Sunday, February 24, 2008

How Do Brains Get Different?


How on earth does one "demonize" a psychopath?

If 20 times a day you think, "I love milk and all the milk in the world belongs to me," the little pathway of connecting brain cells that lights up to think that thought dumps transmitter substance into those connections 20 times a day.

The amount of this chemical builds up, because it is being added to faster than it degrades. This is called MEMORY. It's what we LEARN with.

Keep thinking 20 times a day, every day, "I love milk and all the milk in the world belongs to me."

There will soon be so much transmitter substance between the connections along that pathway that it will take almost nothing to stimulate that thought.

In other words, every time you see something white, it could make you think that thought. In other other words, the connections get touchy. See what I mean? You are acquiring a habit.

There gets to be so much of that transmitter substance in that area that it spreads out, touching other brain cells and stimulating them to grow connections to the brain cells in that pathway.

Those connections are gray matter. The more gray matter in an area, the more developed it is. The more sophisticated it is. The more marvellous things it can do because of the complicated network of connections (like in a computer's motherboard or CPU).

Now even thoughts or sensations on parallel tracks can stimulate the thought "I love milk and all the milk in the world belongs to me."

So, let's take a picture of your brain.

Oh how horrible! It's different than a normal person's brain. It is more "developed" in that area (= has more gray matter/connections).

Now we know why you gotta have all the milk in the world: your brain is malfunctioning.

NOT.

Your brain isn't the cause of your need for all the milk in the world. Your need for all the milk in the world is the cause of your brain being different.

In other words, your habit of deliberately twisted thinking is what makes you need all the milk in the world every time you see something white.

It's supposed to work that way. If it didn't, you'd still be thinking at the level of a 2 or 3 year old. You wouldn't be able to learn anything. You'd never make the connections between related ideas. You'd never get an idea from another idea. In short, you would be about brain dead.

And guess what? If, while you're killing people to take away all their milk, you are repressing your human sensibilities, willfully not allowing yourself to feel any pity for them, forcing yourself to think instead in terms of cold-blooded logic "What is someone else's suffering to me?" - if you do that, the part of the brain that houses your human sensibilities won't get used much.

So, there will be little or no transmitter substance remaining in the connections along those pathways. So, there will be very few connections emmanating from that area. So, it will have little gray matter. So, it will be rare that anything you experience arrouses any empathy or sympathy or even feeling there. So, your emotional life will be impoverished and you won't experience the full range of human feelings because almost no stimulus will be strong enough to make those nerve cells fire. That's because they'll have to to misfire maybe a thousand times before enough transmitter substance builds up in the gaps to make the next brain cell along that pathway go off.

You'd probably have to deeply contemplate an experience (much like mystics contemplate, say, the five wounds of the Christ) to get any strong feeling.

Then we will say, "Oh, your brain is different from a normal person's! This area (the amygdala) is different than a normal person's brain. It isn't as developed. That's why you need all the milk in the world."

Not.

There. This is one possible explanation for why psychopaths' brains are different. That's truth, pure logic. You can't argue with it.

It is also the most likely explanation. No, I didn't say that this surely IS the explanation: I said that this is probably the explanation.

And it is unbelievable that any highly educated expert doesn't know that.

This is why I object to experts lying by ommission when they fail to mention this possibility, pretending instead that it has been proved that brain damage or malfunction causes psychopathy. It not only has NOT been proved, there is no evidence to support that (mere) hypothesis.

And I am suspicious of the fact that these are the same voices who have been fighting off the growing body of research on psychopathy for the last 30 years. The same voices that blame everything on social ills, like poverty, bad parents, and the like. No amount of scientific evidence shakes this article of their faith. They make the psychopath the victim and society the culprit. In other words, they somehow manage to claim that nobody is bad and that everybody is bad in the same breath. They seize upon every half-baked hypothesis that comes along and never bother to test any of them! Like this one and the hypothesis that NPD is genetically caused.

I say, "If you really think so, then conduct CONTROLLED experiments and STATISTICALLY VALID studies to prove it." You know, try scientific method.

In short, we just don't know for sure yet why psychopaths' brains are different. But if you're going to lean, you SHOULD lean the other way, towards the explanation I gave above. Why?

Because I wasn't just guessing. We KNOW that brain development does occur just that way. That we have proof of.

So which way to lean? Towards a cherished-myth preserving guess? Or towards a known way that something like this could happen?

What if this is true? What if the brain differences in psychopaths are just the tracks left behind of their own willfully twisted thinking? What does that mean?

