Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Psychopathology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Psychopathology. Show all posts

Monday, January 9, 2023

The Psychology of Online Political Hostility: A Comprehensive, Cross-National Test of the Mismatch Hypothesis

Bor, A., & Petersen, M. (2022).
American Political Science Review, 
116(1), 1-18.


Why are online discussions about politics more hostile than offline discussions? A popular answer argues that human psychology is tailored for face-to-face interaction and people’s behavior therefore changes for the worse in impersonal online discussions. We provide a theoretical formalization and empirical test of this explanation: the mismatch hypothesis. We argue that mismatches between human psychology and novel features of online environments could (a) change people’s behavior, (b) create adverse selection effects, and (c) bias people’s perceptions. Across eight studies, leveraging cross-national surveys and behavioral experiments (total N = 8,434), we test the mismatch hypothesis but only find evidence for limited selection effects. Instead, hostile political discussions are the result of status-driven individuals who are drawn to politics and are equally hostile both online and offline. Finally, we offer initial evidence that online discussions feel more hostile, in part, because the behavior of such individuals is more visible online than offline.

From Conclusions and General Discussion

In this manuscript, we documented that online political discussions seem more hostile than offline discussions and investigated the reasons why such hostility gap exists. In particular, we provided a comprehensive test of the mismatch hypothesis positing that the hostility gap reflects psychological changes induced by mismatches between the features of online environments and human psychology. Overall, however, we found little evidence that mismatch-induced processes underlie the hostility gap. We found that people are not more hostile online than offline; that hostile individuals do not preferentially select into online (vs. offline) political discussions; and that people do not over-perceive hostility in online messages. We did find some evidence for another selection effect: Non-hostile individuals select out from all, hostile as well as non-hostile, online political discussions. Thus, despite the use of study designs with high power, the present data do not support the claim that online environments produce radical psychological changes in people.

Our ambition with the present endeavor was to initiate research on online political hostility, as more and more political interactions occur online. To this end, we took a sweeping approach, built an overarching framework for understanding online political hostility and provided a range of initial tests. Our work highlights important fruitful avenues for future research. First, future studies should assess whether mismatches could propel hostility on specific environments, platforms or situations, even if these mismatches do not generate hostility in all online environments. Second, all our studies were conducted online and, hence, it is key for future research to assess the mismatch hypothesis using behavioral data from offline discussions. Contrasting online versus offline communications directly in a laboratory setting could yield important new insights on the similarities and differences between these environments. Third, there is mounting evidence that, at least in the USA, online discussions are sometimes hijacked by provocateurs such as employees of Russia’s infamous Internet Research Agency. While recent research implies that the amount of content generated by these actors is trivial compared to the volume of social media discussions (Bail et al. 2020), the activities of such actors may nonetheless contribute to instilling hostility online, even among people not predisposed to be hostile offline.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Boundary Issues of Concern

Charles Dike
Psychiatric News
Originally posted 25 AUG 22

Here is an excerpt:

There are, of course, less prominent but equally serious boundary violations other than sexual relations with patients or a patients’ relatives. The case of Dr. Jerome Oremland, a prominent California psychiatrist, is one example. According to a report by KQED on October 3, 2016, John Pierce, a patient, alleged that his psychiatrist, Dr. Oremland, induced Mr. Pierce to give him at least 12 works of highly valued art. The psychiatrist argued that the patient had consented to their business dealings and that the art he had received from the patient was given willingly as payment for psychiatric treatment. The patient further alleged that Dr. Oremland used many of their sessions to solicit art, propose financial schemes (including investments), and discuss other subjects unrelated to treatment. Furthermore, the patient allegedly made repairs in Dr. Oremland’s home, offices, and rental units; helped clear out the home of Dr. Oremland’s deceased brother; and cleaned his pool. Mr. Pierce began therapy with Dr. Oremland in 1984 but brought a lawsuit against him in 2015. The court trial began shortly after Dr. Oremland’s death in 2016, and Dr. Oremland’s estate eventually settled with Mr. Pierce. In addition to being a private practitioner, Dr. Oremland had been chief of psychiatry at the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco and a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF. He also wrote books on the intersection of art and psychology.


