Apparently, this author for some reason or another has decided to delete her entire account. That strikes me as odd, as she was quite insistent that her information was factual and beyond reproach. Fortunately for my readers, I have all of the articles about psychopathy that she wrote archived, so my posts will remain unaffected.
Buckle up people, this one is going to make your head hurt. This is the third in the debunking series from the Medium author Lily Hale. It is not going to get better, and this one is super special because it showcases two experts.
Robert Hare. The man that has single-handedly done the most damage to the understanding of psychopathy by generally being a disgruntled person who built a career on getting embarrassed by prisoners that made him dance like a monkey.
A man that she refers to as an “expert” on psychopathy that wrote his last book on it in 1988. How’s that for up-to-date information? fMRI came out in 1990, but this guy apparently knew all about psychopathy before they could even scan the brains of psychopaths to understand what it is.
Sound like fun? Let’s go.
Nature vs Nurture: Are Psychopaths Born or Made?
The myth of the born criminal
Are psychopaths born or made? Robert Hare told me this question was akin to attempting to describe a soccer field by its length or its width; both dimensions are necessary to capture the expanse, or expansive personality, that we see before us. When this question is posed to me by others, I point out that the more realistically based question is how nature and nurture shape each other over time, since a child comes into the world with a certain genotype that is phenotypically expressed according to the vagaries of personal experience. — J. Reid Meloy
A quote from a guy that hasn’t done written anything about psychopathy in thirty-four years quoting the guy that has written about psychopathy to soothe his own ego. Great start to an article. Again, if you can’t sense the sarcasm, please get your sarcasm meter recalibrated.
While nature vs nurture has been an ongoing debate, it is not possible to give a single cause for mental health problems.
Sure, that’s true, but since this article is about psychopathy, which is not a mental health disorder, but a genetically coded variant brain structure, that has nothing to do with the subject at hand. Just like the title asks the question about whether psychopaths are born or made, and then the drophead speaks about criminals, not psychopaths.
The cause of almost all disorders is not one or the other but both. Even if someone has the genes to develop psychopathy, an environmental trigger is always needed for the disorder to present itself. Trying to simplify the cause into a specific experience or a gene would be negating the complexity of the human brain.
Sounds like she has no idea what psychopathy is, and is conflating a genetic variant with antisocial behavior. Let me clarify.
Psychopathy is a genetically coded variant brain structure and chemical processing. I know, you guys are so sick of me repeating that, but it bears repeating because people like this write articles like this.
Psychopathy does not direct behavior. That isn’t how it works. Psychopathy only changes how the world is seen, it does not dictate behavior within it. Most psychopaths are not antisocial in the slightest. I spoke about that here:
Psychopathy is a predetermined thing. It does not remotely require anything to trigger it. You are a psychopath at birth, or you are not a psychopath at all. You will never become a psychopath, and you can never not be a psychopath if you are one. It’s in the genes, not in the environment.
This is where people make a lot of mistakes in considering psychopathy, even the experts. They will say things like psychopathy is fifty percent genetic and fifty percent environmental. Dutton said:
"I want to bring to your attention, a field, a new discipline emerging out of the field of genetics called epigenetics. Epigentics is basically is studying how the environment turns on different genes that we have naturally. The analogy that I always use to describe this. Imagine a book on a library book sitting on a shelf. Imagine the text, the writing in that book is your genes, your genetic code. If that book remains closed then that writing, that information is not going to have any impact in the outside world. It's going to remain dormant. However, if someone comes and picks up that book and opens it, and starts reading those words, then that information is going to have an impact. Now, that's exactly the way the environment interacts with our genes. We need an environmental trigger on some occasions to turn those genes on. In other words to make that information to become life and that, using the analogy, is the person coming over and opening the book.
Now, when it comes to psychopathy the general consensus at the moment is that psychopathy is about fifty percent genetic. There is a fifty percent genetic variation in psychopaths, but, in a lot of occasions it's environmental triggers in early formative childhood years, for instance a violent or traumatic childhood that is the equivalent of the person coming and opening that book and turning those genes on. And that kind of person generally becomes a violent criminal, a violent psychopathic criminal."
