Are You a Psychopath? Take the Test! | Kevin Dutton

Are You a Psychopath? Take the Test! | Kevin Dutton

August 17, 2019 100 By William Hollis


We all know about the psychopath’s enhanced
killer instinct, their finely tuned vulnerability antennae. But it may surprise you to know
that there are some situations in which psychopaths are actually more adept
at saving lives than they are at taking them. So let me give you an example of what I mean
by that, okay?  Imagine you’ve got a train and it’s hurtling down a track.  In its
path, five people are trapped on the line and cannot escape.
Fortunately, you can flick a switch, which diverts the train down a fork in that track,
away from those five people, but at a price. There is another person trapped down that fork and
the train will kill them instead. Question:  Should you flick the switch? Now, most people have little trouble deciding
what to do under those circumstances; though, the thought of flicking
the switch isn’t exactly a nice one, the utilitarian choice
as it were, killing just the one person instead of the five represents
the least worst option, okay. But now let me give you a variation. You’ve
got a train speeding out of control down a track
and it’s gonna plow into five people on the line.  But this time you
are standing behind a very large stranger on a footbridge above that
track. The only way to save the people is to heave the stranger
over.  He will fall to a certain death, but his considerable bulk will
block the train, saving five lives.  Question.  Should you flick
the switch? Now we’ve got what we might call a real
dilemma on our hands, okay.  While the score in lives is
precisely the same as in the first scenario, five to one, one’s choice
of action appears far trickier.  Now why should that be?  Well,
the reason it turns out, all boils down to temperature, okay? Case one represents what we might call an
impersonal dilemma.  It involved those areas of the
brain, the prefrontal cortex, the posterior parietal cortex, in particular,
the anterior para singular cortex, the temporal pole and the
superior temporal sulcus – bit of neuroanatomy for you there – primarily
responsible for what we call cold empathy, for reasoning and rational
thought. Case two, on the other hand, represents what
we might call a personal dilemma.  It involves the
emotion center of the brain known as the amygdala, the circuitry of hot
empathy.  What we might call the feeling of feeling what another person
is feeling. Now, psychopaths, just like most normal members
of the population, have no trouble at all with case
one.  They flick the switch and the train   diverts accordingly.
 Killing just the one person instead of the five.  But, this is where
the plot thickens.  Quite unlike normal members of the population, psychopaths
also experience little difficulty with case two. Psychopaths, without a moment’s hesitation
are perfectly willing to chuck the fat guy over the rails,
if that’s what the doctor orders.  Now moreover, this difference in
behavior has a distinct neural signature.  The pattern of brain activation
in both normal people and psychopaths is identical on the
presentation of the impersonal moral dilemma, but radically different
when things start to get a bit more personal. Imagine that I were to hook you up to a brain
scanner, a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine,
and were to present you with those two dilemmas, okay.  What
would I observe as you went about trying to solve them?  Well, at the precise
moment that the nature of the dilemma switches from impersonal to personal,
I would see the emotion center of your brain, your amygdala
and related brain circuits, the medial orbital frontal cortex
for example, light up like a pinball machine.  I would witness the moment
in other words when emotion puts it money in the slot. But in psychopaths, I would see precisely
nothing.  And the passage from impersonal to personal would
slip by unnoticed. Because that emotion neighborhood of their
brains, that emotional zip code has a neural curfew.  And that’s why
they’re perfectly happy to chuck that fat guy over the side without even
batting an eye. Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd