Friday, August 2, 2013

Criminal sentencing for sociopaths

The role that a diagnosis of psychopathy should play in criminal sentencing is an admittedly thorny issue. The legal standard for an insanity plea is that the perpetrator must not be able to distinguish between right and wrong. Sociopaths actually know the difference between right and wrong most of the time, they just don't care (enough to conform their behavior to societal standards). The debate is whether this faulty wiring makes them more culpable, less culpable, or equally culpable to a similarly offending non-sociopath. A prominent researcher who specializes in scanning the brains of sociopaths in prisons, Kent Kiehl, suggests in an interview with NPR that we should cut them some slack:
Brian Dugan . . . is serving two life sentences for rape and murder in Chicago. Last July, Dugan pleaded guilty to raping and murdering 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, and he was put on trial to determine whether he should be executed. Kiehl was hired by the defense to do a psychiatric evaluation.

In a videotaped interview with Kiehl, Dugan describes how he only meant to rob the Nicaricos' home. But then he saw the little girl inside.

"She came to the door and ... I clicked," Dugan says in a flat, emotionless voice. "I turned into Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll."
"And I have empathy, too — but it's like it just stops," he says. "I mean, I start to feel, but something just blocks it. I don't know what it is."

Kiehl says he's heard all this before: All psychopaths claim they feel terrible about their crimes for the benefit of the parole board.

"But then you ask them, 'What do you mean, you feel really bad?' And Brian will look at you and go, 'What do you mean, what does it mean?' They look at you like, 'Can you give me some help? A hint? Can I call a friend?' They have no way of really getting at that at all," Kiehl says.

Kiehl says the reason people like Dugan cannot access their emotions is that their physical brains are different. And he believes he has the brain scans to prove it.
Psychopaths' brains behave differently from that of a nonpsychopathic person. When a normal person sees a morally objectionable photo, his limbic system lights up. This is what Kiehl calls the "emotional circuit," involving the orbital cortex above the eyes and the amygdala deep in the brain. But Kiehl says when psychopaths like Dugan see the KKK picture, their emotional circuit does not engage in the same way.
Kiehl says the emotional circuit may be what stops a person from breaking into that house or killing that girl. But in psychopaths like Dugan, the brakes don't work. Kiehl says psychopaths are a little like people with very low IQs who are not fully responsible for their actions. The courts treat people with low IQs differently. For example, they can't get the death penalty.

"What if I told you that a psychopath has an emotional IQ that's like a 5-year-old?" Kiehl asks. "Well, if that was the case, we'd make the same argument for individuals with low emotional IQ — that maybe they're not as deserving of punishment, not as deserving of culpability, etc."
This argument troubles Steven Erickson, a forensic psychologist and legal scholar at Widener University School of Law. He notes that alcoholics have brain abnormalities. Do we give them a pass if they kill someone while driving drunk?
At trial, Jonathan Brodie, a psychiatrist at NYU Medical School who was the prosecution's expert witness, went further. Even if Dugan's brain is abnormal, he testified, the brain does not dictate behavior.

"There may be many, many people who also have psychopathic tendencies and have similar scans, who don't do antisocial behavior, who don't rape and kill," Brodie says.

The jury seemed to zero in on the science, asking to reread all the testimony about the neuroscience during 10 hours of deliberation. But in the end, they sentenced Dugan to death. Dugan is appealing the sentence.
With this and the U.S. Supreme Court case allowing governments to indefinitely detain pedophiles, the halcyon days of believing in rehabilitation for criminals seem to be over. If there was one piece of advice I could give this upcoming generation of sociopaths, it would be to master the ability to authentically mimic the empath's exaggerated remorse and self-hate, a performance that is quickly becoming necessary to keep the lynch mobs at bay.


  1. The "faulty wiring" argument is likely correct, there's a really strong streak of determinism in the universe.

    As far as ethics/punishment, that's all opinion, and mostly bullshit. I just think to myself, do I really want a guy with a strong urge to kill hanging around my street? Not really. And who would? Sociopath or not -- in the interest of self-preservation. If you see a threat, you find a way to avoid or stop it. The difference is, what do you perceive as a threat?

    At least that's my way of looking at it.