In this statement about psychopathy he is speaking about two things, the way the brain and genetics are different in psychopaths, and the behavior of psychopaths. Why make this distinction when speaking about psychopathy? Psychopathy is exclusively studied in prisons. That’s it, that is the only place that they have drawn conclusions about psychopaths. The number of psychopaths that are antisocial is about ten percent. Ninety percent are not.
If you were from an alien planet, and came here to research humans, and chose to do so solely in prisons, would the conclusions be remotely accurate? No, because people in prisons are the anomaly, not the rule. However, as psychopaths are difficult to identify due to the fact we blend in, because psychopathy has been so poorly represented in the world that no one who is psychopathic would ever relate to it so no one is volunteering for studies, and because Robert Hare cornered the market on psychopathy and will sue anyone who challenges his precious checklist, no one can study the majority of us.
Instead, they concentrate on the captive cohort as it were, and the conclusions about psychopathy are linked to criminals. Go figure, when you study criminals, and apply their behavior to a construct indelibly, then the construct is going to be tainted, and that is the case with psychopathy.
Now we have something that is tainted, and researchers have to find a way to account for the antisocial traits that should never have been included in the definitions to begin with. How would you do that? Well, looking at psychopaths, and understanding that it is genetic, it runs in families, and can be traced through family lines, but you have this cohort that breaks the law (they are in prison, so that is a foregone conclusion) how would you rectify this information.
If you are defining psychopathy based on the criminal cohort you have two aspects you have to deal with. The genetic brain variant, and the behavior. Well, they can’t conclude that the behavior is inherent because there is nothing supporting it, so instead, you say that psychopathy, as defined by genetics and behavior has to have twofold causes. Genetics, and environment.
This is actually true, but only one aspect of their claim can be considered psychopathy. Why do I say this? Because most psychopaths are not antisocial, and most antisocial people are not psychopaths. Antisocial behavior is a reflection of the person’s environment, no matter who it presents in. The motivations behind the antisocial behavior may be different, but the behavior itself is clearly against society’s norms. A psychopath and a neurotypical who commits the same crime are likely going to have vastly different motivations for it, but the behavior is the same.
If you raise a psychopath in a bad environment, the result will most likely be an antisocial psychopath. If they are raised in a good environment, like I was, you will most likely get a regular psychopath. The same can be said for anyone. Someone raised in a bad environment has a very good chance of being antisocial. That’s just how the world works. Psychopaths will never internalize abuse. We will never become depressed, develop PTSD, or some other issue, we instead have a good chance of being antisocial. Most psychopaths never encounter that, and therefore are not. This is evidenced by the numbers.
Back to the article.
Early adverse experiences affect a child’s ability to attach to a caregiver.
Emotions are not only critical for survival but also their development depends on the child’s interaction with his environment and caregivers (Campos et al., 1989). In other words, children develop emotions through their relationships with their caregivers. If the primary caregiver is responsive to the child’s needs, the child starts to reach out and trust more and his brain eventually learns to relate to other people and form secure attachments. On the other hand, children who have been raised under any condition that doesn’t allow for healthy attachments miss out on a key developmental stage of the brain.
This is true for most people. This is precisely what creates sociopaths. Sociopaths are not psychopaths. They are very different. It takes more than insecure attachment to create a sociopath, however. They seem to be created through severe neglect, abuse, or prolonged trauma. I addressed this in detail here:
If she were writing about sociopaths, or reactive attachment disorder, I would agree with her. The reason being is both of these things can occur in neurotypicals that experience severe abuse and destruction of trust at the hands of their primary caregivers. BPD and NPD would also be the result of a poor upbringing.
Psychopaths, on the other hand, we lack the ability to process oxytocin. There is never the ability to bond with our caregivers. We don’t miss that bond because we have no idea what it is. It is simply something people tell us is important, but we have no concept of it. Attachment, or lack thereof, is never going to be a reason for a psychopath to exist. We are born as we are. The presence of attachment, or lack thereof, will also not play into a psychopath being antisocial. We don’t have that motivation.
Humans evolved to live together in groups, and survival depends on successful social communication.
People who have dysfunctional attachment styles find it very difficult to form successful relationships. This is because they cannot relate to others properly due to deficiencies in empathy and other prosocial emotions. Emotions promote understanding of one another and strengthen the chance of surviving by allowing the individual to get along with others around him. Not being able to do so causes isolation rendering survival difficult.
