Successful and unsuccessful psychopaths: a neurobiological model

Behav Sci Law. Mar-Apr 2010;28(2):194-210. doi: 10.1002/bsl.924.

Abstract

Despite increasing interest in psychopathy research, surprisingly little is known about the etiology of non-incarcerated, successful psychopaths. This review provides an analysis of current knowledge on the similarities and differences between successful and unsuccessful psychopaths derived from five population sources: community samples, individuals from employment agencies, college students, industrial psychopaths, and serial killers. An initial neurobiological model of successful and unsuccessful psychopathy is outlined. It is hypothesized that successful psychopaths have intact or enhanced neurobiological functioning that underlies their normal or even superior cognitive functioning, which in turn helps them to achieve their goals using more covert and nonviolent methods. In contrast, in unsuccessful, caught psychopaths, brain structural and functional impairments together with autonomic nervous system dysfunction are hypothesized to underlie cognitive and emotional deficits and more overt violent offending.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Criminals
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Social Environment
  • Violence