What does the word “psychopath” mean? Usually ideas of a sadistic serial killer with a penchant for blood comes to most peoples minds. We most likely don’t think that we know anyone who is truly a psychopath, however, most likely there are people who we see everyday who would be considered “psychopaths. The traditional definition is someone who cannot empathize with others, and so does not feel shame or regret for negative actions towards them. There is a new definition emerging, however, that states that a psychopath is someone who “cannot predict the outcomes of their choices or behaviour” and “somehow aren’t in tune with social norms”. They cannot follow the rules that keep the peace and act as a social glue, thereby maintaining the social order. It is their inability to predict outcomes that may lead to their poor choices.
This new definition arose because researches found that psychopaths do actually feel regret when they hurt others and can even feel empathy. Joshua Buckhotlz and Arielle Baskin-Sommers of Yale University found that psychopaths aren’t immune to empathy. They recruited both “normal” and “psychotic” prisoners, and had them play a game based on economics. After this game they measured the prisoners levels of regret using a metric called “prospective regret sensitivity” which was based on decisions they had made during the game. “Psychopaths” were seen as making riskier moves, but had difficulty evaluating whether or not they would regret them afterward. The researches came to the conclusion that regret, even though it seems like one emotion, is in fact a two step process. The first part being retrospective regret second being prospective regret.
Prospective regret is when we try and see if we will regret the choice we are about to make. It is when you take information from the environment and make a predictions on what will happen based on your information.
Retrospective regret happens after the action and is the part that you torment yourself over when you think about the painful experience and wish you had made a better choice.
Buckhotlz and Baskin-Sommers showed that it was an inability to make correct decisions based on prospective regret that defines a psychopath. “It’s almost like a blindness to future regret” though in the aftermath they feel remorse, they can’t see it coming. So where we can say that the problem for psychopaths social cognitive thinking arises happens at the first step, in prospective regrets. They cannot “make decisions based on values and understand the probable outcome, and its impact on others”. But their retrospective regret is still function al because of the fact that they can feel empathy for others about their decisions in the past. “These findings highlight that psychopathic individuals are not simply incapable of regret [or other emotions], but that there is a more nuanced dysfunction that gets in the way of their adaptive functioning.” (Baskins 2017)
- Psychopaths Do Feel Regret
- Aberrant social and cerebral responding in a competitive reaction time paradigm in criminal psychopaths
- Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us