There are less dramatic but still problematic boundary crossings such as when a psychiatrist in private practice agrees that a patient may pay off treatment costs by doing some work for the psychiatrist. Other examples include a psychiatrist hiring a patient, for example, a skilled plumber, to work in the psychiatrist’s office or home at the patient’s going rate or obtaining investment tips from a successful investment banker patient. In these situations, questions arise about the physician-patient relationship. Even when the psychiatrist believes he or she is treating the patient fairly—such as paying the going rate for work done for the psychiatrist—the psychiatrist is clueless regarding how the patient is interpreting the arrangement: Does the patient experience it as exploitative? What are the patient’s unspoken expectations? What if the patient’s work in the psychiatrist’s office is inferior or the investment advice results in a loss? Would these outcomes influence the physician-patient relationship? Even compassionate acts such as writing off the bill of patients who are unable to pay or paying for an indigent patient’s medications should make the psychiatrist pause for thought. To avoid potential misinterpretation of the psychiatrist’s intentions or complaints of inequitable practices or favoritism, the psychiatrist should be ready to do the same for other indigent patients. It would be better to establish neutral policies for all indigent patients than to appear to favor some over others.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Baby God: how DNA testing uncovered a shocking web of fertility fraud

Arian Horton
The Guardian
Originally published 2 Dec 20

Here ate two excerpts:

The database unmasked, with detached clarity, a dark secret hidden in plain sight for decades: the physician once named Nevada’s doctor of the year, who died in 2006 at age 94, had impregnated numerous patients with his own sperm, unbeknownst to the women or their families. The decades-long fertility fraud scheme, unspooled in the HBO documentary Baby God, left a swath of families – 26 children as of this writing, spanning 40 years of the doctor’s treatments – shocked at long-obscured medical betrayal, unmoored from assumptions of family history and stumbling over the most essential questions of identity. Who are you, when half your DNA is not what you thought?


That reality – a once unknowable crime now made plainly knowable – has now come to pass, and the film features interviews with several of Fortier’s previously unknown children, each grappling with and tracing their way into a new web of half-siblings, questions of lineage and inheritance, and reframing of family history. Babst, who started as a cop at 19, dove into her own investigation, sourcing records on Dr Fortier that eventually revealed allegations of sexual abuse and molestation against his own stepchildren.

Brad Gulko, a human genomics scientist in San Francisco who bears a striking resemblance to the young Fortier, initially approached the revelation from the clinical perspective of biological motivations for procreation. “I feel like Dr Fortier found a way to justify in his own mind doing what he wanted to do that didn’t violate his ethical norms too much, even if he pushed them really hard,” he says in the film. “I’m still struggling with that. I don’t know where I’ll end up.”

The film quickly morphed, according to Olson, from an investigation of the Fortier case and his potential motivations to the larger, unresolvable questions of identity, nature versus nurture. “At first it was like ‘let’s get all the facts, we’re going to figure it out, what are his motivations, it will be super clear,’” said Olson. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

How Evil Happens

Noga Arikha
Originally posted July 30, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

An account of the inability to feel any emotion for such perceived enemies can take us closer to understanding what it is like to have crossed the line beyond which one can maim and kill in cold blood. Observers at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague note frequently the absence of remorse displayed by perpetrators. The clinical psychologist Fran├žoise Sironi, who assesses perpetrators for the ICC and treats them and their victims, has directly seen what Lifton called the ‘murder of the self’ at work – notably with Kang Kek Iew, the man known as ‘Duch’, who proudly created and directed the Khmer Rouge S-21 centre for torture and extermination in Cambodia. Duch was one of those who felt absolutely no remorse. His sole identity was his role, dutifully kept up for fear of losing himself and falling into impotence. He did not comprehend what Sironi meant when she asked him: ‘What happened to your conscience?’ The very question was gibberish to him.

Along with what Fried calls this ‘catastrophic’ desensitisation to emotional cues, cognitive functions remain intact – another Syndrome E symptom. A torturer knows exactly how to hurt, in full recognition of the victim’s pain. He – usually he – has the cognitive capacity, necessary but not sufficient for empathy, to understand the victim’s experience. He just does not care about the other’s pain except instrumentally. Further, he does not care that he does not care. Finally, he does not care that caring does, in fact, matter. The emotionally inflected judgment that underlies the moral sense is gone.

The information is here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The neuroscience of morality and social decision-making

Keith Yoder and Jean Decety
Psychology, Crime & Law
doi: 10.1080/1068316X.2017.1414817

Across cultures humans care deeply about morality and create institutions, such as criminal courts, to enforce social norms. In such contexts, judges and juries engage in complex social decision-making to ascertain a defendant’s capacity, blameworthiness, and culpability. Cognitive neuroscience investigations have begun to reveal the distributed neural networks which interact to implement moral judgment and social decision-making, including systems for reward learning, valuation, mental state understanding, and salience processing. These processes are fundamental to morality, and their underlying neural mechanisms are influenced by individual differences in empathy, caring and justice sensitivity. This new knowledge has important implication in legal settings for understanding how triers of fact reason. Moreover, recent work demonstrates how disruptions within the social decision-making network facilitate immoral behavior, as in the case of psychopathy. Incorporating neuroscientific methods with psychology and clinical neuroscience has the potential to improve predictions of recidivism, future dangerousness, and responsivity to particular forms of rehabilitation.

The article is here.

From the Conclusion section:

Current neuroscience work demonstrates that social decision-making and moral reasoning rely on multiple partially overlapping neural networks which support domain general processes, such as executive control, saliency processing, perspective-taking, reasoning, and valuation. Neuroscience investigations have contributed to a growing understanding of the role of these process in moral cognition and judgments of blame and culpability, exactly the sorts of judgments required of judges and juries. Dysfunction of these networks can lead to dysfunctional social behavior and a propensity to immoral behavior as in the case of psychopathy. Significant progress has been made in clarifying which aspects of social decision-making network functioning are most predictive of future recidivism. Psychopathy, in particular, constitutes a complex type of moral disorder and a challenge to the criminal justice system.

Worth reading.....

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Can psychopathic offenders discern moral wrongs? A new look at the moral/conventional distinction.

Aharoni, E., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., & Kiehl, K. A.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(2), 484-497. (2012)


A prominent view of psychopathic moral reasoning suggests that psychopathic individuals cannot properly distinguish between moral wrongs and other types of wrongs. The present study evaluated this view by examining the extent to which 109 incarcerated offenders with varying degrees of psychopathy could distinguish between moral and conventional transgressions relative to each other and to nonincarcerated healthy controls. Using a modified version of the classic Moral/Conventional Transgressions task that uses a forced-choice format to minimize strategic responding, the present study found that total psychopathy score did not predict performance on the task. Task performance was explained by some individual subfacets of psychopathy and by other variables unrelated to psychopathy, such as IQ. The authors conclude that, contrary to earlier claims, insufficient data exist to infer that psychopathic individuals cannot know what is morally wrong.

The article is here.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Is utilitarian sacrifice becoming more morally permissible?

Ivar R.Hannikainen, Edouard Machery, & Fiery A.Cushman
Volume 170, January 2018, Pages 95-101


A central tenet of contemporary moral psychology is that people typically reject active forms of utilitarian sacrifice. Yet, evidence for secularization and declining empathic concern in recent decades suggests the possibility of systematic change in this attitude. In the present study, we employ hypothetical dilemmas to investigate whether judgments of utilitarian sacrifice are becoming more permissive over time. In a cross-sectional design, age negatively predicted utilitarian moral judgment (Study 1). To examine whether this pattern reflected processes of maturation, we asked a panel to re-evaluate several moral dilemmas after an eight-year interval but observed no overall change (Study 2). In contrast, a more recent age-matched sample revealed greater endorsement of utilitarian sacrifice in a time-lag design (Study 3). Taken together, these results suggest that today’s younger cohorts increasingly endorse a utilitarian resolution of sacrificial moral dilemmas.

