Why are psychopaths more likely to kill

Psychopathy: what makes a person a psychopath?

According to Professor Michael Stone, whether a person becomes a psychopath depends on two factors: On the one hand, people can already be born as a psychopath. This so-called primary psychopathy can be in the genes. Anti-social behavior is particularly evident in children. For example, because they don't mind punishment. The older they get, the more their numb, numb nature solidifies. On the other hand, people can also be influenced by their environment, e.g. B. an extremely brutal home, a brain tumor or a serious head injury become a psychopath.

Example Phineas Gage: destruction of the moral center

The American railroad worker Phineas Gage achieved involuntary notoriety in this regard. In 1848, the just 25-year-old Gage was the victim of a tragic and at the same time extraordinary accident: an explosion drove a 1.10 meter long and three centimeter thick iron rod into his head from below. The rod pierces part of his brain, shoots out through the top of his skull and lands on the ground about 30 meters behind him. But Gage survived - his motor skills, his vocabulary and his intellect function as they did before the accident. Only his personality has changed: Gage goes from being a respectable man to being an anti-social rascal - he lies, cheats and ends up drunk.

The reason for his impaired personality, however, is only deciphered 150 years later: Using computer simulation, the neurologists Hanna and Antonio Damasio reconstruct the path the iron bar took through Gage's head (photo, left). The result: the rod damaged the so-called ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC). This brain region is about the size of a plum, is located behind the forehead and is considered the center of our morality. And this very moral center has been destroyed in Phineas Gage. So he went from being an honest man to being a cold-hearted and deceitful loner.

Study: The Scale of Evil

Michael Stone, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, is a leading figure in the field of personality disorders. Anyone who deals with evil cannot ignore it. Professor Stone has read over 600 killer biographies, spoken to dozen of serial killers, and written more than 20 books on mental disorders. With this in mind, he developed a scale of evil. The so-called Scale of Evil takes into account the motive and method of the perpetrator - the more heinous the crime, the higher it is classified, from category 1 to 22.

The first stage has nothing to do with psychopathy or evil. For example, if a woman murders a burglar in order to protect her child, this is a matter of self-defense. This is illegal, but only human and therefore understandable. Category 2 includes all jealous killings. Clara Harris e.g. B. ran over her husband in a parking garage in Texas in 2002 because he had cheated on her with a younger woman. The daughter sat in the passenger seat during the crime. As you go up the levels of the scale, the crimes and intentions keep getting worse. According to Professor Stone, people are only dangerous to the public from category 11 and up.

Category 11 includes: B. psychopathic persons who kill people because they are "in their way" (eg confidants, witnesses). In order to achieve their goal, these people would even kill friends and family members. Gunmen and multiple murderers such as the Toulouse assassin, Mohamed Merah, belong to category 15. Psychopaths who do not kill their victims but subject them to extreme torture are classified by Professor Stone in Category 21. And the last category (22) contains all torture killers for whom murder is the only driving force. The Scale of Evil reads like a catalog of horror. But what is the difference between a psychopath and a normal person? And where are these differences exactly?

Professor Michael Stone: The amygdala is to blame

According to Professor Michael Stone, there is an area in a psychopath's brain that is different from normal people - the so-called amygdala. Among other things, it controls our emotions. If this area is damaged or not fully developed, it can change the nature of a person to become a pschopath. An example: Normal people who see a child who is obviously looking for its mother and crying, perceive the fear that the child sends out, and feel sorry for them. A psychopath, on the other hand, sees such a situation as an opportunity to kidnap, abuse or even kill the child. His amygdala is smaller than that of a normal person. He therefore has a deficit in processing feelings. This change in the brain is not always innate. Even in children who grew up in a very brutal home, the brain area that controls our emotions can wither.

So far there is no therapy against psychopathy. Only in individual cases can something be done about it, says Professor Stone. But only if the damage to the brain is not too great. Then maybe you can teach a psychopath something like self-control. In the course of his 30 years of work, however, Professor Stone has only seen one patient who was able to suppress his urges after therapy.

The patient suffered from the constant humiliation of his father. The father was a teacher and one day brought one of his students home with him. He locked himself in a room with the 13-year-old girl and raped her. The son had to listen to all of this. As a result, he developed bad murder fantasies - but did not live them out. He received therapy from Professor Stone for three years in the psychiatric clinic - and has not committed a criminal offense for about 20 years. He's still struggling with his fantasies, says Professor Stone. But he could be treated before his psychopathic character could develop even more and something bad would have happened. But that's a rather rare case, explains Professor Stone.