This is very true… for neurotypicals. Psychopaths evolved alongside NTs to be the balance that helped the group advance.
If there is a noise in the bushes you need three responses to allow a group to advance in terms of survival and thriving.
We should run. That thing is probably dangerous.
This is the cautionary person. This is the person that keeps people from charging into danger, which allows the group to stay safe.
We should stay here, and see what happens.
This is the wait-and-see person. This person doesn’t charge in, which could be risky, but doesn’t run away, which could remove experiences that have the potential to give the group an advantage.
This is the psychopath of the group. Fearlessness is a trait, and without taking risks a group will stagnate. The psychopath would be the one that would fearlessly investigate new things.
All three are needed. Without all three, the group will go extinct. Psychopaths have always been outside the emotional circuitry of the group. It is why we are good at the things we are good at. It has benefitted us, and by extension the group we are with, immensely. As humans, we are all complementary to one another.
Many neurodevelopmental disorders including psychopathy show reduced brain size.
Brain abnormalities were shown in adults who were exposed to childhood trauma, reduced frontal cortical volume being very common (Cassiers et al., 2018). Abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex are also evident in neurodevelopmental disorders (Ehlis et al., 2008; New et al., 2007; Motzkin et al., 2011). This supports the theory that psychopaths have an underdeveloped brain.
Psychopaths do not have an underdeveloped brain. It is perfectly developed for us. Neurotypicals seem to have this belief that everyone should be like them, when the rest of us aren’t interested. Also, this does not account for the majority of psychopaths (again ninety percent) that did not have any sort of difficulty in childhood. I certainly didn’t, and I am psychopathic through and through. This idea that psychopaths are created through childhood trauma is very dismissive of the vast numbers of us that it doesn’t relate to.
Psychopathy is an attachment disorder.
J. Reid Meloy, who is an expert on psychopathy, wrote that people with the disorder exhibit a dismissive-avoidant attachment style (2001). Furthermore, a study on callous-unemotional traits (Waller et al., 2006), which are the hallmark of psychopathy, showed that adopted children’s fearlessness at 18 months of age and the continuation of this at 27 months of age was only significant for children with adoptive mothers rated as average or low on positive parenting. In the case of the mothers who were high on positive parenting, the pathway from the biological mothers’ fearlessness to the children’s was not significant. This highlights the relevance of attachment by showing that secure attachment to caregivers can block the risk of developing the disorder.
J. Reid Meloy is the guy that last wrote about psychopathy in 1988. I am not saying that the man knows nothing, but using information from 1988 to inform an article about psychopathy, is as useful as using information from 1980 to inform an article on ulcers. In other words, pointless.
Then we get to:
Furthermore, a study on callous-unemotional traits (Waller et al., 2006), which are the hallmark of psychopathy, showed that adopted children’s fearlessness at 18 months of age and the continuation of this at 27 months of age was only significant for children with adoptive mothers rated as average or low on positive parenting. In the case of the mothers who were high on positive parenting, the pathway from the biological mothers’ fearlessness to the children’s was not significant.
Callous-unemotional traits are not the same thing as fearlessness. Callous-unemotional traits relate to empathy, which is related to oxytocin. Fearlessness has to do with smaller amygdala that exists in psychopathy. They aren’t similar in effect in the brain either. Not in psychopaths, not in neurotypicals. They are quite separate.
Also, this part:
“showed that adopted children’s fearlessness at 18 months of age and the continuation of this at 27 months of age was only significant for children with adoptive mothers rated as average or low on positive parenting. In the case of the mothers who were high on positive parenting, the pathway from the biological mothers’ fearlessness to the children’s was not significant. “
literally makes no sense. I don’t know if she forgot to include information to make that statement a coherent one, but as it is, it doesn’t actually say anything. As usual, looking to do my due diligence, I searched for this information, but that statement does not appear in any paper I could find. I always want to try to see if I can decipher the point of the author, but in this case it isn’t possible.
