The journal Nature has an article on neurological research being done in the Netherlands on psychopaths’ empathy or lack thereof. The researcher, Christian Keysers, is primarily interested in the neurology of empathy and so wants to compare regular folks with two groups characterised by problems with empathy: autistics and psychopaths.
Do psychopaths cut off the emotional component of empathy when mirroring the other person’s emotions begins, or fail to mirror the emotions of others completely? When identifying with the victim or the perpetrator, which areas of the brain are activated in those who are normally vs abnormally empathic? The article can be downloaded here.
What interests me are the the images which have been chosen to display to the subjects in order to measure their responses. Pictures of neutral, angry, fearful, etc. faces have been rejected by the reseracher on the grounds that only particular areas of the brain are activated by viewing faces.
Instead Keysers has the subject watch short videos of hands interacting. And this is the bit that seems ingenious to me – I wonder what readers think.
Pleasureable gesture – one hand strokes the other.
Emotionally neutral gesture – the hand shakes the other hand.
Painful gesture – one hand twists the finger of the other.
X gesture – one hand gently approaches the other only to be slapped aggressively away.
I called the last one ‘X’ because I’m not sure what to call it: a gesture of betrayal, deceit, luring and attacking, cunning, ambivalence/ambiguity…
Whatever we call it, the researcher has brilliantly captured the essence of the way the psychopath relates to others. What do you think?