Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan

Psychopathy and Gender

People having this disorder, which we call antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy, generally draw attention through maladaptive and harming behaviors, such as lying frequently, showing behaviors that would harm themselves and others, failure to comply with social obligations, committing crimes and not having any remorse in the aftermath, and failure to predict the results of a behavior in company with impulsiveness. Psychopath individuals are neither afraid of committing crimes nor do they get affected by the punishment they are sentenced to as a consequence of the crime; they do not feel concerned and they do not feel any guilt.

The correlation between gender and functional cerebral differences in psychopathic behavior represents a significant field of neuroscientific studies; this field mainly includes studies conducted with criminals. Based on the results of the studies, female criminals are known to have fewer criminal attempts, are less manipulative and cause more self-harm compared to male criminals. Women attempt to commit crimes mainly in enclosed spaces that attract less attention and show fewer psychopathic characteristics. Men, on the contrary, commit more violent crimes, show high levels of physical violence and commit attention-grabbing crimes.

Striking results were obtained when the bases of these psychopathic behaviors were analyzed in neurobiological terms. In a study conducted to measure the electrophysiological differences between female and male psychopathic criminals, quantitative EEG, low resolution electromagnetic tomography (LORETA) and the changes in synchronous brain activity, as well as the effect of gender in psychopathy, were evaluated. The EEG analyses set forth that there were high levels of EEG abnormality in both groups, female and male. In the EEG analysis, the presence of slow waves was the most frequent abnormality. The male group had more beta energy in the bilateral frontal and centroparietal regions, compared to the female group. The LORETA results showed differences particularly in the paralimbic cortex as well as in some parieto-occipital regions and basal ganglia. Paralimbic regions play a key role in the regulation of emotions, memories and behaviors. The parietal region takes part in the regulation of emotions. Basal ganglia play a central role in the development of the ability to flexibly respond to environmental changes as well as in the pursuit of awards. The occipital region, however, is effective in the interpretation of emotional visual information.

Unlike women who had a similar diagnosis, some deficiencies were observed in the perception and recognition of fear in male psychopaths, and this emotional response guides the decision-making in the event of uncertainty. It is known that the lack of the sense of fear may be correlated with the lack of empathy. The connections between different regions of the brain are of utmost importance to develop the experience of empathy. A dysfunction in one or multiple brain regions located in the ethical circuit (accumbens that covers regions, such as ventral and medial prefrontal, anterior cingulate, insula, temporal lobe regions, anterior, superior, temporoparietal and amygdala and other angular gyrus, basal ganglia and nucleus) causes a disorder in emotions, judgment and showing an ethical behavior.

Psychopathic behaviors have been associated with the deficiency in the connection between the brain regions that are a part of the default mode network (these regions are medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate and inferior parietal lobule; frontoparietal connection and visual/posterior cingulate connection). Psychopathy has been associated with a reduced functional connection between the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex in men. The synchronization differences found between the two genders may show that male criminals have some kind of dysfunction related to the cortical connections in the decision-making, together with the emotional regulations that are different than those of women.

Calzada-Reyes, A., Alvarez-Amador, A., Galán-García, L., & Valdés-Sosa, M. (2019). Sex Differences in QEEG in Psychopath Offenders. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience.

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