Here is a portion of the Discussion section:

A vibrant discussion among philosophers and cognitive scientists has focused on distinguishing the virtues and pitfalls of the human moral faculty (Bloom, 2017; Greene, 2014; Singer, 2005). On a pessimistic note, our results dovetail with evidence about the socialization and development of recent cohorts (e.g., Shonkoff et al., 2012): Utilitarian judgment has been shown to correlate with Machiavellian and psychopathic traits (Bartels & Pizarro, 2011), and also with the reduced capacity to distinguish felt emotions (Patil & Silani, 2014). At the same time, leading theories credit highly acclaimed instances of moral progress to the exercise of rational scrutiny over prevailing moral norms (Greene, 2014; Singer, 2005), and the persistence of parochialism and prejudice to the unbridled command of intuition (Bloom, 2017). From this perspective, greater disapproval of intuitive deontological principles among recent cohorts may stem from the documented rise in cognitive abilities (i.e., the Flynn effect; see Pietschnig & Voracek, 2015) and foreshadow an expanding commitment to the welfare-maximizing resolution of contemporary moral challenges.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Psychopathy increases perceived moral permissibility of accidents

Young, Liane; Koenigs, Michael; Kruepke, Michael; Newman, Joseph P.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 121(3), Aug 2012, 659-667.


Psychopaths are notorious for their antisocial and immoral behavior, yet experimental studies have typically failed to identify deficits in their capacities for explicit moral judgment. We tested 20 criminal psychopaths and 25 criminal nonpsychopaths on a moral judgment task featuring hypothetical scenarios that systematically varied an actor's intention and the action's outcome. Participants were instructed to evaluate four classes of actions: accidental harms, attempted harms, intentional harms, and neutral acts. Psychopaths showed a selective difference, compared with nonpsychopaths, in judging accidents, where one person harmed another unintentionally. Specifically, psychopaths judged these actions to be more morally permissible. We suggest that this pattern reflects psychopaths' failure to appreciate the emotional aspect of the victim's experience of harm. These findings provide direct evidence of abnormal moral judgment in psychopathy.

The article is here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Genetically enhance humanity or face extinction - PART 1

Julian Savulescu presents at Sydney's Festival of Dangerous Ideas

In his talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (Sydney Opera House), philosopher and bioethicist Julian Savulescu examines the nature of human beings as products of evolution, in particular their limited altruism, limited cooperative instincts and limited ability to take account of the future consequences of actions. He argues that humans' biology and psychology are unfit for the kind of society we live in and we must either alter our political institutions, severely restrain our technology or change our nature. Or face annihilation by our own design.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

‘Utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial moral dilemmas do not reflect impartial concern for the greater good

By G. Kahane, J. Everett, Brian Earp, Miguel Farias, and J. Savulescu
Cognition, Vol 134, Jan 2015, pp 193-209.


• ‘Utilitarian’ judgments in moral dilemmas were associated with egocentric attitudes and less identification with humanity.
• They were also associated with lenient views about clear moral transgressions.
• ‘Utilitarian’ judgments were not associated with views expressing impartial altruist concern for others.
• This lack of association remained even when antisocial tendencies were controlled for.
• So-called ‘utilitarian’ judgments do not express impartial concern for the greater good.


A growing body of research has focused on so-called ‘utilitarian’ judgments in moral dilemmas in which participants have to choose whether to sacrifice one person in order to save the lives of a greater number. However, the relation between such ‘utilitarian’ judgments and genuine utilitarian impartial concern for the greater good remains unclear. Across four studies, we investigated the relationship between ‘utilitarian’ judgment in such sacrificial dilemmas and a range of traits, attitudes, judgments and behaviors that either reflect or reject an impartial concern for the greater good of all. In Study 1, we found that rates of ‘utilitarian’ judgment were associated with a broadly immoral outlook concerning clear ethical transgressions in a business context, as well as with sub-clinical psychopathy. In Study 2, we found that ‘utilitarian’ judgment was associated with greater endorsement of rational egoism, less donation of money to a charity, and less identification with the whole of humanity, a core feature of classical utilitarianism. In Studies 3 and 4, we found no association between ‘utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial dilemmas and characteristic utilitarian judgments relating to assistance to distant people in need, self-sacrifice and impartiality, even when the utilitarian justification for these judgments was made explicit and unequivocal. This lack of association remained even when we controlled for the antisocial element in ‘utilitarian’ judgment. Taken together, these results suggest that there is very little relation between sacrificial judgments in the hypothetical dilemmas that dominate current research, and a genuine utilitarian approach to ethics.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beliefs About God and Mental Health Among American Adults

