Monday, February 25, 2008

UPDATE: More on How Brains Get Different

UPDATE: To answer questions that natually arise from my last post.

By the way, no two brains are the same. Each has developed somewhat differently. I have a different set of experiences stored in memory (by residual transmitter substance in the gaps between brain cells) than you. I think differently than you. So if you look close enough, you will detect slight differences in how our brains have developed. But you must look very close to see those differences, because they are almost invisible to current technology.

In the case of psychopaths, the differences are startling, largely because activity in emotional centers has been so repressed that these areas are a good deal less developed than they would be in my brain or yours. This explains why you and I would experience empathy at the heartrending sight of child blown up by terrorists, while the psychopath would feel nothing and just think, "What's it to me?" If you habitually refuse to relate to suffering humanity, never allowing yourself to feel pity, it gets to be a habit, and your brain will show the effect of this habit in its less-developed emotional centers.

In fact, that is no surpise. What IS surprising is that that the DIFFERENCE of development in these centers of a psychopath's brain is so far out of the normal range. To the point of virtually no emotional involvement at all. This amounts to a fundamentally different WAY of thinking, doesn't it? What Dr. Robert Hare calls a different thinking "strategy." But it stands to reason: you'd have to think this way to do the terrible things a psychopath does. Otherwise you couldn't: your human feelings would "weaken" you, so that you couldn't be so cruel.

This needn't be damage or malfunction of any sort. It could very well be a kind of perverted "natural learning." Actually, to be more precise, a kind of "natural anti-learning" = "resistence to learning empathy." Note that children are not born with it: they LEARN it.

If you are interested in the subject and care to translate from "learning how to hit a tennis forehand" to "learning how to be brutal," you can see these two lessons on my tennis tips and instruction website: Learning How to Play Tennis and Dynamic Balance. Just keep in mind that these two kinds of learning occur in different areas. Your forehand is coordinated in the cerebellum, and your emotions register in different centers. Nonetheless, the process of natural learning is the same throughout the brain, because brain cells (no matter which transmitter substance they use) all work the same way.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that everything we learn can be blamed on some "teacher," like an abusive parent. Indeed, an abusive parent WILL serve as an example. But so does the other parent, and the child can choose between these two ways of life. (I did!) In fact, we teach OURSELVES the lion's share of what we learn in life. We can choose to win "the game of life" by cheating, or we can choose to be someone we can bear to see in a real mirror - one that doesn't lie like a narcissist's warped mirrors lie. This could very well be why many psychopaths come from good homes.

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At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy.

What evidence is there that 'many psychopaths come from good homes'?

How would you define a good home?

As narcissists are so totally focused on image, the so-called 'good home' may be a fake.

What do you think?

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, a habit can be broken. As you mention even a serious drugaddict can stop the habit. We know he'll always be tempted but still..some proven they realy changed their conduct and became like they were before the addiction started; their psychopathic behaviour vanished.
The behaviour that was fueled by their addiction.
But if an addiction like narcisstic supply starts at a very young age and this causes the blocking of development of grey matter in de brains it's a different story I guess.
It's not 'brain-damage' then but you also can not speak of a normal developed brain.
A human brain without a normaly/fully developed emotional and moral part isn't a normal human brain if there is substantial grey matter missing.
And if there is grey matter missing there is no way as far as I know, you can let this grow back anyway so; irreverseble.
In other words, if this can be proven in cases of NPD we'll know for sure why it's irreverseble, why they can not change it.
Then it's not about excusses but about facts and we would know better how to deal with them.
If this would realy be the case it would also be hard to make a child of 3 years old responseble for the choice it made back then to choose to stay in pretending Wonderland.
There would be no expectation for anyone involved to expect something coming from the 'hart' of someone with NPD.
For me personely it would be a relief if this isseu would be cleared up definitly.


At 3:47 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

This gray matter isn't "missing." We never deveop all of it that we could, just a small fraction. I have gray matter that you don't have, and vice versa. But that doesn't mean that either of us is missing any. Essentially, we just never "wanted" whatever we don't have.

