When the highly psychopathic individuals imagined the accidents happening to themselves, their brains lit up in the anterior insula, the anterior midcingulate cortex, the somatosensory cortex and the right amygdala — all areas involved in empathy. The response was quite pronounced, suggesting psychopathic individuals were sensitive to thoughts of pain.
But when the highly psychopathic inmates imagined the accident happening to others, their brains failed to light up in the regions associated with empathy. In fact, an area involved in pleasure, the ventral striatum, lit up instead. Furthermore, these individuals showed abnormal connectivity between the insula and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for empathetic decision-making.
By contrast, the less psychopathic individuals showed more normal brain activation and connectivity in these areas.
The strange patterns of brain activation and connectivity in highly psychopathic individuals suggest they did not experience empathy when imagining the pain of others, and possibly took pleasure in it.
The findings could help inform intervention programs for psychopathy, the researchers say. Having psychopathic people imagine themselves in pain first could be used in cognitive behavior therapies as a way of kick-starting empathy, they wrote in the study detailed today (Sept. 24) in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
In fact, past research has shown psychopaths can feel empathy, when explicitly asked to, suggesting this ability to understand another person’s feelings may be repressed rather than missing entirely in psychopathic individuals. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/24/psychopaths-empathy-neurological-basis-brain_n_3984515.html) (Bolding added.)
The last two paragraphs are very funny. Psychopaths understand others’ feelings exactly, that’s what they pay attention to, they are tuned in to them much more than non-psychopaths are, that’s how they know how to emotionally torture their victims. In fact they could be called empaths but without empathy. It’s knowledge and understanding. Empathy they can never have. They would have no trouble pretending to have empathy however. This is important work but these scientists are either naives or psychopaths themselves, I don’t understand their conclusions.