Psychopaths get kicks from too much dopamine

As I conned my fifth frail, decrepit, wealthy old lady into signing over her will to me in just two years, I felt a certain rush. Could it be the next few millions that would be flying into my bank account in the coming months when I finally pluck up the courage to ‘bring the pillow down’? Surely not – a lifetime of careful planning has left me with more than I need to live out my years.

And so, by what coincidence today I headed over to New Scientist only to find out a neuroscientist over at the Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, has figured out that the brains of people with psychopathic tendencies are flooded with dopamine, the ‘reward’ chemical that makes us seek out pleasure.

New Scientist said that the brain of the average psychopath may overvalue the pleasure associated with getting what we, uh, they want. It surely wasn’t possible that the three psychoanalysts I’d introduced hammers to and swiftly stole the identities of were all right. I don’t feel like a psychopath. I mean, I don’t feel anything!

Joshua Buckholtz, the researcher behind the report, thinks that the excess in dopamine might cause psychopaths to “pay more attention to obtaining rewards like money, sex or status, as opposed to costs.”

Buckholtz and his gang fed 30 volunteers an amphetamine that sticks itself on to dopamine-producing neurons. The team said that it could not work with true psycopaths bud had to rely on volunteers who had a couple of traits. Researchers then found that the participants who scored high on antisocial impulsivity also produced a lot more dopamine than the well behaved volunteers.

Joseph Newman, psychopathy man at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the New Scientist that the finding is a sensible one. That said, he thinks that comparing people with only slightly psychopathic traits to those on the more extreme side may leave the research results skewed.