So this gray matter can't "grow back," because it was never there.

I agree that you can't make a child of 3 responsible for a choice he made back then. But it wasn't one choice. It is a choice he continues to make 20 times a times a day for life, the choice to not feel.

Over time, yes, this does become such a habit that it would be very hard to break. Perhaps impossible at some point.

Personality disorders aren't diagnosed in teenagers, who do seem to sometimes turn themselves around. Perhaps at that age they are still able to get an emotional life if they decide they want one.

The moral issue is important, but not for the usual reason. There is no value in condemning psychopaths and other narcissists.

But it is important for people to know that they act out of malice and that they aren't machines who cannot choose to resist their temptations and stop hurting others. It's important for people to know that they are cunning and diabolical.

It's also important to have a sense of how differently they think and feel. Otherwise people don't realize the danger, because they never dream that these people are capable of the cruel and brutal things they do.

And, as you say, it's crucial for people to know that there is virtually no hope of getting them to change.

But that's all. No need to panic and introduce legislation to test everybody so as to find and lock all these people up. That would be a fiasco! People just need to be informed and be self-reliant. They need to notice and heed the warning signs to stay away from the predators among us.

And if they do commit a violent crime, lock them up and throw away the key.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

BTW, the main reason you have people in favor of the death penalty in the United States is because they are getting sick of psychiatrists and parol boards releasing them to kill and rape again ... and again ... and again.

Here in Wisconsin we don't have the death penalty, so the inmates of the prison he was in put Jeffrey Dammer to death themselves!

After all these decades of such medical and governmental malpractice, many people feel that the death penalty is the only way to stop a psychopath so that the psychologists and parole boards can't unleash him on us again. Sad.

A diagnosis of psychopathy should be irrelevant to a decision of whether to impose the death penalty. And hardly anyone would want the DP if the system just wised up and stopped releasing these people to do it again.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Holy Water Salt said...

The death penalty though acts as a deterrent- the ultimate authority, a psychopath knows that it is a possibility.

Any exterior threat to their autonomy is helpful in keeping them reigned in....people act as restraints, fear of punishment etc.

I know you have blogged on that extensively.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Kathy said...


"What evidence is there that 'many psychopaths come from good homes'?How would you define a good home?As narcissists are so totally focused on image, the so-called 'good home' may be a fake. What do you think?"

(Watch your tone. I am not a liar.)

Do you attempt to control the other end of a dialog by just asking questions and never saying anything? Have you got anything to say? Do you have a point to make? Do you have an answer to a point I made?

Are the facts and reasoning you find here embarrassing any cherished myths you have?

Can you write a simple declarative sentence?

What makes you think all this evidence is based on a psychopath's self reports? Or are you talking about narcissits? Why do you play the shell-game with these words?

Why don't you first tell me how you you define a good home if that term is so ambiguous to you?

Why don't you tell me what you think?

Can you Google? Do you know anything about this subject? Have you read this website and blog?

Do you think that I am here to serve you the answer to any stupid question I have already answered a dozen times here on this blog and website just because you're too lazy to read it? How many times do you think I must answer the same stupid question for you? How many times can you ask the same stupid question? Every few days or weeks, right?

How much are you going to pay me for that?

There. Now snap to it. Answer me these questions, immediately.

Then start your Googling at "predators among us" and "hercz" for all the evidence I'm sure you'll never look at.

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But if it was proven and then accepted by every docter, therapist and lawyer that it's an irreverseble brain(developtment)problem, no one would make an effort anymore of trying and hoping/believing to get them better and ever release them again.
I think it's this believe with many therapists etc., why psychopaths are released now and then and narcissists get away with what they do, only to see they commit other crimes again.
In Holland it happened many times over the years.
Psychopaths who they believed were cured more or less got a few days off, disapeared and killed another kid or two.
It's partly this 'not-knowing', this doubt, which fueles this thinking I believe.
Personaly I think as long as we are not completly sure about this we have no right to put death penalty on those people (if we ever have the right, but that's something else).
But on the other hand as long as we are not sure we also should never release them and take the risks of that.
A diagnosis of psychopathy for me is enough to lock them up forever. NPD the same now.
Society would be far beter off in my view.
But still we donn't know enough to make final conclusions I think.

