psychopaths

Is it possible to help criminals with psychological interventions?

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Recent reports in the press suggest yes – but not in a good way.

In fact research shows that rather than make them better citizens it just helps them to be better at criminal activity.

In the latest reverse researchers at the George Mason University in Virginia tested Mindfulness Meditation on 259 prisoners. They were shown how to meditate focussing on their thoughts and accepting negative feelings.

They were tested before and after the sessions to assess their criminal tendencies and chances of re-offending. The results?

It actually made offenders more likely to blame others and psychologists said there was a direct link between mindfulness and the conditions likely to cause criminal behaviour.

It failed to bring prisoners out of “criminal thinking patterns” and actually made them worse because mindfulness encourages people not to judge themselves, which may have led offenders to avoid responsibility for their actions.

And this is a treatment accepted by the NHS for anxiety and depression with 20 or more apps you can use on your smart phone. Yet the warning sign were there. Mindfulness doesn’t work well with men.

Researchers at Brown University found gender differences in the effect of mindfulness meditation. “The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract,” said a Dr Briton.

And in the UK the Ministry of Justice has shut down two Sex Offender Treatment Programmes (SOTPs) including a six months psychological group therapy programme designed to rehabilitate rapists and paedophiles. These have cost £100 million since being set up in 1991.

An independent study of the programmes found that it only made the criminals more dangerous and they had an above-average re-offending rate.

For example paedophiles who took the course had a 25% higher re-offending rate over a 10-year period especially those convicted of attacking children.

The programmes included CBT (which the Ministry believes to be the most effective way of reducing offending behaviour) and group discussions to help the sex offenders to understand their crimes and increase their awareness of victim harm. 

A former consultant on the programme who resigned told the Mail on Sunday that they weren’t adapting the course in line with new knowledge and many delivering the programme weren’t qualified but chaplains, prison officers and other para-professionals.

You can imagine that some in the group would relish the re-telling of their crimes and/or learn from others’ experiences.

Some years ago I remember reading about attempts to teach psychopaths to have more empathy and be more emotionally intelligent. It turned out that it just made them better at convincing victims they could be trusted. I couldn’t find the original source of that and it was a few years ago but in my search I came across Dr George Simon’s blog on this topic.

He wrote: “Times were when empathy training was a required component of most treatment programs for sexual offenders and predators. But the evidence indicated that providing such training had no effect on recidivism rates.

Moreover, some evidence emerged that teaching psychopathic predators about empathy only gave them increased knowledge about the vulnerabilities and sensitivities of others, which, in turn, they were prone to use to become even more adept predators“. (George Simon blog – already tweeted).

And more recent research shows that psychopaths do have an “empathy switch” but choose not to use it leading some scientists to believe it could help their rehabilitation. They need to revisit earlier work in this area if they believe that.

Given that some of these criminals will have personality disorders – notoriously difficult to deal with therapeutically – it comes as no surprise to me that these interventions show such poor outcomes.

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Do psychopaths yawn?

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What doesn't kill you, makes you?If you yawn at a psychopath the chances are that they won’t yawn back.

Scientists have found that the more psychopathic traits people have the less likely they are to yawn.

Generally speaking yawning is contagious; someone yawns and before you know it everyone is at it.

This latest study, published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, tested 135 students on measures of machiavellianism, coldheartedness, and rebellious non-conformity.

They were then shown a video in which people exhibited a variety of expressions including yawning. The researchers then measured how often the students yawned. Those who scored highest on the coldheartedness scale were less likely to yawn.

The study was partly to validate the idea that yawning was about empathy, as suggested by previous research on showing empathy to others.

51X95v1vd6L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_-1Psychopaths may have social skills but empathy is something they have to work at.

After generally receiving a bad press, including in the management literature, psychopaths may be gaining respectability . Well-known psychopath Andy McNab, ex SAS man turned author, is promoting the values of being a good i.e. normal or socialised, sociopath in a series of books and workbooks with psychologist Kevin Dutton.

Not sure people like Fred the Shred and Bob Diamond need such advice!

Psychopathic criminals have empathy switch

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Neurons

Mirror neurons in the brain fire both when you watch someone in pain and when you experience it yourself
Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research.

Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain.

Only when asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt did the area of the brain related to pain light up.

Scientists,reporting in Brain, say their research explains how psychopaths can be both callous and charming.

The team proposes that with the right training, it could be possible to help psychopaths activate their “empathy switch”, which could bring them a step closer to rehabilitation.

a participant being slapped on the hand to localize brain regions sensitive to pain

The study

  • Placed in an fMRI scanner, 18 criminals with psychopathy and 26 control subjects were asked to watch a series of clips without a particular…

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Brain scans can identify psychopaths even in childhood because they have no empathy when seeing people in pain

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Children who were aggressive or cruel had reduced brain activity in response to images of others in pain

Brain scans can be used to identify children who may be potential psychopaths, new research has shown.

Scientists have found that certain areas of a psychopath’s brain showed a reduced activity in response to images of others in pain.

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The regions affected are those known to play a role in empathy, the ability to relate to other people’s feelings.

Scientists say the patterns could act as a marker to single out children at a risk of becoming adult psychopaths.

A total of 55 boys aged 10 to 16 were assessed in the study.

Of these, 37 met the criteria for children with ‘conduct problems’ (CP) according to questionnaire answers provided by parents and teachers.

CP children display a plethora of antisocial traits including aggression and dishonesty.

Like the central character in Lionel Shriver’s novel…

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