Study finds some psychopaths have enhanced recognition of others’ emotions

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Recent research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology suggests that all psychopaths may not be created equal when it comes to recognizing emotions in others.

The study, which targeted 92 Norwegian prisoners, was comprised of three assessments: a self-report survey of psychopathy, a clinical assessment of psychopathy, and a task assessing emotional recognition, also known as the “Reading of the Eyes in the Mind” (RMET) test.

The researchers found that participants who exhibited high levels of interpersonal and affective psychopathy tended to have higher scores on the RMET task. In other words, participants who reported or demonstrated frequent manipulative, callous, or deceitful behavior also seemed to have an enhanced recognition of others’ emotions.

According to Asle M. Sandvik, the principal investigator, this supports “the view of psychopaths as adept social predators that may have enhanced ability to recognize small cues of emotional vulnerability.”

The data also show that subjects who exhibited antisocial psychopathic traits tended to have lower scores on the RMET test. This means that subjects with symptoms resembling Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) had a diminished ability to recognize emotions, especially negative ones such as anger or disgust.

This study helps to make a distinction between different types of psychopathology and debunk the idea that all psychopaths have low emotional awareness.

“A more promising explanation seems to be that an ‘emotional paradox’ exists, where some individuals with interpersonal and affective traits of psychopathy […] possess an enhanced competence in detecting others’ emotions […] to manipulate and deceive others,” according to the report.

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