Till that time we should continue to treat them according to what they do, no doubt about that with me. Cause anyway they know what they do. There is no proof neccesary anymore for this fact and that wonn't change with whatever proof there will come further.


At 5:36 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Holy Water Salt,

Yes it is a deterrant - that is pretty well established.

But I don't know whether it deters psychopaths or not. One of the emotions they don't feel fully is fear. Risk taking gives them a giddy high. So I wonder about that.

In any case, I don't feel strongly either way - except about one thing: the new DNA evidence revealed a shockingly high number of innocent people on death row. people FRAMED by the real perp! The DP, once enforced, ensures that justice will never be done, that an innocent person's name will never be cleared. So, I salute the former governor of Illinois for imposing a moratorium until we fix the sytem to stop convicting innocent people.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Kathy said...


"A diagnosis of psychopathy for me is enough to lock them up forever. NPD the same now."

Agreed. I would use the diagnosis for that.

Yes, if anything that problem of releasing them is a little worse in Europe than here. It's hard to convince a patronizing (fairly narcissistic) mental healthcare establishment that they are wrong and that they are doing more harm than good by refusing to face facts.

But I recently read that more and more now they refrain from treating psychopaths, considering them unrehabilitatable. Probably also more and more of them are really bothered by evidence stacking up that treatment (via talk therapy) just makes them more dangerous.

So, slowly progress is being made. More and more researchers and clinicians are daring to blow against the politically correct wind and conducting legitimate research to nail down all the lose ends in the case.

At 8:21 PM, Blogger Holy Water Salt said...

True- I agree one innocent life lost is too much.

But I know the ONE thing that stopped my psychopath was fear of a man I know speaking to them- nothing I said
ever deterred them. Just the inference that I would have them spoken to by they went and I got the first "sorry" they'd ever texted ( what a loser) was total BS, just fearful of another man.

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

"I got the first "sorry" they'd ever texted ( what a loser) was total BS, just fearful of another man."

Yes! They have such a good act that it startles you when you see them react to a threat of payback. They become so scared in one second flat. And cower. It's pathetic. It's hard to believe your eyes that they were such a tyranosaur two seconds ago. It really is like the proverbial story of the bully who finds gets a punch back - right in the nose and instantly runs off crying to his mamma. No exaggeration.

I think the male ones often target women (especially unmarried ones with no brothers or young father) just because they know a woman can't do that to them.

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Kathy

This is literally hot off the press: it's a short article from Neurology Now, about the brains of migraine patients.

And how different they are.

And how this difference may well be the RESULT rather than the CAUSE of the migraines. "... long-term overstimulation of the sensory fields in the cortex could explain these changes."

Very, very interesting. And a tidy little bit of support for all that you've been saying in your last two posts. Different area of the brain, different pathology, same underlying concept.

Here's the article in full, followed by a link.

"Neurology Now:Volume 4(1) January/February 2008 p 13

The Migraine Brain


Smolinsky, Mike

People with migraines have differences in an area of the brain that helps process sensory information, including pain, according to a study published in the November 20, 2007 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study, which was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Swiss Heart Foundation, and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine Dean's Award, found that part of the cortex area of the brain is thicker in people with migraine than in people who do not have the neurological disorder.

Comparing 24 people with migraine to 12 people without migraine, the study found that the somatosensory cortex area of the brain was an average of 21 percent thicker in those with migraine.

Repeated migraine attacks may lead to, or be the result of, these structural changes in the brain, says study author Nouchine Hadjikhani, M.D., associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. Most of these people had been suffering from migraines since childhood, so the long-term overstimulation of the sensory fields in the cortex could explain these changes. It's also possible that people who develop migraines are naturally more sensitive to stimulation.

