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Psychopathy's Double Edge
October 26, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

"What I'm planning is a psychopath makeover, to find out firsthand, for better and for worse, what it's like to see the world through devil-may-care eyes."
posted by anotherpanacea (33 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was kind of bored of this somewhat old news about Psychopath behavior until I got to the experiment challenge about halfway through.

"The effects of the treatment should wear off within half an hour," Nick says, steering me over to a specially calibrated dentist's chair, complete with headrest, chin rest, and face straps. "Think of TMS as an electromagnetic comb, and brain cells—neurons—as hairs. All TMS does is comb those hairs in a particular direction, creating a temporary neural hairstyle. Which, like any new hairstyle, if you don't maintain it, quickly goes back to normal of its own accord."

Bloody riveting reading after that. Thanks!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:36 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


The idea that you can turn a normal person with a lifetime of normal habituation into something close to psychopath merely by applying a bit of magnet field to his amygdala is a bit of a stretch for me. I would tend to think that the brain and the consciousness of personality is a bit more complex than that. Additionally, when I see sentences such as "OK, I've never tested Special Forces before." or "If I hadn't recorded those readings myself, I'm not sure I would have believed them" or " I can then use it as a kind of base camp, if you like, from which to plot the coordinates of ... your moral-reasoning area." then I begin to think that the article is perhaps high on sensationalistic jingoism and low on actual scientific fact.

It's a somewhat interesting read from Kevin Dutton but he comes off as sounding far more like Hunter S. Thompson than a research scientist.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:42 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a hard time believing this. He relates his experience to being drunk but with a lack of attendant sluggishness. The confidence that comes from being drunk is really susceptible to placebo effects. If you give people ginger ale that tastes like it has rum in it, they'll start acting drunk without actually being inebriated. I'm pretty sure something like that is going on here. They could have used a movie prop instead of a real TMS machine and you'd see the same effects. Also, given that he's a writer coming in hoping for a good story, he has plenty of motivation for self-deception. He's acting, but doesn't realize he is.

It's fun to imagine in a sci-if way what would happen if this machine really worked. I assume that you'd come out of the machine realizing you were duped your whole life into believing a false moral system, and you'd also realize that you'd go back to being duped in half an hour, so you'd do some crazy things in the meantime, kind of like a perverted version of Flowers for Algernon. Maybe you'd try to set it up so your future self would find himself in the chair again. (Or would a psychopath not empathize with a future duped self?)
posted by painquale at 2:57 PM on October 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's not a stretch for me at all to think that our brains can be hacked by the same sorts of signals that make it work in the first place. All of the wonderful complexity and richness of consciousness, as vast an experience as it can be, must at some point manifest physically. I don't think that reduces us to mere bio-chemical/electrical impulses or networks, but I do think that if there are physical mechanisms to our selves, then they can be tampered with or altered (e.g., psychiatric medicines).

Whether or not TMS actually does this is currently being (dis)proven in labs, and the truth will out. I easily inferred, given the phrasing in the article ('leading proponent of...') that TMS is still controversial, and the author points out how extremely limited the effect was for him. But what he experienced was real regardless of whether it was TMS- or self-induced. So his brain was hacked, in some small way. I enjoyed his story, despite the slightly purple prose.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:05 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a somewhat interesting read from Kevin Dutton but he comes off as sounding far more like Hunter S. Thompson than a research scientist.

Of course, he IS far more like Hunter S. Thompson than a research scientist. Still interesting.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:09 PM on October 26, 2012


What is this? Psychopathy? Caused by "the current slump in reading habits"? "his brain suddenly responded by injecting liquid nitrogen into his veins"? The "deep code red of extreme and ruthless focus"? "My soul, or whatever you want to call it, immersed in a spiritual dishwasher"? What a strangely spirited piece. Was he still on it when he wrote it?
posted by deo rei at 3:11 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


There should be a new thing called a "Popculturepath."

