Psychopathy is a personality disorder whose core diagnostic features include increased fearlessness, shallow affect, callousness, and poor behavioral inhibition. The actions of psychopaths often come at a large cost to society and its citizens, and their empathetic deficit is one of the reasons psychopaths can be so efficiently destructive in many people’s lives. The importance of understanding this deficit cannot be over-asserted. If psychopathic empathetic deficit can be understood, treatment would likely not only expand in variety but in effectiveness. Thus, this research may provide a possible remedy to a costly societal problem due not only the actions of criminal ...view middle of the document...
The inability to process emotional faces may partially be a result of an inability to properly mimic faces. Sonnby-Borgstrom (2002) looked at automatic mimicry reactions and their relationship to empathy. The experimenter recorded electromyography (EMG) activity while participants were exposed to pictures of angry or happy faces. They found low-empathy individuals showed a lower degree of mimicking behavior than high-empathy individuals for short exposure times (17-40 ms). In addition, low-empathy individuals actually displayed smiling facial expressions to fearful faces. However, there was no difference in self-report measures of feeling between the two groups. They explained as a result of the functional relationship between empathy and facial mimicry.
The relationship between facial mimicry and empathy can be explained by embodied emotion. Niedenthal (2007) explains that facial mimicry in humans leads to increased amygdala activity. Essentially, the mimicking act actually aid the person in experiencing the emotion of the person they are mimicking, allowing them to feel the same emotion in a sense. This is an important factor in how humans empathize with one another.
Neal & Chartrand (2011) supported the claims of Niedenthal (2207) by exploring how dampening and amplifying facial feedback signals affect perceptions of others’ emotions. They found participants with botox injections, who could not properly mimic facial expression, found it more difficult to perceive others’ emotions than participants who received a cosmetic procedure that did not impair facial feedback.
The neural base of the inability to mimic facial expression may include the mirror neuron system, which includes cells that fire when an animal observes an action and does an action. Likowski et al. (2012) had twenty female students view emotional avatar faces, including happy, sad, and angry. They found these normal participants mimicked the faces of the avatars. In addition, they also found that participants showed increased activity in the inferior frontal gyrus (corresponding to Brodmann’s area 44), cerebellum, and the supplementary motor cortex. They explained that the inferior frontal gyrus is an important area for motor neuron activity for facial mimicry.
The mirror neuron system for facial mimicry can further be related to empathy. Fecteau et al. (2008) looked at the connection of empathy and the mirror neuron system. They assessed non-psychopathic males for psychopathic traits with the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI) and then at mirror neuron activity when exposed to short videos showing pain. They found individuals high on the cold-heartedness measure of the PPI were more likely to have motor activity reduction in their mirror neurons.
In addition, conscious awareness has been shown to have an effect on emotional processing humans. Lapate et al. (2013) found conscious awareness mediated affective emotional processing. They presented...