Dr. Hadjikhani says the results indicate that the brain's sensory mechanisms are important components in migraine. This may explain why people with migraines often also have other pain disorders such as back pain, jaw pain, and other sensory problems such as allodynia, where the skin becomes so sensitive that even a gentle breeze can be painful.

What this means for people with migraine, says Dr. Hadjikhani, is that pain should not be ignored or dismissed. Pain might have negative consequences on the brain, so people should treat early. Don't play it tough, Dr. Hadjikhani says. You could be training your brain to tolerate pain better, and this might not be a good thing."


At 11:38 PM, Blogger randomcolette said...

Hi, like the blog. Just wanted to clarify: isn't a narcissist a sociopath, rather than a psychopath? Narcissists are not only unable but unwilling to identify emotions - they lack empathy. But psychopaths have the ability to empathise - they can identify emotions - they just don't care. I have been reading a little about malignant narcissism recently and wonder if these subcategory of narcissists might be virtually interchangeable with psychopaths in terms of function. Guess I'll find out more of these things as I learn more about the human face of evil!

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Kathy said...


At 12:07 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Hi Random Collette,

There's much confusion over those terms. Psychopathy (not to be confused with psychosis) is quite distinct from sociopathy, which is a term usually used for Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD or ASPD). But the APA has confused the two, apparantly to make psychopathy go away.

All psychopaths are malignant narcissists. Whether all malignant narcissists are psychopaths is uncertain. Malignant narcissism (NPD) and psychopathy are virtually indistinguishable. In fact many authorities now suspect that they are the same or just different ends of a continuum.

See Are NPD and Psychopathy the Same? on the main site for an explanation and sources.

At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think the male ones often target women (especially unmarried ones with no brothers or young father) just because they know a woman can't do that to them."

Kathy, yes, they prefer to target only children (like I'am) and in my case parents divorced, no contact with my mam nor my dad at the time he met me....

A woman can't do that to them, you mean, physically speaking?.

Otherwise in the meantime my ex N. is turned into some one who feares me, he became the coward and doesn't dare to come in my sight, not even in my street. Talks in the meantime suddenly nice and respectfull about me to other ....? (Nobody around him would confront him!?!, how did this change come.....)Tries many things, but failed with everything, running into my wall, and so far, he lost time after time in court and he is in my grip now, legalwise and he can't jump anyware, moneywise. But I will keep 2 steps ahead of him! Because I now what he is and I can't allow myself to fall down!

Jt B

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

"A woman can't do that to them, you mean, physically speaking?."

Not necessarilly. The "woman alone" has always been a prime target. Even for the Inquisition and Protestant witch hunters. Women and children are denied the credibility that automatically is given a man.

For example, I remember the famous Fowler, authority on the King's English, trashing a certain "Miss" Falconer simply by emphasizing her title of "Miss" = "well then, we know what's wrong with her, don't we?" It's so easy to take the cheap shot of characterizing her as "shook up" to push people's button not to take her seriously. Like a child isn't to be taken seriously.

Ns exploit this. They may not actually BE sexist (they are so shallow and for-looks-only that they are probably acting about everything, even bigotry, and are probably not really bigoted themselves), but they exploit it to sick the bystanders on their victim.

But it could be fear of a physical punch as well. Men tend to get very angry (and protective) over someone insulting their wife, daughter or sister. Even more so than they would be of themselves. The Ns I have known left women with potential "defenders" alone.

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy, thanks for your explanation.

It makes things clearer again, stupid I never saw that.

I was the most perfect target an N. could get, because quit soon al males (a loving uncle and very loving and really caring stepfather. who didn't like nor trusted my N. at all and was very very suspicious about him)in direct contact with me, died and so my surrounding was weakenend in his vision. What comfort he had! Ghee.

Miscalculation for him in the end is my own strenght then.

Kathy, makes my day!

jt B


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