Nava R. Silton, Kevin J. Flannelly, Kathleen Galek, Christopher G. Ellison
Journal of Religion and Health
October 2014, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 1285-1296


This study examines the association between beliefs about God and psychiatric symptoms in the context of Evolutionary Threat Assessment System Theory, using data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey of US Adults (N = 1,426). Three beliefs about God were tested separately in ordinary least squares regression models to predict five classes of psychiatric symptoms: general anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion. Belief in a punitive God was positively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, while belief in a benevolent God was negatively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, controlling for demographic characteristics, religiousness, and strength of belief in God. Belief in a deistic God and one’s overall belief in God were not significantly related to any psychiatric symptoms.

The entire article is here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?

By Jennifer Kahn
The New York Times
Originally published May 11, 2012

Here is an excerpt:

For the past 10 years, Waschbusch has been studying “callous-unemotional” children — those who exhibit a distinctive lack of affect, remorse or empathy — and who are considered at risk of becoming psychopaths as adults. To evaluate Michael, Waschbusch used a combination of psychological exams and teacher- and family-rating scales, including the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits, the Child Psychopathy Scale and a modified version of the Antisocial Process Screening Device — all tools designed to measure the cold, predatory conduct most closely associated with adult psychopathy. (The terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” are essentially identical.) A research assistant interviewed Michael’s parents and teachers about his behavior at home and in school. When all the exams and reports were tabulated, Michael was almost two standard deviations outside the normal range for callous-unemotional behavior, which placed him on the severe end of the spectrum.

Currently, there is no standard test for psychopathy in children, but a growing number of psychologists believe that psychopathy, like autism, is a distinct neurological condition — one that can be identified in children as young as 5. Crucial to this diagnosis are callous-unemotional traits, which most researchers now believe distinguish “fledgling psychopaths” from children with ordinary conduct disorder, who are also impulsive and hard to control and exhibit hostile or violent behavior.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ethics and the Brains of Psychopaths

The Significance of Psychopaths for Ethical and Legal Reasoning

William Hirstein and Katrina Sifferd
Elmhurst College


The emerging neuroscience of psychopathy will have several important implications for our attempts to construct an ethical society. In this article we begin by describing the list of criteria by which psychopaths are diagnosed. We then review four competing neuropsychological theories of psychopathic cognition.  The first of these models, Newman‘s attentional model, locates the problem in a special type of attentional narrowing that psychopaths have shown in experiments. The second and third, Blair‘s amygdala model and Kiehl‘s paralimbic model represent the psychopath‘s problem as primarily emotional , including reduced tendency to experience fear in normally fearful situations, and a failure to attach the proper significance to the emotions of others. The fourth model locates the problem at a higher level: a failure of  psychopaths to notice and correct for their attentional or emotional problems using ―executive processes.  In normal humans, decisions are accomplished via these executive processes, which are responsible for planning actions, or inhibiting unwise actions, as well as allowing emotions to influence cognition in the proper way. We review the current state of knowledge of the executive capacities of psychopaths. We then evaluate psychopaths in light of the three major  philosophical theories of ethics, utilitarianism, deontological theory, and virtue ethics. Finally,we turn to the difficulty psychopath offenders pose to criminal law, because of the way psychopathy interacts with the various justifications and functions of punishment. We concludewith a brief consideration of the effects of psychopaths on contemporary social structures.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Mind Report: Psychopaths, Morality, Neuroscience and Treatment

Laurie Santos (Yale) interviews Kent Kiehl (University of New Mexico) about his new book, The Psychopath Whisperer.  They discuss neuroscience on psychopathic prisoners, morality and the brain, and treatment research.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A theory of jerks