It's a basically normal person who's kind of a jerk, but who has a friend or subordinate who read some pseudo-science about "signs of a psychopath."
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:11 PM on October 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


Folks, the entire read was worth it for: "I look like Hannibal Lecter at LensCrafters."
posted by selfmedicating at 3:24 PM on October 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Just intern at Goldman Sachs.
posted by jaduncan at 3:25 PM on October 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


The notion that society is becoming "more psychopathic" is ridiculous, the sort of facile category mistake that is not less irritating for being so commonplace. We used to have public hangings, for fuck's sake. A little over 60 years ago, tens of millions of people went to war, killing further tens of millions of people. Death by starvation was not uncommon in Europe and America well into the 20th century.

Pointing to some bad things in the world and a few meaningless quizzes about self perception, in order to get to use the exciting "psycho" word is not an argument, it's an embarrassment.
posted by howfar at 3:33 PM on October 26, 2012 [25 favorites]


Who's the author we can blame for this whole pop culture, am-I-a-psychopath fad? I remember it came from one specific guy who had a book to sell in the last year or so, but I'm drawing a blank on his name.
posted by indubitable at 3:43 PM on October 26, 2012


I wonder how much psychopathic (sociopathic is the term I like better) behavior is just humans survival instincts run amok and manifesting themselves in ways we now consider inappropriate? There was a time in human existence that killing or maiming another person and taking their food, clothing, housing, etc. was probably looked upon as a show of strength rather than a trait to be locked up for.
posted by photoslob at 3:43 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Who's the author we can blame for this whole pop culture, am-I-a-psychopath fad

Jon Ronson and his book The Psychopathic Test
posted by photoslob at 3:46 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole concept of "Psychopath" tends to attract a lot of psudoscientific blather. People talked about "Sociopaths" all the time but that was never and official diagnosis in the DSM.
(sociopathic is the term I like better)
That term isn't used by psychologists though.
posted by delmoi at 3:46 PM on October 26, 2012


I realise that I'm getting old when I notice that 1945 is now nearer to 70 years ago than 60.
posted by howfar at 3:47 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh sorry, earlier I was going to add that in the latest version of the DSM they are thinking of adding ""Antisocial/Psychopathic Type". as a subtype of antisocial personality disorder.
posted by delmoi at 3:49 PM on October 26, 2012


If you give people ginger ale that tastes like it has rum in it, they'll start acting drunk without actually being inebriated.

9th-grade girl people anyway, at least when I was in high school.
posted by Blue Meanie at 4:09 PM on October 26, 2012


Paxil turned me very close to psychopathic. But it also made me incredibly charming, so there was that.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 4:28 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rent-a-friend

I'm not even remotely new to the internet, and I keep up on quite a bit online. But I didn't even know this was a real thing until right now.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:44 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I fully agree with the author about the narcissistic tendencies of college students and how it makes them easier to murder.
posted by orme at 5:07 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Didn't Robert Louis Stevenson write this story?
posted by jfuller at 5:10 PM on October 26, 2012


Though the author never says so, I would presume Andy did everything he could to keep his men from dying or being captured.

I think a psychopath would maintain the same cool detachment while he used his men as human shields. Or, ordered them into combat while he ran the other way.
posted by UrbanEye at 5:40 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I have no reason to doubt McNabb's honourable service, it's worth noting that he's regarded with scepticism and dislike in many military circles. If you want credibility, he's not necessarily the best person to take along with you, regardless of whether the criticisms are well founded.
posted by howfar at 5:45 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


We don't have more psychopaths, we have more cable channels.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:36 PM on October 26, 2012


I have a hard time believing this. He relates his experience to being drunk but with a lack of attendant sluggishness. The confidence that comes from being drunk is really susceptible to placebo effects. If you give people ginger ale that tastes like it has rum in it, they'll start acting drunk without actually being inebriated. I'm pretty sure something like that is going on here. They could have used a movie prop instead of a real TMS machine and you'd see the same effects. Also, given that he's a writer coming in hoping for a good story, he has plenty of motivation for self-deception. He's acting, but doesn't realize he is.