It means that this is probably why psychopaths (and maybe other malignant narcissists as well) are so impervious to treament, and it doesn't bode well for a cure any time soon. It means that they think in a fundamentally different way than the rest of us do. And that this is a deeply, deeply ingrained habit. Not good news.

But it doesn't mean that they have any "disease" or "injury" in the normal sense of the word. It doesn't mean that they don't act out of malice.

And, since a habit is just a habit, like an addicition, it doesn't mean that they can't control themselves and aren't responsible for what they do.

Indeed, these brain differences explain only the emotional sterilty that makes them able to do such cruel things without a twinge of humanity. But ENABLING isn't CAUSING.

There is no part of the brain actually moving them like a robot to attack any victim that crosses their sights. THAT is wholly voluntary behavior.

See update with additional info here.

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11 Comments:

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Holy Water Salt said...

Interesting. I blogged (last week I believe) on Hare's theoory re: brain difference too, though I had a different take. But I too, did not agree their brain made them do it.

I also link to the video on this theory. It was a good overview.

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger Naive No Longer said...

Bravo, Kathy!!

I am new to this site as there was a link to it from Anna Valerious' site (Narcissists Suck).

I am so SICK of hearing that their brains are fundamentally different as if this is some sort of excuse for anything.

The milk analogy played out the way you did it describes it beautifully. How about their warped thinking being the CAUSE of the changed brain chemistry and not vice versa. What a novel thought. . . duh!!! Makes sense to me.

There's no way that you are going to convince me that a "faulty brain" removes them from culpability for their sick and selfish actions. Instead THEY have literally changed their own brain's circuitry by their sickness not vice versa. Brotherrr!!!

 
At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CHOICES. It comes down to CHOICES. And no cool new drug or therapy trick can change that--and those things are the lifeblood of the industry. That's why I think the "experts" refuse to face the issue. JMHO.

WTMCassandra

 
At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The wikipedia-article on psychopath(y) is also informative on this subject.
And also what Kohut has to say about malignant narcissism.
It all subscribes generaly the habit-issue you mention Kathy and the lack of neurotic and psychotic symptoms. As why it's not regarded a mental-illness in the usual way.

Cleckley, the founder of the modern 'psychopath-theory' called it somewhere 'spiritual suicide'.
I found that striking to read.
As I mentioned earlier I feel they kill their very soul.
Someone thought that allready 75years ago..
And all you read about it; it's irreverseble. Even if they want they cann't change.
And if the brain developed this way it's easyer to understand why.
Wether it's the brains habitual changed, or geneticily predisposed developed this way, or their is braindamage through dissease (encephalitis b.e.)or accident, is only important for the moral isseu I think then.
I mean if this is all proven we know that it's about a brain-change someway or the other and then we can know for sure they are beond real change.
That would make quite a differance for a lot off victims I guess.

greetings, Gerard

 
At 2:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

When I read the words "demonizing a psychopath" I too reacted with a what??? And although I do agree with what you have to say about the importance of one's thought patterns I have to argue that a hormonal/chemical imbalance effects one's mind WAY more than one's thought habits. If you personally have no hormonal problem then I understand that you might not put much credit into what I'm saying, but my thyroid gland doesn't work and I can assure you that when there is too little or too much thyroid hormone in the body (I've experienced both) it's impossible to think, feel and react in the same manner as when there is a normal amount of hormone in the body.

I personally cut all three N's I had a relationship with out of my life permanently. I'm not making excuses for them either. I don't know why they are like they are, but I do think it's way more complicated than you paint it here.

 
At 5:25 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Thanks, but it isn't a "novel" idea. I know this simply because of my degree in biology, particularly Human Physiology 101.

This is what people like Dr. Robert Hare mean when they point that these brain differences don't necessisarily mean that psychopath's brain is somehow damaged or malfunctioning, that it could simply be a result of how they think.

I will take credit for the explanation though. That's the former high school Biology teacher in me coming through ;-)

 
At 5:47 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

PS

By the way, the similarity of this purely scientific explanation with the religious explanation isn't lost on me.

Again, religion seems more correct (in its own way) than pseudoscience. For religion would call this a "spiritual disease" in which sin itself has caused the soul to become "sick" or "ill".

Frankly, I think that's cool. People have sensed for thousands of years that the twisted make themselves sick (by how they rationalize and then unknow their guilt), burdening their soul, that "the wages of sin is death (morbility of spirit)."

