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen reviewed brain and behavioral data to look for any link between fear and psychopathy in adult individuals. Their definition of fear was based on state of the art knowledge of the neurobiological and cognitive underpinnings of this emotion.

Then they created a model that separated brain mechanisms involved in the conscious experience of fear as an emotion from those involved in automatic detection and response to threats.

Using this model as a reference, they first performed a conceptual analysis of the work of earlier theorists, going back as far as 1806. They found that only one theorist incorporated the construct of fear into a model of psychopathy.

The evidence for impairments in brain areas involved in the experience of fear was less consistent than is currently assumed, indicating that the experience of fear may not be completely impaired in psychopathy.

The researchers then demonstrated that psychopathic individuals may in fact feel fear but have trouble in the automatic detection and responsivity to threat, providing direct support for the claim that the conscious experience of fear may not be impaired in these individuals.

Another meta-analysis examining the five other basic emotions found that there may also be impairments in the experience of happiness and anger, but the lack of consistency in the current literature prevented making any strong claims.

“As a consequence of our research, some very influential theories that assign prominent roles to fearlessness in the aetiology of psychopathy will need to be reconsidered and made consistent with current neuroscientific evidence,” said researcher Sylco Hoppenbrouwers at VU Amsterdam.

“Such re-evaluations of key concepts will lead to increased precision in research and clinical practice which should ultimately pave the way toward more targeted and more effective treatment interventions.”

The findings are the first to provide strong evidence that the automatic and conscious processes may be separate in an individual. The proposed model not only applies to psychopathy, but can also be used to further increase conceptual precision and generate new hypotheses for research on mood and anxiety disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder.

“While psychopathic individuals may suffer from a dysfunctional threat system, people with posttraumatic stress disorder may have a hyperactive threat system, which later leads to them feeling fearful,” said Inti Brazil at Radboud University.

Source: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

from Psych Central News


Popular posts from this blog

Hair Pulling, Nail Biting, Skin Peeling and Biting

All my life I’ve bitten my nails. It’s caused me a lot of trouble, especially with my bipolar mother who has always thought screaming and shouting at me (and often a smack when I was younger) would make me stop.At around 7 I also started biting and peeling the skin on my fingers which has caused a lot of social and health issues for me from being to ashamed to join in with prayers at school, to getting my fingers getting a fungal infection causing long lasting damage to my fingers.Soon after I started to pull out the tiny hairs on my legs during school assembles and by 12 I began to pull my eyebrow hair out.How can I stop doing this to myself? I don’t even realise I’m doing it half the time (I started biting the skin around my fingers just writing this and caused it to bleed a little). I’m afraid to bring this up with my parents because of how they have reacted in the past and I’m far too embarrassed to ask anyone I would typically trust. It has severally impacted how I interact with …

Painful Memories Evoke More Intense Emotions in Those With Depression

People with major depressive disorder (MDD) experience more intense negative emotions while recalling painful memories compared to non-depressed people, according to a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.And although those with MDD were able to turn down their negative emotions about as well as non-depressed people, they used different brain circuits to do so.The new findings pinpoint brain differences in MDD associated with the processing of autobiographical memories — one’s memories of personal events and knowledge of one’s life — that help us develop our sense of self and guide our interactions with the world around us.“This study provides new insights into the changes in brain function that are present in major depression,” said journal editor Cameron Carter, M.D. “It shows differences in how memory systems are engaged during emotion processing in depression and how people with the disorder must regulate these systems i…

People with depression have stronger emotional responses to negative memories

People with major depressive disorder (MDD) feel more negative emotion when remembering painful experiences than people without the disorder, according to a new study. The study reports that people with MDD were able to control the negative emotions about as well as people unaffected by MDD, but used somewhat different brain circuits to do so.

from Top Health News -- ScienceDaily
via IFTTTBecome a patron of The Carlisle Wellness Network. Show everyone that you think this service is worth at least a buck. Go to; and pledge one dollar per month and help improve the resources it takes to gather the articles you see here as well as create fresh content including interviews an podcasts. We only need one dollar per month from all of our patrons to give The Carlisle Wellness Network a bright furture in the health and wellness social media ecosystem.