A Criminal Mind

Psychopath brain insights

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) While watching TV-hit series like Criminal Minds and The Mentalist gives insight into the minds of fictional psychopaths, scientists are trying to discover the inner-workings of the real thing. 

Taking place within a medium-security prison, a new study analyzed the brains of diagnosed psychopaths to find visible differences. Brain images found connectivity shortages between an area of the brain associated with emotional learning and fear development and another area associated with developing social norms, empathy, and guilt.  

"Diagnosed psychopathic individuals show brain connectivity issues."

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health compared the brains of 20 diagnosed prisoners with the brains of 20 undiagnosed prisoners committing similar crimes. The study shown reduced connectivity between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the brains of diagnosed sociopaths.

Michael Koenigs, assistant professor of psychiatry, explains to University news, "this is the first study to show both structural and functional differences in the brains of people diagnosed with psychopathy. Those two structures in the brain, which are believed to regulate emotion and social behavior, seem to not be communicating as they should."

A mobile MRI scanner collected functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) as well as diffusion tensor images (DTI). DTIs showed structural damages in the white matter fibers, which connect the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, while fMRI depicted confused activity through those same fibers.

Also working with Koenigs, Professor Joseph Newman of UW-Madison explains: "the combination of structural and functional abnormalities provides compelling evidence that the dysfunction observed in this crucial social-emotional circuitry is a stable characteristic of our psychopathic offenders. I am optimistic that our ongoing collaborative work will shed more light on the source of this dysfunction and strategies for treating the problem."


Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 23, 2011
Last Updated:
November 29, 2011