We’re More Common Than You Think

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“You would like me if you met me,” she said. “I am intelligent, charming, strategic and just the right amount of successful that your parents would love it if you brought me home.” She is an accomplished law attorney and law professor. She is at times aggressive, impulsive, and has a hard time reacting to people social cues. She makes up 4% of the Unites States population, 1 in 25 people. Who is M.E. Thomas you might ask? She is a sociopath.

Estimated that 1 in 25 persons in the United States are silent sociopaths living anonymously and for some, successfully, amongst the rest of the country. Sociopaths are characterized by their superficial charm and intelligence. Absence of nervousness and neurotic manifestations, lack of remorse and shame, poverty in major affective reaction, unresponsiveness in interpersonal relations, and incapacity to love. Thomas thinks of herself as a skilled manipulator who thrives off of instilling fear into others.  However, she also sees herself to be a good person, explicitly non-violent and high-functioning.

Research done by Blair and Cipolotti, (2000), suggest that sociopaths may have amygdala dysfunction and damage in the orbitofrontal cortex.  One sociopathic case in their study showed damage to his left amygdala and unlike healthy persons, who are able to process fearful and sad expressions, this case had trouble doing so. Damage to the patient’s left orbitofrontal cortex resulted in difficulty recognizing anger and distrust when compared to the control group. The orbitofrontal cortex plays a large role in modulating social behavior. Cavada and Schultz, (2000), note that the orbiotofrontal cortex is involved in social adjustment, ones control of mood, drive and responsibility. All traits that crucial in establishing one’s personality.  Interestingly enough, as the original article notes, sociopaths have a hard time identifying and establishing a sense of self.  This could possibly explain how sociopaths have a hard time relating interpersonally with others as they struggle to do so with themselves.

In Thomas’s article she states that 20% of sociopaths, male and female, are imprisoned. Thus, a large proportion of sociopaths are functioning in society, and certainly not all of them are as high functioning as Thomas. My question is then, why, as a society, aren’t we more aware of the prevalence of this disorder? And as a follow up to that question, if we were, as a society, more aware of this prevalence, would the outcome have a positive or negative effect on how society would then function?

References

Blair RJ, Cipolotti L. 2000. Impaired social response reversal: a case of “acquired sociopathy.” Brain. 123:1122-1141

Cavada C., Schultz W. 2000. The mysterious orbitofrontal cortex. Foreword Cerebral Cortex. 10: 205.

M.E. Thomas. (2013) Confessions of a Sociopath. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201305/confessions-sociopath

M.E. Thomas (2013) How to Spot a Sociopath. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201305/how-spot-sociopath

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One thought on “We’re More Common Than You Think

  1. This entry is interesting because I think that as a society we hold the belief that if someone is a “sociopath”, they must have some combination of violent, uncontrollable, impulsive tendencies that are obvious when seen by a third party observer. In reading this post, I was shocked to read that 1 in 25 people can actually be classified as a “sociopath.” Then this got me wondering if our definition of what a “sociopath” is is too simple. Where do you draw the line between someone who is competitive, driven, and successful, with someone who is clinically a sociopath? What happens if someone’s amygdala disfunction and damage to the orbitofrontal cortex is minimal, versus someone who has highly impaired “injuries” to both? Does that simply mean that they are technically both “sociopaths”, but one is to a greater degree than the other? I am interested in further investigating Blair and Cipolotti, (2000)’s research, because I do not fully understand yet how these personality traits (that are interestingly often found in very successful individuals) give one the ability to classify someone as a sociopath. The first real life example I thought of was very successful lawyers, CEO’s of big companies, or very wealthy stockbrokers on Wall Street. Are all people in positions of power in our society classifiable as sociopaths?

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