Neuroimaging, genetics, and psychopathy: implications for the legal system

Carla L. Harenski, Robert D. Hare and Kent A. Kiehl

in Responsibility and psychopathy

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2010 | ISBN: 9780199551637
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754630 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Neuroimaging, genetics, and psychopathy: implications for the legal system

Show Summary Details


Psychopathy is a construct that is highly relevant to the legal system and the evaluation of criminal offenders. Psychopaths show a variety of cognitive, affective, and behavioural disturbances that confer a heightened risk for antisocial behaviour. These include impulsivity, irresponsibility, callousness, and lack of empathy and guilt. A critical question regarding the issue of criminal responsibility in psychopathy is whether psychopathy is associated with neural deficits that that are linked to the personality traits and antisocial behaviour that characterize the disorder. If so, is there a causal relationship between neural deficits and psychopathy? What are the aetiological mechanisms underlying these deficits? A substantial body of research over the past few decades has been devoted to elucidating the neural mechanisms that underlie psychopathic traits and behaviours, and several theories of neural dysfunction in psychopathy have been proposed.

This chapter provides a review and synthesis of existing neuroimaging studies of psychopathy. Studies utilizing a variety of neuroimaging techniques are reviewed and critiqued. The pattern of findings that have emerged to date will be interpreted with reference to explanatory frameworks of neural dysfunction in psychopathy. The neuroscience of social emotion and behaviour, which to date has only begun to be examined in the context of psychopathy, is also discussed. The potential origins of neural dysfunction in psychopathy will be addressed, with a focus on behavioural and molecular genetic studies of psychopathy and psychopathic traits and how genes might interact with environmental influences. We conclude with a summary of the current conclusions that can be made regarding neural dysfunction in psychopathy, and considerations for future research.

Chapter.  11620 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychiatry

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.