Friday, September 14, 2012

Stout, "The Sociopath Next Door"

You do enjoy jobs that afford you a certain under-supervised control over…people and groups who are relatively helpless or in some way vulnerable.

...Whatever your job, you manipulate and bully the people who are under your thumb, as often and  as outrageously as you can without getting fired or held accountable.  You do this for its own sake, even when it serves no purpose except to give you a thrill.  Making people jump means you have power -- or this is the way you see it -- and bullying provides you with an adrenaline rush. It is fun.

....You can frighten a few people, or cause them to scuryy around like chikens, or steal from them, or—maybe best of all—create situations that cause them to feel bad about themselves. And this is power, especially when the people you manipulate are superior to you in some way.  Most invigorating of all is to bring down people who are smarter or more accomplished than you, or perhaps classier, more attractive or popular or morally admirable (p.p.3-4).

Though sociopathy seems to be universal and timeless, there is credible evidence that some cultures contain fewer sociopaths than do other cultures. Intriguingly, sociopathy would appear to be relatively rare in certain East Asian countries, notably Japan and China (Editor's Note: "China" in this sentence seemingly refers to “Taiwan” ). Studies conducted in both rural and urban areas of Taiwan have found a remarkably low prevalence of antisocial personality disorder, ranging from 0.03 percent to 0.14 percent, which is not none but is impressively less than the Western world's approximate average of 4 percent, which translates to one in twenty-five people. And disturbingly, the prevalence of sociopathy in the United States seems to be increasing. The 1991 Epidemiologic Catchment Area study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, reported that in the fifteen years preceding the study, the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder had nearly doubled among the young in America. It would be difficult, closing in on impossible, to explain such a dramatically rapid shift in terms of genetics or neurobiology. Apparently, cultural influences play a very important role in the development (or not) of sociopathy in any given population (p.136).

Some of the most interesting information about cortical functioning in sociopathy comes to us through studies of how human beings process language. As it turns out, even at the level of electrical activity in the brain, normal people react to emotional words (such as love, hate, cozy, pain, happy, mother) more rapidly and more intensely than to relatively neutral words (table, chair, fifteen, later, etc.) If I am given the task of deciding between words and nonwords, I will recognize terror over lister much faster, in terms of microseconds, than I will choose between window and endock, and my enhanced reaction to the emotional word terror can be measured by recording a tiny electrical reaction, called an “evoked potential,” in my cerebral cortex. Such studies indicate that the brains of normal people attend to, remember, and recognize words that refer to emotional experiences preferentially to emotion-neutral words. Love will be recognized as a word faster than look will be, and a greater evoked potential will result in the brain very much as if love were a more primal and meaningful piece of information than look.

Not so for the sociopathic subjects who have been tested using language-processing tasks. In terms of reaction time and evoked potentials in the cortex, sociopathic subjects in these experiments respond to emotionally charged words no differently from neutral words. In sociopaths, the evoked potential for sob or kiss is no larger than for one for sat or list, very much as if emotional words were no more meaningful, or deeply coded by their brains, than any other words(p.p.124-5).

Stout, M. (2005). The sociopath next door: The ruthless versus the rest of us. New York: Broadway Books.