Wild Paper Says Psychopathy May Not Be a Mental Disorder, It’s Something Else
For more than half a century, the kinds of antisocial personality traits that we think of as psychopathic—such as lack of remorse, aggression, and disregard for the well-being of others—have been associated with illness. mental.
The line between broken and useful traits can be blurred in biology, leaving open the possibility that what is now considered a dysfunction could have been fostered by natural selection.
We might find it hard to think that evolution benefits antisocial people, but nature has no problem making room for the occasional profiteer within otherwise cooperative species like ours. These alternate traits that make psychopaths so despised could give them an edge in a world of intense competition for resources.
A team of Canadian researchers explored this possibility in a study published last year in the journal Evolutionary Psychologyarguing that psychopathy lacks some characteristics of a disorder, so it should be viewed more as a function functioning as intended.
Their conclusion is based on an analysis of existing research containing validated measures of psychopathy as well as details of the person’s laterality; however, this correlation echoes outdated science from the early days of criminal psychology.
Historically, the connections between being left-handed and a “sinister” personality were pretty much obvious. Early models of mental illness and sociability viewed laterality as a convenient sign of an individual’s degeneration.
Science no longer views left-handers as unfortunate criminals, though the question of how laterality might associate with a litany of other physiological and psychological traits remains a common question in research.
At the center of it all is the age-old question of nature versus nurture. Genetics seems to play a role in laterality, if rather complicated. Cultural influences can also determine the extent to which a person favors one hand over the other, allowing them to fit into communities that favor right-handers.
There is also a wide mix of environmental nudges, such as stress, nutrition, or exposure to pollution in the womb, that can nudge a person’s genetic makeup for laterality in one direction or the other. ‘other.
Since the researchers in this study found no clear evidence that psychopathic subjects were less likely to be right-handed, it can be assumed that their development was not necessarily affected by their environment in any significant way.
This leaves open the possibility that whatever genes are at work are functioning as evolutionary electives, providing (as the researchers describe it) an “alternative life history strategy” for those who have inherited them. .
There are many reasons to pass judgment one way or another on the whole debate. Specific to this study, only 16 studies ultimately informed the conclusion, combining data from just under 2,000 individuals, making it statistically weak.
Sample sizes aside, it’s difficult to limit variables in studies like these, making it impossible to rule out the possibility of confounding muddying the waters.
Beyond all of this is the more philosophical question of what makes differences in our form and function a disease in the first place. Entire books are being written (one by the author of this very article) on changing definitions of health and disease.
Psychopathy can be both undesirable in one set of circumstances and appreciated in another, without invoking patterns of illness. It can be both an alternative survival strategy, helping in some social contexts before becoming a nuisance in another.
Like so many things in biology, disease is a convenient box in which we try to fight a complicated system.
The more clinical twin of psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder (APD), was officially listed in the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) in 1968. Even after a number of revisions , the ODA stays in the DSM. , adjusted over time with more objectively observable and controllable criteria.
Whether we will continue to consider psychopathy a disorder in the future will depend on a variety of considerations, including the results of studies like this.
Regardless of how we view disorders like APD, psychopathy can play a role in behaviors that disrupt and destroy the well-being of many people.
Knowing more about how it works and how to help those who suffer from it is an answer we could all benefit from.
This research was published in Evolutionary Psychology.