Anti-social personality refers to a psychological disorder in which a person lacks the ability to feel emotions such as empathy, remorse, and guilt. These people are often referred to as psychopaths and are dangerous to society because of their violent nature and abilities to overlook what is usually perceived as “wrong” or “immoral”.
Genetics vs. the Environment.
This disorder can come from the conditions of one’s home environment or someone can be genetically predisposed to develop symptoms when crossing with an environmental trigger. Either way, this disorder develops with a combination of physical, genetic, and environmental factors (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2015). Many studies have been done to help determine if children at risk for Anti-social personality disorder are more likely to develop symptoms in an adoptive environment or if that environment would protect them from developing it. Researchers have concluded that the adoptive family environment combined with the biological risks make anti-social personality disorder prevalent in adoptees (Haimowitz, 2011). In other words, it takes a combination of factors to create this particular type of monster. Environment. Criminologist Nathalie Fontaine of Indiana University studies the tendency toward being callous or unemotional- signs of anti-social personality disorder- in children between 7 and 12 years old. Her research showed that these traits aren’t fixed, and can change in children as they grow.
So, if psychologists identify children with these risk factors early on, it may not be too late (Moskowitz, 2011). This study supports the idea that, although a person might hold the physical or genetic predisposed factors to develop this disorder, it takes an environmental trigger for the patient to actually begin showing symptoms. Environmental triggers for the disorder could be anything from the death of a loved one during childhood to a violently abusive parent. People diagnosed with Anti-social personality disorder typically have criminal behavior in their lives either from a parent, role model, or having a criminal record themselves. One long-term study followed 1,795 children from ages 3-23, testing aspects of their growth and development. 137 of these children became criminal offenders by the age of 23. Among the tests that were done on the participants, one measured their responses to fear by associating a stimulus-noise or object- with a punishment such as an electric shock or loud sound. After measuring these children’s involuntary reactions through the skin, researchers found a significant lack of fear in the 137 children that became criminals later in life compared to the other 1,568 participants (American Journal of Psychiatry, 2010).
Most people are aware of the Little Albert experiment conducted by behaviorist John Watson in 1920. Watson studied a child-Little Albert- by placing him in a room and exposing him to various stimuli including a white rat, white rabbit, and a monkey. The child of course showed joy when being around the cute fluffy animals; the first time. Watson then let the rat back in to the room and this time, when Albert touched he rat, Watson banged a hammer on a metal pipe, making a loud noise and causing the baby to cry. He did this server more times until the child began crying at the sight of the rat, exhibiting fear of the creature itself because he had then associated the loud, scary sound with the rat. This is the way you would expect a child to react, seeing how its human nature. Well, in psychopathic nature, it is more likely that the patient would still relate the noise to the stimuli, but instead would attempt to free themselves of the noise by doing what seems most logical- getting rid of the rat.
This is why children that come from an abusive home are more likely to develop personality disorders than the average child- they relate the abusive behavior to the abuser and instead of exhibiting fear, they seek revenge and closure. Most serial killers have a specific type of victim and this is because their victims are similar to their original abuser and killing them gives temporary satisfaction; but it wears off so they need to seek more, like a drug. The environment in which a child is raised can greatly influence the kind of person the child grows into and what they are able to justify based on what they were exposed to in their childhood. Genetics. In 1998, 8,045 twins were tested using a questionnaire about personality traits common in disorders like antisocial personality. Researchers found that 2/3 of the variations in traits common in personality disorders are explained by genes (Masui, 2011). The character traits and temperament relating to anti-social personality disorder- violence, narcissism, ignorance, – can all be passed down from a parent and the existence of such traits do not imply the development of disorder. The development might begin, however, if the parent acts in these ways toward their child, giving them an environmental trigger.
In one recent study, scientists compares 27 people with severe antisocial personality disorder- psychopaths- with 32 non-psychopaths. In the psychopaths, the researchers observed deformations in another part of the brain called the amygdala- the seat for human emotion- and found that the psychopaths showed a thinning of the outer layer of that region of the brain and an 18 percent reduction in volume compared to that of the average human inability to learn from reward and punishment and also have little response to stress. In Japan, a study was done to support the idea that psychopaths do not respond to reward and punishment, showing a difference in the prefrontal cortex- judgment and panning portion of the brain- in psychopaths compared to the average human brain. In this study, 145 University students in Japan took the 26 question Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale test where they were asked to rate their level of agreement on statements relating to their lives.
The 20 students who scored the highest on the test were put in a group labeled as the “high psychopathy group” (variable) while the 20 who scored the lowest on the test were placed in the “low psychopathy group” (Control). When presented with various tasks and given reward for one and punishment for another, the researchers found the highly psychopathic showed no change in the proficiency with which the tasks were completed, whether they were offered reward for doing well or threatened with punishment for doing poorly.
On the other hand, the control group showed a faster accomplishment rate with the tasks when promised a reward. This study goes to show that people with anti-social personality disorder lack the section of their brain that tells them to respond to incentive. As the aforementioned information supports, I am able to conclude that the three main factors of anti-social personality disorder- Environmental, Genetic, and Physical differences- are all needed for the disorder to develop and grow to its full destructive quality.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Antisocial Personality Disorder.” Definition. Mayo
Clinic, n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2015. Haimowitz, Avi G. “Heredity versus Environment: Twin, Adoption, and Family Studies.” Twin, Adoption, and Family Studies. Rochester Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2015. Moskowitz, By Clara. “Criminal Minds Are Different From Yours, Brain Scans Reveal.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 05 Jan. 2015.