By Eric Schwitzgebel
Aeon Magazine
Originally published June 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Why, you might be wondering, should a philosopher make it his business to analyse colloquial terms of abuse? Doesn’t Urban Dictionary cover that kind of thing quite adequately? Shouldn’t I confine myself to truth, or beauty, or knowledge, or why there is something rather than nothing (to which the Columbia philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser answered: ‘If there was nothing you’d still be complaining’)? I am, in fact, interested in all those topics. And yet I suspect there’s a folk wisdom in the term ‘jerk’ that points toward something morally important. I want to extract that morally important thing, to isolate the core phenomenon towards which I think the word is groping. Precedents for this type of work include the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s essay ‘On Bullshit’ (2005) and, closer to my target, the Irvine philosopher Aaron James’s book Assholes (2012). Our taste in vulgarity reveals our values.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mental Suffering and the DSM-5

By Stijn Vanheule
Originally published June 3, 2014

In his writings on the topic of diagnosis, the French philosopher and physician Georges Canguilhem makes a crucial distinction between pathology and abnormality, thus paving the way for the studies of his student Michel Foucault on the topics of psychiatric power and biopolitics. In Canguilhem’s view, decision making about normality and abnormality is generally based on two factors. One starts from the observation that there is variability in the ways human beings function: individuals present with a variety of behaviours just as their mental life is characterized by a variety of beliefs and experiences, of which some are more prevalent than others. Then, a judgment is made about (ab-)normality; this tends to be based on a norm or standard against which all behaviours are evaluated and considered as deviant or not.

At this level, two possibilities open: a judgement is made based on either psychosocial criteria or statistical norms.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Zero Degrees of Empathy

From the RSA, 21st Century Enlightment
RSA Homepage
Originally published July 6, 2011

Professor Simon Baron Cohen presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals down negative paths, and challenges all of us to consider replacing the idea of evil with the idea of empathy-erosion.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Concept of Evil

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
First published Tue Nov 26, 2013

During the past thirty years, moral, political, and legal philosophers have become increasingly interested in the concept of evil. This interest has been partly motivated by ascriptions of ‘evil’ by laymen, social scientists, journalists, and politicians as they try to understand and respond to various atrocities and horrors of the past eighty years, e.g., the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and killing sprees by serial killers such as Jeffery Dahmer. It seems that we cannot capture the moral significance of these actions and their perpetrators by calling them ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or even ‘very very wrong’ or ‘very very bad.’ We need the concept of evil.

To avoid confusion, it is important to note that there are at least two concepts of evil: a broad concept and a narrow concept. The broad concept picks out any bad state of affairs, wrongful action, or character flaw. The suffering of a toothache is evil in the broad sense as is a white lie. Evil in the broad sense has been divided into two categories: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evils are bad states of affairs which do not result from the intentions or negligence of moral agents. Hurricanes and toothaches are examples of natural evils. By contrast, moral evils do result from the intentions or negligence of moral agents. Murder and lying are examples of moral evils.

Evil in the broad sense, which includes all natural and moral evils, tends to be the sort of evil referenced in theological contexts, such as in discussions of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is the problem of accounting for evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. It seems that if the creator has these attributes, there would be no evil in the world. But there is evil in the world. Thus, there is reason to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator does not exist.

The entire page is here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Could a brain scan diagnose you as a psychopath?

A US neuroscientist claims he has found evidence of psychopathy in his own brain activity

By Chris Chamber
The Guardian
Originally published November 25, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard from Fallon. In addition to the fact that his claims haven't been published in peer-reviewed journals, here are three reasons why we should take what he says with a handful of salt.

One of the most obvious mistakes in Fallon’s reasoning is called the fallacy of reverse inference. His argument goes like this: areas of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex are important for empathy and moral reasoning. At the same time, empathy and moral reasoning are lost or impaired in many psychopaths. So, people who show reduced activity in these regions must be psychopaths.

The flaw with this argument – as Fallon himself must know – is that there is no one-to-one mapping between activity in a given brain region and complex abilities such as empathy. There is no empathy region and there is no psychopath switch. If you think of the brain as a toolkit, these parts of the brain aren’t like hammers or screwdrivers that perform only one task. They’re more like Swiss army knives that have evolved to support a range of different abilities. And just as a Swiss army knife isn’t only a bottle opener, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex isn’t only associated with empathy and moral judgements. It is also involved in decision-making, sensitivity to reward, memory, and predicting the future.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder

By Richard P Bentall
Journal of medical ethics, 1992, 18, 94-98


It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains - that happiness is not negatively valued.  However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.

The entire article is here.