Culture and Society

Do psychopaths feel remorse for their actions?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. To feel remorse, a person typically needs to understand that what he or she did was wrong. Psychopathic serial killers, such as Ted Bundy, who was put to death in Florida in 1989, usually seem to have a complete lack of remorse for the horrible crimes they commit. Why is that? Before you chalk it up to being homicidal, it"s important to note that not all psychopaths are aggressive or homicidal; Imagine a CEO who has no compunctions about stealing the pensions of his employees and simply moving on with his life. Research using MRI scans to compare activity in the brains of normal people and psychopaths shows that there are distinct differences. For example, when normal people lie, frontal lobe activity increases, pointing to a sensation of discomfort and guilt. Psychopaths, however, show no increase in frontal lobe activity when they lie [source: BBC].

    For many of us, when we do something bad and we see how our negative actions affect another person, we feel empathy for that person. This empathy can make us feel remorse for our actions. Research suggests that people with psychopathic personalities aren"t able to feel empathy like this for others. But why is that? To find out, some researchers had the idea to test the extent to which psychopaths even notice the reactions of the people they harm. In 2006, scientists in London measured the neurological responses of both normal people and psychopaths to an assortment of pictures of human faces, variously showing them happiness, fear, sadness and neutrality. When both groups were shown happy faces, the extrastriate and fusiform areas of the brain (which process facial expressions) reacted with increased activity, though the normal people"s brains reacted more intensely than the psychopaths". When it came to the sad/fearful faces, the brains of the psychopaths reacted even less than when they were shown neutral faces [source: Deeley, et al.].

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