Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Psychopathy for Beginners

Just finished an engaging piece about psychopathy in the November 10, 2008, issue of The New Yorker. First, a word about the word "psychopathy" itself. As I was reading the article, "Suffering Souls," by John Seabrook, I more or less assumed that the word was pronounced with the accent on -path, but also wondered it might not be true, because, after all, we don't put the accent on -log in psychology. Sure enough, Merriam-Webster, with its pronunciation thingy-doodle audio device, informs us that the accent is on the -op. But I digress. The article explores how neuroscientists, especally Dr. Kent Kiehl, are studying the functional MRIs of prison inmates, to see if their brains function differently than the brain of, um, normal people. It all provokes fascinating and provocative questions about good, evil, justice, and salami-on-rye sandwiches. Sorry, I digress again. Uh-oh. A diagnostic checklist used to evaluate for psychopathy, the PCL-R, measures, among other things, poor impulse control (not mind-wanderingness, not exactly sort of). We are let off the hook, a bit, with this: "If a biological basis for psychopathy could be establshed and pharmacological treatments developed, the idea that many people have at least a little of the psychopath in them could well become acepted." Relax, will you? This is not making a pitch for the acceptance of antisocial behavior. I'm merely saying how intriguing it is to ponder how the brain works and how we move within very lmited realms, it seems. (On a similar note, NPR today had a bit about brain scans and what they reveal about our shopping and other choices. Buyology. Neuromarketing. Martin Lindstrom. Whew, I love "Mad Men, " but times have changed since Don Draper and his team at Sterling Cooper left the building.)

Seabrook's Q. and A. is here.

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