Research Discovers Overactive Reward System in Psychopathic Brains

One of the most powerful tools in the effort to help treat and support those with psychopathic tendencies and behaviors is to understand the root causes of such issues, a tool that has been investigated and refined in recent years. A major contribution to the evolution of this tool may be found in a recent study performed at Vanderbilt University which looked at the brain’s reward system in participants displaying various traits of psychopathy.

Traditionally, research on psychopathic behavior has focused upon popular ability to disregard fear and dread and to exhibit a poor or weak response to punishment or other common deterrents. Yet the Vanderbilt study looks at elements that may be driving certain behaviors, rather than elements that might fail to prevent them. The researchers administered a dose of amphetamine to participants, who were examined to assess various psychopathic traits. The participants were then given both a PET scan and an MRI scan to obtain imaging of their brains. Those participants exhibiting psychopathic traits had a much more significant reaction in their brains surrounding dopamine release with the drug, likely creating a more intense feeling of reward. Similarly, when psychopathic participants were given a task that they believed could earn them a cash reward, they showed a significantly stronger reaction in dopamine activity than other participants, suggesting that the drive to achieve the reward is especially heightened.

The research may help psychiatrists and other professionals better understand what may trigger some psychopathic behaviors, and how they may be addressed, as well. Through further research that focuses upon the root causes of mental concerns rather than suspected traits that fail to prevent their manifestation, the lives of many people affected by such issues may greatly improve.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • gloria T.

    gloria T.

    March 18th, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    MAny psychopaths are obsessive about certain things and may even go the extra mile to accomplish something…it is just something some people are capable of and something they actually do…it is special indeed!

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