Neuroethics Publications

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

5-2009

Abstract

In the study of aggression, psychopathy represents a disorder that is of particular interest because it often involves aggression which is premeditated, emotionless, and instrumental in nature; this is especially true for more serious types of offenses. Such instrumental aggression is aimed at achieving a goal (e.g., to obtain resources such as money, or to gain status). Unlike the primarily reactive aggression observed in other disorders, psychopaths appear to engage in aggressive acts for the purpose of benefiting themselves. This is especially interesting in light of arguments that psychopathy may represent an alternative life-history strategy that is evolutionarily adaptive; behaviors such as aggression, risk-taking, manipulation, and promiscuous sexual behavior observed in psychopathy may be means by which psychopaths gain advantage over others. Recent neurobiological research supports the idea that abnormalities in brain regions key to emotion and morality may allow psychopaths to pursue such a strategy—psychopaths may not experience the social emotions such as empathy, guilt, and remorse that typically discourage instrumentally aggressive acts, and may even experience pleasure when committing these acts. Findings from brain imaging studies of psychopaths may have important implications for the law.

Comments

Suggested Citation:
Andrea L. Glenn, Adrian Raine, "Psychopathy and instrumental aggression: Evolutionary, neurobiological, and legal perspectives." International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 32, Issue 4, Aggression, Science, and the Law: New Insights from Neuroscience, July-August 2009, Pages 253-258, ISSN 0160-2527, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.04.002.

Keywords

Psychopathy, Neurobiological, Evolutionary, Aggression

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Date Posted: 02 July 2010

This document has been peer reviewed.