That's basically what really happens in the brain: twisted thinking and the willfull refusal to have a heart become such a deeply ingrained habit that you can actually see the effect of their aberrant thinking on their brains.

 
At 6:49 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

"And although I do agree with what you have to say about the importance of one's thought patterns I have to argue that a hormonal/chemical imbalance effects one's mind WAY more than one's thought habits. ...I don't know why they are like they are, but I do think it's way more complicated than you paint it here."

I'm sorry but you're wrong.

For one thing, we are talking about deeply, deeply ingrained thought patterns, etched into the brain by twisted thinking 24-7-365 for 20, 30, 40 years. Not just some mood you were in last week.

More important, this is a chemical "imbalance" too.

The transmitter substance (noradrenalin, dopamine or whatever transmitter substance operates in the area of the brain in question) is a chemical too.

Abnormalities in the concentration of transmitter substances have a HUGE effect. Drugs for example, cause this and note what a huge effect drugs have on the brain. Drugs like opium, which is a synthetic form of the transmitter substance dopamine.

This isn't my opinion, and mere opinion has no validity on the matter.

Yes, hormones do affect thinking, as every woman knows! But compare the effect of hormones (which act indirectly to increase or decrease the RATE at which transmitter substance is formed) to that of a drug (which essentially is a huge dose of excess transmitter substance). Which is stronger? The drug, by far.

Scour the literature for one bit of evidence that there is a hormonal difference in psychopaths. You won't find any.

So your hypothesis must be ditched.

Indeed, if there were a hormonal "imbalance", it would be known because it would be very easy to detect. All it would take is blood tests.

What's more, the brain itself (pituitary) regulates hormone flow through feedback mechanisms. So even if there were a hormone "imbalance," it might well be the result of twisted thinking, not a brain malfunction.

That's why they run so many tests when they detect an abnormality in hormone levels. Your doctors must determine whether the gland (your thyroid) or the brain (pituitary) is responsible. If it's the pituitary, the cause could be a malfunction there or, presumably, something else going on in the brain (such as a persistent emotional state) that makes it churn out more or less of its chemical than it normally would. They don't know what causes a pituitary malfunction: they just give you more of the lacking pitutary hormone.

Truth and science doesn't allow us to choose the explanation we like better, and that's what these people are doing. Plus they keep throwing flak like this at the truth, because they can count on the average person not to know any better.

That's why they hand you the line about "chemical imbalance" without being specific as to what chemicals they mean.

Twisted thinking WILL result in a chemical "imbalance." That isn't debatable: it's a fact. Actually it isn't an "imbalance" at all really. It's just a concentration of that chemical that is markedly DIFFERENT than the concentration you'd find in a normal person's brain.

 
At 7:10 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Gerard,

Yes, this knowledge should make a big difference to the victims, who keep hoping against hope that the psychopath or other narc will change.

"And all you read about it; it's irreverseble. Even if they want they cann't change.
And if the brain developed this way it's easyer to understand why.
Wether it's the brains habitual changed, or geneticily predisposed developed this way, or their is braindamage through dissease (encephalitis b.e.)or accident, is only important for the moral isseu I think then.
I mean if this is all proven we know that it's about a brain-change someway or the other and then we can know for sure they are beond real change."

That may not be true. A habit can be broken, so, theoretically, even this deeply engrained a habit may be broken. BUT, what are the chances? Practically nil.

Victims must face the fact that, for all practical purposes, they ARE (as you say) beyond change.

But again, as Dr. Hare often points out: this doesn't mean that their brains are damaged or malfunctioning in any way. It could well just be the result of what he calls "their thinking strategies."

He likewise makes the same point you do: Don't hold your breath for them to change.

Forget talk therapy.

He did develop a treatment regimin of positive and negative reinforcement that he wanted to test. Good for him that he wants to keep trying, but he doesn't kid us about the liklihood of success.

 
At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on these patterns described, if all men think of is sex 20 times a day instead of milk, women are in big trouble.

Since most narcissists are men, it would seem logical that men need to think about a variety of things in order to keep themselves balanced, not sexual compulsive, and not greed compulsive.

That is something which hasn't been tried as yet in the last 60 years or so. Perhaps industrialization and WWII spoiled everything for men.

If we want the likes of Holmes, Adams or Paine, perhaps men need more freedom to contemplate as they did.

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Those statistics are totally unreliable. Diagnostic bias, diagnostic error, invalid sampling - the whole works. If they're going to keep saying that mostly men are narcissists, they had better find a gene for it on the X chromosome.

 

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