Psychopaths’ brains seek rewards at all costs

- Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fascinating look at the brains of psychopaths. I know that in addictions the consequences are often completely ignored by the addict while in the acting out phase of the addiction cycle. I would strongly expect that this hyper-reactive dopamine reward system is in effect at some level with addicts too.

The brains of psychopaths appear to be wired to keep seeking a reward regardless of the consequences, according to new research.

“Psychopaths are often thought of as cold-blooded criminals who take what they want without thinking about consequences,” says the study’s lead author Joshua Buckholtz, a graduate student in psychology at Vanderbilt University.

“We found that a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism, and substance abuse.”

The results were published in Nature Neuroscience.

Previous research on psychopathy has focused on what these individuals lack—fear, empathy, and interpersonal skills. The new research, however, examines what they have in abundance—impulsivity, heightened attraction to rewards, and risk taking. Importantly, it is these latter traits that are most closely linked with the violent and criminal aspects of psychopathy.

“There has been a long tradition of research on psychopathy that has focused on the lack of sensitivity to punishment and a lack of fear, but those traits are not particularly good predictors of violence or criminal behavior,” says study coauthor David Zald, associate professor of psychology and of psychiatry. “Our data is suggesting that something might be happening on the other side of things. These individuals appear to have such a strong draw to reward—to the carrot—that it overwhelms the sense of risk or concern about the stick.”


Addiction Brain Crime Science