Tag: forensic psychiatry

Bioethics Blogs

Criminal Law and Neuroscience: Hope or Hype?

By Stephen J. Morse

Stephen J. Morse, J.D., Ph.D., is a lawyer and a psychologist. He is Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Morse is also a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has been working on the relation of neuroscience to law, ethics and social policy for over two decades, has written numerous articles and book chapters on these topics and has edited A Primer on Neuroscience and Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2013, with Adina Roskies). He was previously Co-Director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project and was a member of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Research Network. Professor Morse is a recipient of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Distinguished Contribution Award, and a recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s Isaac Ray Award for distinguished contributions to forensic psychiatry and the psychiatric aspects of jurisprudence. 

The discovery of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 1991, which permits non-invasive imaging of brain function, and the wide availability of scanners for research starting in about 2000 fueled claims that what we would learn about the brain and behavior would transform and perhaps revolutionize criminal law. Most commonly, many thought that traditional notions of criminal responsibility would be undermined for various reasons, such as demonstrating that people really cannot control themselves as well as we believe, or as indicating that more action was automatic, thoughtless and non-rational than we think.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Hiring the right psychopath

There could be increased numbers of psychopaths in senior managerial positions, high levels of business: a paper in Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology has demonstrated that smart psychopaths are hard to detect as psychopaths. The authors tested participants for psychopathic tendencies using a psychological scale, and then tested their arousal levels through galvanic skin response while showing normal or upsetting images. The interesting finding was that only lower IQ participants showed the expected responses (lowered startle when viewing aversive images in psychopaths): smarter participants seemed to be able to control their emotions.

The lead author, Carolyn Bate, said:

“Perhaps businesses do need people who have the same characteristics as psychopaths, such as ruthlessness.  But I suspect that some form of screening does need to take place, mainly so businesses are aware of what sort of people they are hiring.”

Should we screen people at hiring for psychopathy?

There is no question that psychopaths can be destructive. They tend to be deceitful and manipulative, lack empathy and remorse, and behave in irresponsible or impulsive ways. There is an association with criminal behaviour, and they can hurt corporate culture through bullying, stress, conflict and indirect effects on staff turnover, absenteeism and productivity. There is also some evidence that psychopaths are more common than average at higher levels: the combination of boldness, manipulation and ruthlessness can further the career of a smart psychopath.

Lack of empathy is not always bad: somebody needs to do the downsizing, and surgeons famously tend to score higher on psychopathy inventories. In fact, there seem to be a clear selection for (and against) certain professions (although the methodology can be discussed).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.