Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Brain Research Shows Psychopathic Criminals Do Not Lack Empathy, but Fail to Use It Automatically

From the 24 July 2013 article at Science Daily

Criminal psychopathy can be both repulsive and fascinating, as illustrated by the vast number of books and movies inspired by this topic. Offenders diagnosed with psychopathy pose a significant threat to society, because they are more likely to harm other individuals and to do so again after being released. A brain imaging study in the Netherlands shows individuals with psychopathy have reduced empathy while witnessing the pains of others. When asked to empathize, however, they can activate their empathy. This could explain why psychopathic individuals can be callous and socially cunning at the same time.

Why are psychopathic individuals more likely to hurt others? Individuals with psychopathy characteristically demonstrate reduced empathy with the feelings of others, which may explain why it is easier for them to hurt other people. However, what causes this lack of empathy is poorly understood. Scientific studies on psychopathic subjects are notoriously hard to conduct. “Convicted criminals with a diagnosis of psychopathy are confined to high-security forensic institutions in which state-of-the-art technology to study their brain, like magnetic resonance imaging, is usually unavailable,” explains Professor Christian Keysers, Head of the Social Brain Lab in Amsterdam, and senior author of a study on psychopathy appearing in the journal Brain this week. “Bringing them to scientific research centres, on the other hand, requires the kind of high-security transportation that most judicial systems are unwilling to finance.”

The Dutch judicial system, however, seems to be an exception. They joined forces with academia to promote a better understanding of psychopathy. As a result, criminals with psychopathy were transported to the Social Brain Lab of the University Medical Center in Groningen (The Netherlands). There, the team could use state of the art high-field functional magnetic resonance imaging to peak into the brain of criminals with psychopathy while they view the emotions of others.

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Related Video

  • The Unrepentent (Canadian Broadcasting Company-The Fifth Estate)
     “They are marked by their ability to kill without passion and without remorse. Some are called psychopaths – a term that evokes nightmare images of murderers and monsters. But the label can also apply to men and women who are successful, intelligent, charismatic, charming and amusing – and so all the more dangerous. This week on the fifth estate, Linden MacIntyre looks at what makes a psychopath through the fifth estate’s close encounters with of four of Canada’s most frightening criminals. [From the CBC site…video at this site is only accessible in Canada]

July 25, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why do people choke when the stakes are high?

From the 9 May 2012 Eureka News Alert

Caltech researchers find that loss aversion may be the culprit

 IMAGE: A new study by researchers at the California Institute of Technology suggests that when there are high financial incentives to succeed, people can become so afraid of losing their potentially…

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PASADENA, Calif.—In sports, on a game show, or just on the job, what causes people to choke when the stakes are high? A new study by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) suggests that when there are high financial incentives to succeed, people can become so afraid of losing their potentially lucrative reward that their performance suffers.

It is a somewhat unexpected conclusion. After all, you would think that the more people are paid, the harder they will work, and the better they will do their jobs—until they reach the limits of their skills. That notion tends to hold true when the stakes are low, says Vikram Chib, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech and lead author on a paper published in the May 10 issue of the journal Neuron. Previous research, however, has shown that if you pay people too much, their performance actually declines.

Some experts have attributed this decline to too much motivation: they think that, faced with the prospect of earning an extra chunk of cash, you might get so excited that you will fail to do the task properly. But now, after looking at brain-scan data of volunteers performing a specific motor task, the Caltech team says that what actually happens is that you become worried about losing your potential prize. The researchers also found that the more someone is afraid of loss, the worse they perform.

May 14, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

Odds of Quitting Smoking May Be Clear on Scans

Odds of Quitting Smoking May Be Clear on Scans

Activity in front part of brain can predict behavior, researchers say

HealthDay news image

From the January 31, 2011 Health Day news item by Robert Preidt

MONDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) — Brain scans can predict a smoker’s chances of being able to quit, according to a new study.

It included 28 heavy smokers recruited from a smoking cessation program. Functional MRI was used to monitor the participants’ brain activity as they watched television ads meant to help people quit smoking.

The researchers contacted the participants one month later and found that they were smoking an average of five cigarettes a day, compared with an average of 21 a day at the start of the study.

But there was considerable variation in how successful individual participants were in reducing their smoking. The researchers found that a reaction in an area of the brain, called the medial prefrontal cortex, while watching the quit-smoking ads was linked to reductions in smoking during the month after the brain scan.

Previous research by the same team suggested that activity in the prefrontal cortex is predictive of behavior change.

In the new study, published in the current issue of Health Psychology,** “we targeted smokers who were already taking action to quit, and we found that neural activity can predict behavior change, above and beyond people’s own assessment of how likely they are to succeed,” study author Emily Falk, director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and Department of Communication Studies, said in a university news release.

“These results bring us one step closer to the ability to use functional magnetic resonance imaging to select the messages that are most likely to affect behavior change both at the individual and population levels,” Falk said. “It seems that our brain activity may provide information that introspection does not.”

SOURCE: University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, news release, Jan. 31, 2011

** For suggestions on how to get this article for free or at low cost, click here

 

 

February 2, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News, Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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