Although the collective imaginary always deviates the mind towards delinquency and evil when talking about the psychopathy, this personality disorder it is something more complex than that association suggests. Not all criminals are psychopaths, nor are all psychopaths Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal villain of The silence of the lambs. "Psychopaths are people with problems of interpersonal relationship and emotional management. Apparently they are cold, although it is not true that they do not have emotions. They are very intense. What they do not have are remorse, which is what gives a tendency towards delinquency, but not in all cases, of course, "explains Dr. Jesús Pujol, director of research at the Magnetic Resonance Unit of the Radiology Service of the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, where the doctor has led a scientific review of other published studies. has found that the brain of psychopaths is different.The research suggests that emotional stress in childhood precipitates the over-ripening of some brain regions as a system of protection against suffering, but it also ends up making it difficult to manage emotions.
The complexity of psychopathy transcends stereotypes. In fact, a study published in 2013 in the magazine Journal of Forensic Science, already warned that the psychopathic prototype of the iconic Lecter was not even very realistic. He was called "an elite psychopath, who exhibits exaggerated levels of intelligence, sophisticated and cunning manners, sometimes to superhuman and supermediated levels." More according to reality was, according to the study, the character of Anton Chigurh in No country for old men, a role played by Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
The range of behaviors is wide, but all psychopaths agree on one thing: the brain alterations that differentiate them from other individuals without this disorder. Pujol and his team reviewed more than 400 scientific articles in which the brain of people with psychopathy was analyzed through magnetic resonance imaging. The meta-analysis, published in the scientific journal Psychological Medicine, has concluded that the brain of psychopaths presents an accelerated maturation of several brain regions related to emotional and cognitive processing. "The brain of psychopaths is different from the anatomical and functional point of view, there are differences in the areas that process cognition and reasoning and in those that process emotional activity, the connection between these two areas fails," explains Pujol.
The researchers found that, from the anatomical point of view, in the regions of temporal lobe (where the amygdala is, related to emotions) and in the frontal (responsible for cognitive functions) there was "an apparent atrophy of the gray matter" . "However, what we postulate is that, in reality, what there was was an increase in white matter, which implies an over-ripening of those areas," says Pujol.
Apparently they are cold, although it is not true that they do not have emotions. They are very intense
The study suggests that the origin of this accelerated maturation of some brain regions is in having suffered situations of emotional stress at an early age. The brain develops that over-maturity to protect itself from the circumstances that cause it suffering. "In a context of emotional stress, the child triggers an overmature that implies, on the one hand, a blockage to evade suffering and, on the other hand, turns the person into someone not scrupulous and without remorse"As the child matures rapidly, the child expands the capacity to tolerate suffering and manages to escape from that emotional situation that hurts him, but this defense system causes collateral damage:" they have no emotional restraint, "Pujol summarizes. The doctor clarifies that the trauma is not punctual, but must be persistent in time to get to modulate the anatomy of the brain.
In practice, this brain disorder causes that, faced with a moral dilemma, the activation of the two systems (cognitive and emotional) is blocked. Neither your reasoning ability nor your feelings or emotions are nullified. What happens is that "The association between emotion and cognition in decision making is blocked", the doctor clarifies, with everything, he points out," they are responsible for their actions ".
Similarities to steroid use
Researchers have also found similarities between the brains of psychopaths and people who consume androgenic steroids for more than 10 years (they are often used to improve athletic performance or increase muscle mass). The cerebral affectations detected in the psychopaths and in the people who consume these anabolic agents for long periods of time are the same.
Pujol clarifies, however, that this similarity does not imply that steroid users end up developing, in the long term, a psychopathic disorder. "There is an anatomical resemblance of the two pathologies, although it is true that the control of impulses and behavior can change after consuming steroids for long periods of time, this is far from thinking that it can generate psychopathy," explains the researcher.