  2. PostmodernSociopathJuly 6, 2010 at 12:34 AM

    "if there was one piece of advice i could give this upcoming generation of sociopaths, it would be to master the ability to authentically mimic the empath's exaggerated remorse and self-hate, a performance that is quickly becoming necessary to keep the lynch mobs at bay."

    Seconded, M.E.

    For me that's often been the difference between punishment or getting away clean (for my purposes, a slap on the wrist is not real punishment). Empaths seem to have a tremendous capacity for self-loathing, and showing that capacity seems to be the usual factor used to determine the "truth" of an individual's contrition.

    Another important thing I think the next generation needs to keep in mind is rehearsal. You must create a plausible answer to "What do you mean you feel bad about X?", and you must be able to call it up instantly. If you don't have that, anyone will be able to see through your falsehood. That trips me up to this day, on occasion.

  3. This man is off his rocker. You don't show lenience to people because they're more likely to offend. That's the dumbest shit I've read this week.

  4. If an individual commits a crime like rape (torture),and is sentenced to 10 years, if the technology allows us to scan the individuals brain and we find that the individual is a psychopath, this individual should never be released from prison.

    It's very likely that most crimes like rape (torture) are committed by psychopaths to begin with. Is it possible for an empath to rape someone?

    It's possible but the crime scene probably would not look the same. An empath is more likely to drug someone out and date rape them while a psychopath would have no problem raping someone who is awake and struggling. The difference is the psychopath is basically certain to re-offend in sex crimes because they have sexual incentive to commit the crime and they have no fear of the punishment. An empath would be very unlikely to commit the crime again even if it's out of fear.

    This is backed up by studies which prove psychopaths are more likely to re-offend. That being said I don't believe psychopaths should be given the death penalty. Psychopaths may have useful skills or talents which could be useful to society even from behind bars, and there is no logical reason to kill them other than to make the victims feel better, which might make sense for the victims but doesn't make sense for anybody else.

    Society has to decide if being diagnosed as a psychopath is a disability. I believe it is. If it's a disability we should treat it as a disability. It's not insanity. It doesn't mean psychopaths have the option to be violent. It probably means psychopath should get disability benefits, have the option of living life on the outside world with these benefits, or the option of living in a contained setting and receive greater benefits in that setting.

    Give the psychopath the option of living on the outside world, receiving a monthly check for the rest of their life which they'll only receive if they don't break the law. If they break the law they go to a prison for psychopaths.

    Option #2 is for psychopaths to choose to be committed into a resort style hospital/prison where they receive money, and can live in a contained setting which isn't prison but which is like a self contained city behind a gate in which they can work, live, buy anything they want, and get paid to live in this contained area.

    Paying psychopaths to live in a contained area is ethical because they have the right to decline the free money. They have the right to decide to try and live a normal life. They also have to accept the risk of going to a real prison for the rest of their life which wont have the level of luxury they could have if they take that option.

    This allows the psychopath to have a choice to choose to accept enough money to survive (welfare system), this way they wont have to hurt people to survive. If they hurt people they lose that.

    They get the option to live in a contained area and receive even more money and luxury but they cannot leave that area.

    They get the option to take their chances in the real world. In the real world a lot of them wont live to be 21. A lot of them will end up in prison. Very few will be the high functioning type but if they are then they can live in the real world.

    Incentives have to be offered as well as punishment. The problem with empaths (and psychopaths) is they typically only offer punishment and so theres no incentive for people to try and do better. Also the psychopaths sometimes have nothing to lose so theres again no incentive not to go to prison or not to be violent.

  5. AntiSocialPersonalityJuly 6, 2010 at 6:14 AM

    PostmodernSociopath <- It didn't work for Chris Brown and it wont work for most psychopaths.

    I'll explain why. A psychopath only has to slip up one time, in front of the wrong person, who might snitch to the empaths. What if another psychopath or sociopath spots you and tells the empaths? Or maybe they wont tell and they'll blackmail you.

    Those emotional performances work well on women. Women like to see emotions and typically believe their eyes. It does not work on other sociopaths and it probably wont work on male empaths if you are also a male. Remorse also cannot be described as self hatred, if you mimic self hatred as remorse that will give you away right there.

  6. Anyone who kills someone for reasons other than self defense or in war is sick. I'm sure a brain scan would prove that. Events like this are sicknesses expressed in violent crimes. These criminals will never be treated any differently than they are now because who cares to change any of it. I think they should put them in a military facility where they can be imprisoned and live according to a strict code of some kind but no freedoms whatsoever because they can never be trusted.
    Boot camp under a tough sergeant, who is probably a sociopath, may give them a sense of powerlessness.
    Capital punishment isn't really the ultimate punishment...not the way we do it here in the USA. But it's one less inmate to feed and makes room for the next one. This is just my simple opinion and it’s not a very deep one.


  7. PostmodernSociopathJuly 6, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    I don't know what experience you're basing all that on, Anti. I've never been aware of the empath conspiracy against sociopaths that you're suggesting. And I've never sabotaged a fellow predator unless they were directly damaging my position.

    Your assertion about women is correct, but regarding men you are operating under the assumptions of conventional wisdom rather than observed fact. Men are just as likely to believe their eyes when it comes to emotional displays. Furthermore, both sexes are more likely to take whatever words you use as truth rather than what your body language says. It's the curse of the primate brain.

    As for your opinion on remorse, really observe the next person you see expressing remorse, genuine or otherwise. Find one displaying self-loathing for their actions, and one that isn't doing the same. Which one do you reckon is most believable to empaths?

  8. Grace said, Anyone who kills someone for reasons other than self defense or in war is sick.

    Really? That seems so… so harsh. So unGracelike. :-)

    I wouldn’t use the word sick. I’d use words like amoral or ethically flexible or open to more than one way to solve a problem. That's just me though. I'm eccentric that way.

  9. AntiSocialPersonalityJuly 6, 2010 at 1:21 PM

    @Postmordern I was joking obviously. There is no conspiracy.

    You do make a good point on remorse. It's true that most empaths, especially the religious types, tend to look for visual signs or visual cues. If we go by numbers then the odds are in your favor that most empaths will not detect what you are doing, but then you have the one empath who can/will and what do you do then?

    That is exactly what Hitler thought. It was wrong in Nazi Germany and it's wrong now. Why would we want to keep space open in the prisons? So we can put you into it next? Think about the consequences of the death penalty and who the death penalty might be directed at should things go wrong.

  10. Sorry Anti and DB. Please let me start over. First of all I was talking about murderers. So when I say sick I mean ill or has abnormal brain activity. Sorry my choice of words was of here. I don't mean that in an inhumane way.

    My comment about the military was meant in a humane way. I know people who went into the military as assholes and came out as successful human beings. I didn't mean lock them up and throw away the key..but that's how they are treated..see what I'm saying? And treating people like they can't handle structure or routine, when after all they just killed someone, enables their thinking and confirms to them that they are nothing more than that. So I didn't mean to sound like hitler or his politics..very sorry I expressed myself incorrectly.

    I can't believe someone took my words like that:(

    And to top it all off I don't believe in capital punishment. What I was saying is exactly how it is not how I would have it. But I know someone who was murdered when we were teenagers so maybe if I sounded cruel I really don’t believe in that. Maybe I just wanted to sound like you guys do and look what happened...I'm going to prison:(


  11. Don’t fret dear Grace. I was not being serious. Your first comment sounded a bit more strident than most of your comments here have, that’s all. No biggee. Remember, your opinion is the most important opinion to you because it’s yours.

    Btw, I spent a little time in the military myself and it did absolutely nothing for me. Scratch that. My time in the Navy did do something for me: it confirmed some of my longstanding suspicions about normals.

  12. Thank you DB:)


  13. Don't lock them up. Kill them. Duh!

  14. This post and some of the earlier comments are awesome. I nominate for a "Best-of"!

  15. Not all Empaths have "exaggerated remorse" or "self-hate", what a load of Baloney.

    1. Sure, nearly all 'standard' people do. It's just difficult to notice because it's contextualized and explained away.

      Remorse and self-hate is a rather simple way of explaining it, but the gist is, there are certain emotional responses which are ingrained socially. Shame after social faux pas, remorse when causing loss to another in proportion to the perceived magnitude of the loss, self-debasement as a means of asking apology and putting the victim 'above' the wrong-doer.

      When these responses aren't present, the situation is considered very abnormal. Often, the only times a thing is noticed are in its absence, and when that absence is of something profound, the result is demonized.

  16. Seriously, ME, is the following indeed the only one piece of advice you have for sociopaths? You must be physically sick or thirsty, your brain seems to have taken a pause.

    "If there was one piece of advice I could give this upcoming generation of sociopaths, it would be to master the ability to authentically mimic the empath's exaggerated remorse and self-hate, a performance that is quickly becoming necessary to keep the lynch mobs at bay."

  17. '...mimic the empath's exaggerated remorse and self-hate...'

    Your cries for pity is music to my ears.

  18. I haven't been following this site for very long, so I don't know what
    "typical" behaviour for M.E. is. I've noted the site has been in exsistence
    since 2008. I'm assuming that some of you have been long term followers.
    Is it normal for M.E. to take breaks from blogging? I understand that M.E.
    has other responibilites in her life and since the publicity surrounding
    the book came out she might be fighting for her acidemic life. Also, the
    dust never settles around a sociopath. But I have to profess a little
    concern. I think M.E. might be in the mist of crisis. Of course, I could
    be wrong. I'd just like to know if this A.W.O.L. behaviour is typical for
    As an empath (ennagram # 4, INFJ) I have a "feeling" about such things.
    I have to confess I'm worried. Perhaps if Casey Anthony's parents took
    a greater intrest in her whereabouts that tragety could have been avoided.
    Don't be fooled. However self assured M.E. presents herself she's only
    human and needs love and support. Because M.E. (Like we all) has a history of pain she assumes that authentic love is non-existant. Love IS
    real, but it is RARE and always unconditional.
    There's a simple defense against sociopaths. Never assume that the face
    you see is real. If you think that M.E. is the same as those two vile
    home invaders in Connecut that broke in the Doctor's home, made the Dr.'s
    wife go to the bank and withdraw $15,000.00 and proceeded to rape the
    Dr.'s wife and two young daughters, taking photos all the while, then
    burning the girls alive, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
    M.E. would NEVER do that. But she might hook-up with a man that could do
    that. For God sakes let's try to locate M.E. before it's too late.

  19. The prices of goods don't change, usually, based off our ability to pay, so why do sentences change based off our ability to pay an emotional sum? This seems like just another form of blood-thirstiness, but from non-sociopaths.

    If the price to pay for crime X is, at most, ten years and I choose to be willing to pay that price, why should it be artificially increased because I am a sociopath? Excessive, or indefinite, sentences are merely a way for society to believe that they are promoting social harmony when they are really just satisfying their own bloodlust.

  20. the brain does not dictate behavior.

    This explains the confusion. OF COURSE the brain dictates behavior! We are our brains. It’s the common belief in some sort of dualism that blinds us to this.

    "There may be many, many people who also have psychopathic tendencies and have similar scans, who don't do antisocial behavior, who don't rape and kill," Brodie says.

    Piss poor logic. “The brain doesn’t dictate behavior. Why? Because other people with similar brain scans behave differently.” Really?

  21. Two points:

    1) As explained in this video, at 39:30 - having the mind of a murderer sucks, in the same way it sucks to be a crocodile. You don't have free will (none of us do) - but you'll still get treated like a dangerous animal.

    2) If you want to seem normal, when they stick you in the MRI machine imagine you are the guy getting his hands smacked (put your attention on him), not the guy smacking the hands. That's how normal people experience such movies.

  22. the only difference in a sociopath is they know exactly why they do the horrible things we do, so they dont get to palm them off on emotions.

  23. "The psychopath cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. The sociopath usually can, but just doesn't care".

    Thanks for this distinction!

    1. Tim, you're very welcome! I love you so much, it hurts.

  24. The problem is that once a tool exists, it will be used regardless of who will pitch a fit about it or try to regulate it.

    The implications of the 'brain scans as a means of determining sentencing' discussion are profoundly disturbing to me because it seems like it will result in a homogenizing of the human race. Aberrant brain function will be used as legal evidence at some point, and logically over time this trend will result in the rooting out and punishment of 'unusual' mental patterns.

    It'll be a slow process and occur over a decade or two, but if the trends continue to expose the fact that a large part of justice depends on the emotional interaction between victim and wrong-doer in the eyes of the courts, the weeding out is inevitable as the instruments become more precise.

    The thought that our own brain functions could be used as persuasion to determine innocence or guilt is definitely worth consideration.

  25. "If there was one piece of advice I could give this upcoming generation of sociopaths, it would be to master the ability to authentically mimic the empath's exaggerated remorse and self-hate, a performance that is quickly becoming necessary to keep the lynch mobs at bay."

    If they are going to invest all that effort into anything, might it not better serve sense better if they practiced not hurting/killing other beings? They are intellectually aware that it's frowned upon, and there are other ways to get their yayas. So is that really the best advice? For someone who claims that sociopaths aren't all bad or harmful, you seem pretty quick to make the assumption that sociopathy equals situations where feigning such emotions is the most important ability.

    1. You're not always hurting people, but you are always hiding/pretending. There are so many situations where hurting someone or manipulating them is okay socially, or even expected, but slip-ups almost never turn out to be benificial, and often very harmful to one's situation. Grief is easy, not everyone expresses it the same, so small errors in one's responses are acceptable. But remorse, guilt, self loathing, those need practice.

    2. Well the advice here is for learning how to mimic the "exaggerated remorse and self-hate" of empaths. The only situations that call for such displays are where there is grievous harm inflicted on another party.

      When the infraction in consideration is just social in nature even empaths don't show some exact levels of remorse as each other. All people consider some levels of manipulation and lying par for the course and don't show any remorse or very little because that's what they feel and while others might not like it, they don't incur any effect that is greater than not being liked socially by some people. There isn't some gold standard of remorse for all actions.
      So it doesn't seem like a sociopath's success in avoiding lynch mobs or any serious consequences or whatever would be contingent on such displays of remorse as they're not really expected to be hating themselves for non-serious actions anyway.

      In any case, just considering that the author's pretext for this blog and her book is that sociopaths are people too and not to be reviled and so on, it seems really counter-intuitive the way advice is given here.

      If she's speaking for sociopaths and the rest of the world's supposed to resist and question whatever dislike they have of sociopaths and accept and understand them as different but human nonetheless, I don't see why the same doesn't extend to sociopaths as well. Why would she not expect that sociopaths also counter their urges to play around with people in ways they KNOW those people would consider harmful to them and channel their energies in different ways that won't put others on the defensive.

      It sometimes seems like a constant whine about how "neuro-typicals" who're most certainly less intelligent and what not just insist on ostracizing anything that's different from them. While all poor sociopaths do is lie, manipulate and hurt and it's so unfair that neuro-typicals aren't jumping to love them for all that they are.

      Sociopaths don't get a bad rap just for lack of empathy, remorse and emotion. They get a bad rap for committing actions that are harmful to others, in ways big or small, and THEN not having any remorse or empathy. So if there is an intervention at any point, wouldn't it make more sense to train yourself to not behave in harmful ways as opposed to acting like you care you behaved in harmful ways?

      An absence of empathy does not in itself equal harming others. Those sociopaths that do cause harm choose to do it, they aren't compelled to. So why isn't there an attempt here to direct sociopaths to exercise some form of self-regulation towards ends that are not harmful to others?

      I'm not anti-sociopaths or anything of that kind, but this blog seems to convey the idea that it's perfectly wonderful for sociopaths to feed their egos and their hunger for power at the expense of others, as long as they're not caught doing it, but it's not okay for others to resist or even dislike such treatment and attitude towards them.
      Seems pretty hypocritical.

  26. Kill all the psychopaths! The world would be a better place.

  27. There is so much in this article that I would never have thought of on my own. Your content gives readers things to think about in an interesting way. the attorney

  28. As someone who was put in a psych ward by a sociopath who was making up intricate details about suicide attempts that never occurred, I personally would have absolutely no problem seeing that bitch locked up for life.

    Frankly, I don't see why any of you lot should enjoy any freedoms when you're more dangerous than the vast majority that do end up in psych wards. Want your own freedom? Stop fucking others over, faggots.


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