A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that a psychopath can experience regret.
Hollywood depicts psychopaths as manipulative and dangerous individuals: they encompass the role of the hated villain, oftentimes relishing in their own violent actions. Although this film interpretation can be captivating, it fails to represent the true range of behaviors and personalities associated with psychopathy. While there is a portion of psychopaths that perform immoral acts, many people with psychopathic tendencies continue to successfully function in society without harming others.
Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What’s the difference?
Psychopathy is a genetic predisposition that affects roughly 1% of the population. They do not feel empathy or guilt and remain extremely calm at the sight of violence. Due to their lack of fear, psychopaths engage in risky behavior, manipulating and potentially posing harm to others.
Psychopaths are considered charming, sharp, and calculating individuals. Psychopaths have a hard time forming deep emotional connections, and instead create shallow relationships.
No matter how “close” they are to a person, psychopaths don’t feel sensations of guilt for hurting them.
Unlike Psychopaths, sociopathic tendencies are mainly caused by environmental factors. Oftentimes, childhood trauma or abuse can influence the onset of the personality disorder.
Sociopaths are emotional individuals that have the capability to feel empathy, however, it is buried deep beneath hatred and resentment. Sociopaths are easily agitated, they make rash decisions that can result in self-inflicted harm and hurt others.
While psychopaths can successfully function in society, sociopaths have a hard time holding down jobs or maintaining a family.
How Dangerous are Psychopaths?
According to psychologists, approximately 20 to 25% of prisoners are psychopaths. Part of the reason psychopaths are considered so dangerous is that they are not easily recognizable. They know how to manipulate individuals into a seemingly intimate relationship, even though they secretly have no feelings of attachment.
There is no denying that a portion of the population suffering from psychopathy is dangerous, however, this does not mean everyone who is a psychopath has the intention to harm others.
A human is capable of exhibiting a wide range of psychopathic measures, meaning that although they exhibit some symptoms, the negative tendencies do not overpower the good. Interestingly, there is a higher rate of individuals with minor psychopathic tendencies in the business and medical world.
These people are able to withstand blood and injuries or to oversee and command large groups of people without worrying about emotionally harming employees and competitors.
So while empathy deficits are not necessarily preferred, minor deficiencies do not pose a threat, sometimes they even help a person achieve occupational success.
New Developments in Research and Future Implications
A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that psychopaths can experience regret if their decisions negatively impact themselves.
62 men with varying psychopathic measures were placed in gambling scenarios, encouraging them to engage in impulsive decision making. The males were then told that if they had not gambled certain amounts of money, they would have made a larger profit. This information elicited different degrees of regret, an emotion that many psychologists thought psychopaths were completely incapable of feeling.
The researchers were quick to differentiate between remorse and regret since regret is a self-focused emotion. For instance, if the men were told that they lost someone else’s money, they wouldn’t necessarily feel remorse, because the decision did not negatively impact themselves.
The results of this study indicate that there may be hope in finding a way to combat psychopathic tendencies. Potentially, researchers predict they can “devise a strategy to harness that experience and decrease recidivism among psychopathic criminals, who make up a disproportionate percentage of the repeat offender.”
In other words, psychopaths would learn to disengage from risky and repetitive behavior. Theoretically, this could prevent individuals with psychopathic tendencies from emotionally and physically harming others.