4 defining traits of a psychopath, according to a researcher who studies them
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Neuroscientist and psychologist Abigail Marsh explained what makes a psychopath.
Marsh said that while psychopathy is a spectrum, all people with it have four distinctive traits.
They are ruthlessness, implacability, inability to love, and insensitivity to the possibility of harm.
Some people might assume that psychopaths were born out of traumatic childhoods and depraved households, but a neuroscientist with 15 years of experience in brain research says her findings suggest that's not the case.
During a virtual seminar hosted by Science and Entertainment Exchange, an organization that connects the entertainment industry with science professionals, Abigail Marsh, a psychology professor and neuroscientist at Georgetown University, said the root of her illness often lies in brain development.
"We know that the severity of these traits is related to distinctive brain abnormalities that appear to begin early in childhood and then somehow progress," said Marsh, who also founded the nonprofit research organization Psychopathy Is.
Marsh said that psychopathy exists on a spectrum from mild to severe, with some people being more manipulative, risk-taking, and threatening than others. Still, Marsh said they share four traits: ruthlessness, unrepentance, inability to love, and insensitivity to the possibility of harm.
Psychopaths have little to no compassion or remorse for others
First, people on the psychopathy spectrum have trouble feeling compassion, Marsh said.
When someone close to a psychopath is feeling sad or anxious, they can't understand the emotion because it's something they don't feel themselves, she said.
Marsh gave the example of an elementary school boy she examined who videotaped his teachers and classmates screaming, crying and evacuating as they responded to what they believed to be a terrorist attack on their school.
Similarly, people with psychopathy feel little to no remorse for harming others mentally, emotionally, or physically, Marsh said.
She said she studied a boy whose teachers had expelled and suspended him from school so many times that his mother lost her job for taking care of him and was later placed in a psychiatric facility because of the stress. When Marsh asked the boy how he was feeling, he said he didn't mind, she said.
"He said, 'You know, the things I do hurt her, but she doesn't really say how much, so it doesn't affect me,'" she said. "Basically, he blamed his mother for his complete lack of remorse for all the negative effects that had occurred as a result of his behavior."
Psychopaths don't understand love the way others do
People with psychopathy also have trouble feeling or understanding love, Marsh said.
"You don't experience close, loving bonds with other people in the same way other people do," Marsh said. "More than one child or teen I've interviewed said they don't love anyone — not their family, not their friends."
Instead, people with psychopathy may refer to loved ones as "partners" or view them as "partners" who can help them but are beneath them, Marsh said.
Psychopaths are not afraid of being hurt physically or emotionally
Finally, Marsh said, people with psychopathy have trouble understanding the emotion of fear.
"They're really impervious to the possibility of future damage," she said. "In the words of one girl we examined, 'Nothing scares me. #Nothing.'"
She added that the threat of injury, jail, or disapproval would not stop a person with psychopathy from doing what they want.
She said she studied a young woman who stole her parents' car for a spin, crashed it into a tree and rolled over.
"She was completely unimpressed," Marsh said. "Later the cops showed up at her house and she sat quietly on the couch eating Doritos."
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