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Bad decisions? | Why does he behave like that?

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Bad Social Decisions?

Why does he behave like that?

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Many have wondered why some individuals with strong psychopathic traits seem intelligent (cognitively | IQ), however make poor social choices? For example, there are some with psychopathy that hold extremely responsible, high ranking, or public positions who engage in behaviors reflective of poor morals and bad decision making.

Possible behaviors include, sex with escorts, electronic transmission of pictures of genitalia, secret children, beating their partner, extreme number of affairs, or careless risky business choices that devastate large groups of people.

Naturally, it makes one wonder how someone so bright or talented could do something so irresponsible, offensive, hateful, or callous.

Why do they have social and emotion processing problems if they are intelligent?

As you have probably suspected, cognitive abilities (e.g., intelligence, memory, etc) and emotional processing are not managed by the same systems within the brain. Therefore, it is certainly possible that a person can be successful in their careers, however have difficulties relating to others and being experienced as a good person.

Let’s take this a bit deeper. People with psychopathy commonly have a pattern of immoral behaviors and secrets that are kept in the dark that sharply contrasts who they present in public.

This extends beyond the typical public vs private persona that we all have.

Rather, these behaviors tend to have a strong overlay of immorality. There is often someone that would be harmed by the secret if it were known. There may even be victims of the behavior itself (e.g., abuse of a child), aside from the harm associated with knowing about the behavior. Essentially, others would view the psychopathic person differently if the full extent of his character or behavior was known by all.

There are several reasons that are associated with the brain that helps us to understand why most with psychopathy demonstrate this common feature (i.e., immorality and bad social decision making). Let’s focus on only one for now.

The Prefrontal Cortex

There is an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex that plays a significant role. The prefrontal cortex has many responsibilities depending upon the region. The part that is located on the underside of the prefrontal cortex is called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Among many of its responsibilities, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex has quite a bit to do with why an individual would make poor decisions and not restrain themselves from immoral behavior.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a region of the brain that’s associated with

morality         decision making        regulation          and       self-control

It is associated with ‘social emotions‘ (Koenigs, Young, Adolphs, Tranel, Cushman, Hauser, & Damasio, 2007). When this area is not functioning as it should, it is not uncommon to see poor behavioral control associated with morals and heightened sensitivity to reward related activities (e.g., exciting/something new). 

Cognition and Emotion Capabilities are not Congruent

When an individual has strong psychopathic traits, their emotional system tends to be incongruent with their cognitive system. There seems to be a tremendous discrepancy. Therefore, it would not be out of the ordinary for the following scenario to exist for an individual with strong psychopathic traits.

Bright, successful, CEO, however with a personal life littered with mistresses, a frustrated and lonely wife, hurt children, distressed employees, a family on the side, flirtatious contact with exes, and paid sex with both men and women (although he makes fun of homosexuals).

Individuals with psychopathy have emotional processing problems that prohibits them from experiencing feelings in the same manner as a non-disordered individual.

Emotionally, they may come across as immature and self centered. While, cognitively they could range from low average to very superior in intellect.

References

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