Also, I have read about antisocial traits in children, and this simplified version of that research is not accurately representing the work in that field. It is extremely complex, and what she is trying to use as an argument for psychopathy being an attachment disorder is not only incorrect, but she doesn’t even make a reasonable argument for the reader. My guess is because she worded it in a way that will make most people glaze over and just accept what she is saying as factual because she understands that if something is wordy, it sounds like it came from an expert source.
I was able to find Rebecca Waller’s work, but she doesn’t do work on psychopathy. What she works on is child psychopathology, and that I think is where she made her mistake. Psychopathology is not the study of psychopathy. It literally means:
“The scientific study of mental disorders.”
It in no way relates to psychopathy, but many people do not know any better, and will make this mistake. I am going to assume that this is the case when it comes to this aspect of the post. It is the most generous I can be.
The psychopath is essentially a very primitive personality.
People with the disorder have the emotional capacity of a pre-socialized toddler. We are not born with emotions — we develop them through interacting and bonding with our parents and then other people. The human brain continues to develop until age 25. Psychopaths simply got stuck at an early developmental phase. Because of abusive caregivers, they were never able to trust their environment and feel safe enough to start bonding and develop full-fledged emotions.
I will be frank, this paragraph demonstrates that this person does not have the very basic information necessary to write about these subjects. To make the claim:
“We are not born with emotions — we develop them through interacting and bonding with our parents and then other people. “
Is not only factually incorrect, it is easily demonstrated that it is factually incorrect. The neurotypical brain comes prewired with emotions. Eight of them that we know of:
Anyone that has had a baby would never think that they lack emotions. You are born with emotions wired into your brain. That wiring causes your body to react in certain ways and for you to have certain urges when the emotion arises. You can scare a baby, you can comfort a baby, it is clear that they are emotionally responsive.
There is a condition called Angelman Syndrome. The babies born with this smile at an extremely early age.
They also smile pretty much all the time, and this does not end in their infancy. In fact:
Angelman syndrome is a genetic disorder. It causes delayed development, problems with speech and balance, intellectual disability, and, sometimes, seizures. People with Angelman syndrome often smile and laugh frequently, and have happy, excitable personalities.
That aspect of their personality comes hardwired into them. They do not relate to the world like neurotypical children, yet they are happy from the moment that they are born. That smile is one of the things that is looked for when diagnosing Angelman Syndrome.
“The human brain continues to develop until age 25. Psychopaths simply got stuck at an early developmental phase. Because of abusive caregivers, they were never able to trust their environment and feel safe enough to start bonding and develop full-fledged emotions.”
This is truly without insight. Yes, the human brain continues to develop until twenty-five. She apparently believes that psychopathic brains don’t continue to develop as well. They do. They develop to a normal state for us. No, we do not have neurotypical brains, and thank god for that. I did not have abusive caregivers, nor did most psychopaths. The fact that this is what she believes without any evidence at all is amusing. ASPD and psychopathy are not related. People with ASPD more likely than not did have an abusive childhood, and that is true of antisocial psychopaths.
Most psychopaths, however, had a good upbringing. This is not a statement that I am making. It comes from psychopathy researcher Armon Tamatea. In his research, he found that most psychopaths came from good homes, good families, and had more often than not, both parents in the home. This of course runs afoul of what this author is claiming, but if I am going to lend credibility to it is going to be the guy who wrote these:
Tamatea, A. J. (2022). Humanising psychopathy, or what it means to be diagnosed as a psychopath: stigma, disempowerment, and scientifically-sanctioned alienation. In L. Malatesti, J. McMillan, & P. Šustar (Eds.), History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences (Vol. 27, pp. 19-41). doi:10.1007/978-3-030-82454-9_3
Plessas, A., Billot, M. W., Tamatea, A., Medvedev, O. N., McCormack, J., & Anderson, A. (2021). Barriers and Facilitators of Access to Psychological Services for Indigenous Populations: A Scoping Review and Thematic Analysis. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.747054
Day, A., Newton, D., & Tamatea, A. (2021). A Scoping Review of Family Focussed Interventions to Prevent Prison Violence. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. doi:10.1177/0306624X211023917
Day, A., Tamatea, A., & Geia, L. (2021). Cross-cultural practice frameworks in correctional settings. Aggression and Violent Behavior. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2021.101674
Not someone that wrote this: