Psychopaths r not us

The closest we will probably ever, knowingly, meet up with a psychopath is reading the fascinating interviews in . . .

The Wisdom of Psychopaths – What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success by Kevin Dutton

Psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless and focused – qualities found in brain surgeons, fighter pilots, lawyers, fire fighters. CEO’s and meditating monks.

In this fascinating book Keven Dutton, a British psychologist, combines neuroscience research, interviews with psychopaths, psychological studies and his own mind-altering experience to explore the mind, motives of people identified as psychopaths or psychopathic tendencies.

We found the accounts of his encounters with psychopaths, those locked away, those fully functioning within and outside the “norms” of  society both chilling and intriguing.

One of the interesting interviews was with a U.S. Special Forces instructor for Navy SEALs (The guys who took out Bin Laden).  The instructor describes how they tests recruits to to break them using “torture tactics”.  The object is to determine if they are tough enough to qualify to be a seal (who, to a person, score high in  psychopathic traits).  Here’s the interview:

We did everything we could to break this guy.  He was orphaned at eleven . . .looking after his younger brother and sister by living on his wits. Stealing. Wheeling. Dealing . . . when he was sixteen, he beat someone up so bad they went into a coma.

White noice.  Sleep deprivation.  Sensory deprivation. Water. Stress positions .. . We threw everything at him.  Finally, after forty-eight hours, I removed the blindfold, put my face within a few inches of his, and yelled:

“Is there anything you want to tell me?” . . . he said yes.  There was something he wanted to say.

“What is it?.  ‘I asked.

“You want to cut down on the garlic, dude,” he said.

. . . It was the only time, in fifteen years as an instructor, that I let my guard slip.  Just for a second, a split second, I smiled.  I couldn’t help it.  I actually admired this guy.  And you know what?  Even in the disgusting, state he was in . . ., the son of a bitch saw it.  . .. he called me back closer to him.  And there was a look of sheer, I don’t know, defiance . . in his eyes.

“Game over,” he whispered in my ear.  “You’ve failed.”

“What?  I was meant to be saying that to him?  It was then that we realized he was one of what we call the “unbreakables.” The toughest of the tough . . .” And if he DID have a conscience I never saw it.  He was cold as ice.  At either end of a weapon.  Which actually, in this line of work, isn’t always a bad thing”

Research in the lab has shown that it isn’t so much the case that psychopaths don’t feel anxiety in certain situations, but rather that they just don’t notice the threat.  Their attention is focused purely on the task at hand, and extraneous distractions are ruthlessly filtered out. 

The psychopathic traits that most of us recognize are:

  • Failure to conform to social norms
  • Deceitfulness, repeated lying, conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsivity, or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to, or rationalizing, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

Dutton describes a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, he explains that “functional psychopaths – different from their murderous counterparts – use their detached, unflinching and charismatic personalities to succeed in society. 

Furthermore, there is an overlap of traits shared both by those who have psychopathic traits (Narcissism, impulsivity, lack of conscience, manipulativeness, pathological lying, coldheartedness) and those who have spiritual traits (love compassion, gentleness, humility, faithfulness, trustworthiness):

  • stoicism
  • mindfulness,
  • fearlessness,
  • mental toughness,
  • openness to experience,
  • utilitarianism,
  • focus/altered state of consciousness,
  • energy,
  • creativity,
  • non-attachment

FASCINATING!

Here’s a synopsis, straight from the internet promo:

“In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.”

“Dutton argues that there are indeed “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.”

“As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focused—qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that it’s our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success.”

Find it hard to FORGIVE? Your “aSTS” may need “a fill-up”

Why do some of us find it easier to forgive?

When we feel that somebody has wronged us personally, we make a  moral judgment.  From a neuropsychological viewpoint, the act of judging a moral situation is incredibly complex and has a lot to do with intentionality – did the perpetrator really mean to do those awful things?

Making a mature moral judgment about a wrongful act involves not only considering the damage done, but also the perpetrator’s intention and mental state. When there is a clear contradiction between the two, however, intention seems to take precedence over the result of the action.

A study shows that a specific area in the brain called the anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) plays a key role in forgiving those who create unintentional harm.

Indrajeet Patil, the study’s primary author, details this further and puts the new research into context:

“Behavioural studies have already shown that when the intention and outcome of an action are conflicting, as in the case of sometimes serious accidental harm, people tend to focus mainly on the intentions when formulating a judgment. And this is more or less a universal feature of mature moral judgments across cultures.”

” . . . very few studies have taken on this issue from an anatomical point of view, to gain an understanding of whether differences in the volume and structure of certain areas of the brain might explain variations in moral judgment. This research attempted to explore precisely this aspect.”

Studying the neuroanatomical basis of forgiveness

To do this, the researchers asked 50 participants to complete a moral judgement task. The volunteers were presented with 36 unique stories and four potential outcomes for each of them.

Each scenario comprised four parts:

  • Some background information
  • A foreshadowing segment, in which it was suggested that the outcome would be either neutral or harmful
  • Information on the neutral or intentionally harmful mental state of the agent
  • The consequence, which revealed the agent’s action and the resulting outcome.

“Participants read each story and were asked to give their moral judgment by answering questions regarding “acceptability” and “blame.” . . . “the participants were asked: “How morally acceptable was [the agent]’s behavior?” and “How much blame does [the agent] deserve?” The volunteers gave answers based on a scale from 1 to 7.”

“While answering the questions, the participants’ brain activity was analyzed using voxel-based morphometry – a neuroimaging technique that allows for a holistic examination of brain changes while simultaneously preserving a high degree of brain region specificity.”

“The researchers also used neuroimaging to localize the neural areas responsible for the so-called theory of mind (ToM). ToM, or “mentalizing,” is a person’s ability to correctly attribute mental states – such as beliefs, intentions, and desires – to others based on their behavior. Mentalizing also refers to the person’s ability to explain and predict other people’s behavior based on these inferences.”

People with a more developed aSTS are more inclined to forgive

The results revealed a connection between the differences in moral judgement severity about unintentional harm and the volume of the left aSTS brain region.

More specifically, the more developed the aSTS was, the less blame was attributed to the wrongdoers. “The greater the gray matter volume [in this area], the less accidental harm-doers are condemned.” 

Patil further explains the findings:

“The aSTS was already known to be involved in the ability to represent the mental states (thoughts, beliefs, desires, etc.) of others. According to our conclusions, individuals with more gray matter at aSTS are better able to represent the mental state of those responsible for actions and thus comprehend the unintentional nature of the harm. In expressing judgment they are thus able to focus on this latter aspect and give it priority over the especially unpleasant consequences of the action. For this reason, ultimately, they are less inclined to condemn it severely.”

If you find it hard to forgive, your challenge NOW is to forgive your anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) for not having more grey matter.  

The researchers were led by Giorgia Silani from the University of Vienna in Austria, and the study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from Trieste University in Italy and Boston College in Massachusetts. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

What Cirque du Soleil can tell us about the neuroscience of awe

“Fans and critics alike have been calling our shows ‘awe-inspiring’ for more than 30 years now, and yet when we asked fans as marketers, ‘How do you feel? How do we connect with you?’ they were not able to explain it,” says Cirque du Soleil’s chief marketing and experience officer Kristina Heney. “We would get the proverbial world cloud of ‘Oh, my god, wow, you have to go, amazing, life-changing,’ but we couldn’t understand that emotional bridge.”

Neuroscience defines awe as: first there is surprise, then comes a sense of wonder and a desire to understand the surprise.

Cirque du Critteres by Peggy

A group of neuroscientists, artists, and technologists at Lab of Misfits, an experimental research lab, looked at what happens in people’s brains as they watched a Cirque du Soleil show. They recruited 282 members of the audience and put EEG caps on 60 of them.

 The caps measured neurological responses during the show.

  • The moment the audience member reported experiencing awe, brain activity in their prefrontal cortexes (The part of the brain that is in charge of “executive function”, which makes plans and decisions.) decreased. They were not focusing, but were taking in what was happening. 
  • Simultaneously, activity increased in the part of the brain that is active when you are daydreaming or imagining. (The part associated with creative thinking).

The audience recruits who did not wear the caps were given several test, some before the show, some after and asked to rate the awe they felt during the show.  Those who experienced awe reported:

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology and director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley who studies awe:

 “We’ve got a lot of findings in that vein. Humans have to fold into social collectives. It’s essential to our survival, and awe helps us with that. Empirically, we find people feeling awe are more humble, and their sense of self diminishes, their sense of network expands, they become more altruistic. They have a quieting of self-interest and a turning to people around them.”

“We define awe as having two key appraisals, which is how we ascribe meaning to what we’re perceiving,” Keltner said. “The first is a sense of vastness that makes you feel small, and then the second is when you don’t understand what’s happening.

cirque-du-soleil-lab-of-misfits-neuroscience-awe

 

“What? Me Worry?”

If you worry you have a evolved brain.

Powerful emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, are products of our neurology and created largely for survival.  It’s just that our brains no longer know we are not living in caves and threatened by being eaten alive.

Alfred E. Neuman was  an iconic figure in the comic book MAD in the 1950’s*.  MAD’s first editor, Harvey Kurtzman identified him: “It was a kid that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief.”  Few of us don’t have a care in the world and most of us worry.

If you are someone who tends to worry or be anxious (probably most of us), listen to what Professor B.L. Chakoo has to say:

Worry

” Worrying is primarily the result of poor communication between the thinking prefrontal cortex (which is the whole surface of your brain) and the anterior cingulate which notices all your mistakes and contributes to ‘the tendency to dwell on everything that is going wrong’.”

Anxiety

Anxiety, by comparison, is mediated by some circuits within the limbic system which is the emotional part of the brain and is responsible for things like fear, anxiety and memory.  So, there is no reason to get upset with yourself for feeling anxious or worrying too much.  It is just a by-product of your brain’s evolution.”

“Yes, it would be a marvelous world if we never felt worried or anxious, but that is not the way our brains are ‘structured or wired’. We as human beings worry about the future, ‘regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present’. We get upset, feel angry, frustrated when we cannot have what we want, and sad, irritable or disappointed when what we desire ‘ends’.”

He also says that our brains make things up, and so you can worry about something that has not happened yet, as well as regret what did happen.

The Good News

If the brain is the cause of suffering, it can also be its “cure.”  Understanding  why you worry or are anxious will help your brain will develop the ability to right itself. Decades of neuroscience inquiries have shown us how to modify our brains and change the levels of different neurochemicals.*

We can also grow new neurons and improve the way our brains work to reduce stress: 

  • Movement – walking, jogging, gardening or even walking up and down stairs – increases ‘the firing rate of serotonin neurons’, which causes them to release more serotonin.
  • Exercise with moderate intensity increases norepinephrine which helps with concentration and deep thinking.
  • Activity outside is best since sunlight improves serotonin production . . . as does . . .
  • . . . Interactions with others.

All these activities increase serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex, which help keep you from thinking about negative experiences.

And that means having an easier time saying “What? Me worry?”

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_E._Neuman

*To read the entire article by Professor B L Chakoo

Click here: http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/depression-and-neuro-science/

Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain

Perhaps you haven’t heard that the hype about mindfulness is backed by hard science? Recent research provides strong evidence that practicing non-judgmental, present-moment awareness (a.k.a. mindfulness) changes the brain.

 Your anterior cingulate cortex

“The first is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a structure located deep inside your forehead, behind the brain’s frontal lobe. The ACC is associated with self-regulation, meaning the ability to purposefully direct attention and behavior, suppress inappropriate knee-jerk responses, and switch strategies flexibly.”

“People with damage to the ACC show impulsivity and unchecked aggression, and those with impaired connections between this and other brain regions perform poorly on tests of mental flexibility: they hold onto ineffective problem-solving strategies rather than adapting their behavior.”

Meditators, on the other hand, demonstrate superior performance on tests of self-regulation, resisting distractions and making correct answers more often than non-meditators. They also show more activity in the ACC than non-meditators. In addition to self-regulation, the ACC is associated with learning from past experience to support optimal decision-making. Scientists point out that the ACC may be particularly important in the face of uncertain and fast-changing conditions.”

Your hippocampus

“The hippocampus, a region that showed increased amounts of gray matter in the brains of a 2011 mindfulness program participants. This seahorse-shaped area is buried inside the temple on each side of the brain and is part of the limbic system, a set of inner structures associated with emotion and memory. It is covered in receptors for the stress hormone cortisol, and studies have shown that it can be damaged by chronic stress, contributing to a harmful spiral in the body. People with stress-related disorders like depresssion and PTSD tend to have a smaller hippocampus. All of this points to the importance of this brain area in resilience.”

Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to

  • perception
  • body awareness
  • pain tolerance
  • emotion regulation
  • introspection
  • complex thinking
  • sense of self.

Mindfulness can be integrated into your religious or spiritual life, or practiced as a form of secular mental training.  When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.

(A team of scientists from the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology were able to pool data from more than 20 studies to determine which areas of the brain are consistently affected. They identified at least eight different regions.)

“Spaced-out” Learning

“What we know about how memories are made at a neuroscience level is that it’s not just important to repeat a stimulus, but it is important to leave spaces in between,” . . . “There are changes that happen to the genes and proteins on a neuron that help fix the memory if there are spaces between learning something.”

The latest neuroscience shows students who took part in spaced learning, where lessons are broken up by activities such as juggling, improved their attainment.

Training teachers to break up lessons with 10 minute “distractions”, such as juggling or model making, has been found to significantly boost pupils’ learning, early research has shown.

“A study involving 2,000 pupils revealed that information is more easily learnt if it is delivered in intense 12-minute bursts and broken up by 10 minute periods of an unrelated activity. The project, called SMART Spaces, is based on the latest neuroscience, which shows that information is better absorbed and more easily recalled when it is repeated a number of times, but spaced out with distractions.”

Whoops . . . wrong “space”

Spaced learning

“In Sheffield England technique as part of their revision lessons ahead of students’ GCSEs. Pupils had an intense 12 minute Power Point lesson in chemistry, then juggled for 10 minutes. After that they had 12 minutes of physics before another 10 minutes of juggling. The lesson was then finished with 12 minutes of biology. This was then repeated over two more days. Other schools broke up their lessons with plasticine model making and games of Simon Says. Mr Gittner said the study led to some significant gains in learning, and there are plans to implement a full-scale randomised controlled trial involving up to 50 schools.”

“The idea for the project came after Monkseaton High School in Newcastle made headlines in 2009 for teaching its pupils to pass a GCSE after just three days of learning. They were able to pass a sixth of a GCSE in just 60 minutes. Distractions boost results Mr Gittner said such approaches were not to counteract shrinking attention spans, adding that the techniques were backed up by the latest developments in neuroscience.

“It fits with the generally accepted views that people can only really focus for 20 minutes, even adults. Students that took part in our trial were able to concentrate fully because they new in 15 minutes they were going to get to to juggle,” 

https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/education/juggling-lessons-boosts-learning/

For the latest Curious to the MAX post, click on this picture

 

Meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old

My meditation practice has always been sporadic and I’m not just talking about my “monkey mind” that leaps and roams . . . or falls asleep.  Needing a bit of discipline I joined a meditation group and in two months my brain will be younger and smarter.

Want proof?

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence that shows that meditation decreases stress, depression, and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia, and increases quality of life.

 One  study looked at long-term meditators (seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. “The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.”

“This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.”

Neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in the brain region, linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.

Wowza!

Just to make sure this wasn’t because the long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with, a second study was conducted in which they put people with no experience with meditation into an eight-week mindfulness program.

The results?

“Even just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).”

“Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.”

How long do you have to meditate to see such results?

“The study participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day. Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day”

In 8 weeks my brain will look and act half its age . . . .if only meditating could do the same for my body . . .

(jw)

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