If you believe that there is at least some genetic component to sociopathy, is it possible to find a workaround? This recent Oliver Sacks article from the New York Times discusses the incredible adaptability of the brain:
While some areas of the brain are hard-wired from birth or early childhood, other areas — especially in the cerebral cortex, which is central to higher cognitive powers like language and thought, as well as sensory and motor functions — can be, to a remarkable extent, rewired as we grow older. In fact, the brain has an astonishing ability to rebound from damage — even from something as devastating as the loss of sight or hearing. As a physician who treats patients with neurological conditions, I see this happen all the time.Can my brain adapt too?
For example, one patient of mine who had been deafened by scarlet fever at the age of 9, was so adept at lip-reading that it was easy to forget she was deaf. Once, without thinking, I turned away from her as I was speaking. “I can no longer hear you,” she said sharply.
“You mean you can no longer see me,” I said.
“You may call it seeing,” she answered, “but I experience it as hearing.”
Lip-reading, seeing mouth movements, was immediately transformed for this patient into “hearing” the sounds of speech in her mind. Her brain was converting one mode of sensation into another.
In a similar way, blind people often find ways of “seeing.” Some areas of the brain, if not stimulated, will atrophy and die. (“Use it or lose it,” neurologists often say.) But the visual areas of the brain, even in someone born blind, do not entirely disappear; instead, they are redeployed for other senses. We have all heard of blind people with unusually acute hearing, but other senses may be heightened, too.
The writer Ved Mehta, also blind since early childhood, navigates in large part by using “facial vision” — the ability to sense objects by the way they reflect sounds, or subtly shift the air currents that reach his face. Ben Underwood, a remarkable boy who lost his sight at 3 and died at 16 in 2009, developed an effective, dolphin-like strategy of emitting regular clicks with his mouth and reading the resulting echoes from nearby objects. He was so skilled at this that he could ride a bike and play sports and even video games.
People like Ben Underwood and Ved Mehta, who had some early visual experience but then lost their sight, seem to instantly convert the information they receive from touch or sound into a visual image — “seeing” the dots, for instance, as they read Braille with a finger. Researchers using functional brain imagery have confirmed that in such situations the blind person activates not only the parts of the cortex devoted to touch, but parts of the visual cortex as well.
One does not have to be blind or deaf to tap into the brain’s mysterious and extraordinary power to learn, adapt and grow. I have seen hundreds of patients with various deficits — strokes, Parkinson’s and even dementia — learn to do things in new ways, whether consciously or unconsciously, to work around those deficits.
That the brain is capable of such radical adaptation raises deep questions. To what extent are we shaped by, and to what degree do we shape, our own brains? And can the brain’s ability to change be harnessed to give us greater cognitive powers? The experiences of many people suggest that it can.