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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2010 Mar;5(1):59-67. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsp051. Epub 2010 Jan 6.

Psychopaths know right from wrong but don't care.

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1
Department of Developmental, Clinical and Crosscultural Psychology, Tilburg University, P.O. Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands. M.J.Cima@uvt.nl

Abstract

Adult psychopaths have deficits in emotional processing and inhibitory control, engage in morally inappropriate behavior, and generally fail to distinguish moral from conventional violations. These observations, together with a dominant tradition in the discipline which sees emotional processes as causally necessary for moral judgment, have led to the conclusion that psychopaths lack an understanding of moral rights and wrongs. We test an alternative explanation: psychopaths have normal understanding of right and wrong, but abnormal regulation of morally appropriate behavior. We presented psychopaths with moral dilemmas, contrasting their judgments with age- and sex-matched (i) healthy subjects and (ii) non-psychopathic, delinquents. Subjects in each group judged cases of personal harms (i.e. requiring physical contact) as less permissible than impersonal harms, even though both types of harms led to utilitarian gains. Importantly, however, psychopaths' pattern of judgments on different dilemmas was the same as those of the other subjects. These results force a rejection of the strong hypothesis that emotional processes are causally necessary for judgments of moral dilemmas, suggesting instead that psychopaths understand the distinction between right and wrong, but do not care about such knowledge, or the consequences that ensue from their morally inappropriate behavior.

PMID:
20053752
PMCID:
PMC2840845
DOI:
10.1093/scan/nsp051
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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