This made me think of The Prisoner and its ultrasonic 'lobotomies'.
posted by knapah at 6:49 PM on October 26, 2012


Imagining, it would seem, really does make it so.

No. Next.
posted by Splunge at 8:15 PM on October 26, 2012


No seriously. When I rode the F train late at night I'd have all sorts of weird fantasies. I even spoke to a friend at the time. We liked to write stories. Sometimes we'd ride the subway together and make up sick stories and then write them down.

Hey, we could totally get off the subway at Second Avenue and kill that guy.

It was a joke, a way of playing with the way that we thought. She was completely into writing a story about a female serial killer.

Eventually I turned it around. It was about me on a train and looking at a cute girl with what looked like a Halloween costume. But when it got to my stop she pulled a human head out of a plastic bag. And she smiled at me. And I ran screaming off of the train.

At no point did I think it was real. Although a strong imagination could make it feel that way for a short time.
posted by Splunge at 8:23 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Looks like they are working their way toward the ontological lapsometer.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 9:17 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Robert Hare has a commercial interest in there being more psychopathy because he gets paid whenever people use the Hare Checklist. This should worry you, because many clinicians also believe Hare's assertion that psychopaths are untreatable, so psychopath panic is probably responsible for a non-trivial number of extended incarcerations and psychiatric imprisonments due to the overzealous interpretation of symptoms that are also associated with borderline personality disorder and addictions.

Over in the real world, violent crime has decreased in most developed nations over the last four decades, and many behaviours that are signals of psychopathy, such as cruelty to animals and certain forms of interpersonal violence, are less tolerated than they used to be.

It is true that college students' empathy seems to be decreasing and indeed, this and the collapse of close friendship in North America are both troubling, well-known phenomena. This does not mean there are more psychopaths, however. It may mean that a significant segment of the population possesses less social intelligence/competence than they did before. The article deliberately listed hot button questions, but tests for, say, narcissism possess a far larger number of ethically innocuous or tricky questions and how they correlate as a whole (one that asks if you have to screw over other people to get ahead, for instance, is meaningless by itself since you could say yes due to a disturbed personality *or* say yes because you're cynical).

My feeling is that we live in a world where people may be more compassionate in abstract, intellectualized ways, through codes of behaviour, personal philosophies and remote but compelling group allegiances, but possess less of an ability to treat people as something beyond subjects for the exercise of these abstract mechanisms. I think this applies to the arts in that with many works, we operate on a multilevelled cognitive experience where we try to empathize with the creators, other members of the audience, and even fictional/represented persons. We do indeed benefit from practising that.

I have looked at this stuff for a while from the perspective of game design, where in my opinion, these changes in social reasoning have altered the types of games we play and the reasons we play them. One of the unfortunate things about gamification and the emphasis on reward cycles instead of symbol-rich experiences is that they feed into this, especially when we reduce portrayals of people from sources of complex sentimental experience to walking punishment/reward stimuli.
posted by mobunited at 9:26 PM on October 26, 2012 [15 favorites]


Make believe is fun at all ages.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:05 PM on October 26, 2012


Related posts.
posted by homunculus at 12:36 AM on October 27, 2012


While I have no reason to doubt McNabb's honourable service, it's worth noting that he's regarded with scepticism and dislike in many military circles.

I will merely say that this is understated; he's officially persona non grata at Hereford both for the amount of post-service talking, for the fact it is generally bullshit, and for having lied in a way that directly smeared several people. Not remembered fondly.
posted by jaduncan at 4:00 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


That confirms my general impression, jaduncan, but I've only been told of it second-hand, never by SAS people themselves. Weirdly, the only (former) Special Forces member I've ever met is Paddy Ashdown who, as I've said on here before, once had quiche at my house.
posted by howfar at 9:31 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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