Psychopathy and instrumental aggression: Evolutionary, neurological, and legal perspectives

Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 1.19). 07/2009; 32(4):253-258. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.04.002
Source: PubMed


In the study of aggression, psychopathy represents a disorder that is of particular interest because it often involves aggression which is premeditated, emotionless, and instrumental in nature; this is especially true for more serious types of offenses. Such instrumental aggression is aimed at achieving a goal (e.g., to obtain resources such as money, or to gain status). Unlike the primarily reactive aggression observed in other disorders, psychopaths appear to engage in aggressive acts for the purpose of benefiting themselves. This is especially interesting in light of arguments that psychopathy may represent an alternative life-history strategy that is evolutionarily adaptive; behaviors such as aggression, risk-taking, manipulation, and promiscuous sexual behavior observed in psychopathy may be means by which psychopaths gain advantage over others. Recent neurobiological research supports the idea that abnormalities in brain regions key to emotion and morality may allow psychopaths to pursue such a strategy—psychopaths may not experience the social emotions such as empathy, guilt, and remorse that typically discourage instrumentally aggressive acts, and may even experience pleasure when committing these acts. Findings from brain imaging studies of psychopaths may have important implications for the law.

Download full-text


Available from: Andrea L Glenn, Nov 28, 2014
1 Follower
77 Reads
  • Source
    • "For instance, reactive but not proactive aggression, might be linked to self-regulation problems (White, Jarrett, & Ollendick, 2013; Winstok, 2009). Psychopathy is associated with self-control problems (Jonason & Tost, 2010) and neurological antecedents that may relate to the associated aggression (Glenn & Raine, 2009). Aggression might be one of the standard tactics of influence used by those who score high in psychopathy (Jonason & Webster, 2012). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The Dark Triad traits (i.e., psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism) have traditionally been viewed as undesirable and pathological. In contrast, an evolutionary perspective suggests that traits like these might be pseudopathologies; traits that society actively dislikes in that they pose a threat to the collective good. We examined (N = 290) how the Dark Triad traits related to intrapersonal (i.e., behavioral dysfunction), quasibehavioral (i.e., reactive and proactive aggression), and interpersonal (i.e., communal and exchange orientation) factors. Psychopathy predicted high rates of behavioral dysregulation and both forms of aggression. Psychopathy and Machiavellianism showed an aversion towards communalism but an exchange orientation to social relationships. Lastly, individual differences in the Dark Triad traits accounted for part (5–22%) of the sex differences in social strategies and aggression. The theoretical implications of these findings are discussed in, and in support of, an evolutionary paradigm.
    Personality and Individual Differences 05/2015; 78. DOI:10.1016/j.paid.2015.01.028 · 1.86 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "Evidences have manifested that a psychopath person has 22.3% decline in prefrontal gray matter (Glenn & Raine, 2009). Moreover, minor head injuries result in violent acts and traumatic brain injuries in children is related to boosting behavioral problems and lack of emotional control (Liu, 2011). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Commitment of crime and exhibition of antisocial behavior have been considered as negative acts from early times of human civilization. Recent scientific advances have identified contributions of biological and sociological (environmental factors) factors in forming a maladaptive behavior. Generally, it is accepted by many scholars that punishing a wrongdoer, who has committed a crime owing to genetic predispositions and environmental elements, is not effective and forms of treatments should be replaced to avoid repeating a crime. Moreover, by identifying genetic deficiencies in an individual, an antisocial behavior could be potentially predicted and prevented before it comes to pass. On a whole, genetic and environmental factors, sometimes solely and some other times collaboratively, lead a person to act against society norms. In summary, this body of literature offers examples that explain factors which contribute to committing crimes and approaches which inhibit antisocial behavior. With regard to these aims, we suggest that punishment of criminals who are predisposed genetically in the same manner as other delinquencies is not justifiable and a reduction of punishment should be applied to such individuals. Moreover, by eliminating each of negative elements which contribute to antisocial behavior or crime, we can be more certain that the offender will not repeat antisocial acts after being released.
  • Source
    • "Those with very high levels of these traits present the syndrome psychopathy as defined by the Psychopathy Checklist, Revised (PCL-R) (Hare, 2003). Offenders with ASPD and low levels of the personality traits of psychopathy have high levels of impulsivity (Swann et al., 2009), engage in reactive aggression, and show a hyperactive threat system (Blair, 2010), while those with high levels of psychopathic traits are less impulsive, engage in planned, premediated instrumental aggression (Glenn and Raine, 2009), and show a hypo-responsive limbic system (Blair et al., 1999). Two meta-analyses have demonstrated that impairments in executive function (EF) are associated with criminal offending (Morgan and Lilienfeld, 2000; Ogilvie et al., 2011). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Results of meta-analyses suggested subtle deficits in cognitive control among antisocial individuals. Because almost all studies focused on children with conduct problems or adult psychopaths, however, little is known about cognitive control mechanisms among the majority of persistent violent offenders who present an antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). The present study aimed to determine whether offenders with ASPD, relative to non-offenders, display dysfunction in the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive control and to assess the extent to which these dysfunctions are associated with psychopathic traits and trait impulsivity. Participants comprised 21 violent offenders and 23 non-offenders who underwent event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing a non-verbal Stroop task. The offenders, relative to the non-offenders, exhibited reduced response time interference and a different pattern of conflict- and error-related activity in brain areas involved in cognitive control, attention, language, and emotion processing, that is, the anterior cingulate, dorsolateral prefrontal, superior temporal and postcentral cortices, putamen, thalamus, and amygdala. Moreover, between-group differences in behavioural and neural responses revealed associations with core features of psychopathy and attentional impulsivity. Thus, the results of the present study confirmed the hypothesis that offenders with ASPD display alterations in the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive control and that those alterations relate, at least in part, to personality characteristics.
    Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 04/2014; 222(1). DOI:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2014.01.008 · 2.42 Impact Factor
Show more