Psychopaths Get a Break from Biology: Judges Reduce Sentences If Genetics, Neurobiology Are Blamed

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Via ScienceDaily:

If a criminal’s behavior has a biological basis, is that reason to reduce the sentence because defective genes or brain function leave the criminal with less self-control and ability to tell right from wrong? Or is it reason for a harsher sentence because the criminal likely will reoffend?

“In a nationwide sample of judges, we found that expert testimony concerning the biological causes of psychopathy significantly reduced sentencing of the psychopath” from almost 14 years to less than 13 years, says study coauthor James Tabery, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Utah.

However, the hypothetical psychopath in the study got a longer sentence than the average nine-year sentence judges usually impose for the same crime — aggravated battery — and there were state-to-state differences in whether judges reduced or increased the sentence when given information on the biological causes of psychopathy.

The study was conducted by Tabery; Lisa Aspinwall, a University of Utah associate professor of psychology; and Teneille Brown, an associate professor at the university’s S.J. Quinney College of Law.

The researchers say that so far as they know, their study — funded by a University of Utah grant to promote interdisciplinary research — is the first to examine the effect of the biological causes of criminal behavior on real judges’ reasoning during sentencing.

Biological Explanation of Psychopathy Helps Defendant

The anonymous online survey — distributed with the help of 19 of 50 state court administrators who were approached — involved 181 participating judges reading a scenario, based on a real Georgia case, about a psychopath convicted of aggravated battery for savagely beating a store clerk with a gun during a robbery attempt.

The judges then answered a series of questions, including whether they consider scientific evidence of psychopathy to be an aggravating or mitigating factor that would increase or decrease the sentence, respectively, and what sentence they would impose. They were told psychopathy is incurable and treatment isn’t now an option.

While psychopathy isn’t yet a formal diagnosis in the manual used by psychiatrists, it soon may be added as a category of antisocial personality disorder, Tabery says. The study cited an expert definition of psychopathy as “a clinical diagnosis defined by impulsivity; irresponsibility; shallow emotions; lack of empathy, guilt or remorse; pathological lying; manipulation; superficial charm; and the persistent violation of social norms and expectations.”

The researchers recruited 207 state trial court judges for the study. Six dropped out. Twenty others were excluded because they incorrectly identified the defendant’s diagnosis. That left 181 judges who correctly identified the defendant as a psychopath, including 164 who gave complete data on their sentencing decisions.

Read more here.

13 Comments on "Psychopaths Get a Break from Biology: Judges Reduce Sentences If Genetics, Neurobiology Are Blamed"

  1. Jesus Borg | Aug 28, 2012 at 1:10 pm |

    In my opinion its merely a psychological defense mechanism/coping style

  2. DeepCough | Aug 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm |

    This slope is so slippery, you can break the sound barrier on it.

  3. Anarchy Pony | Aug 28, 2012 at 11:50 pm |

    Shouldn’t it be the opposite? Seeing as this would mean they are pre-disposed to criminal conduct and a danger to the public, meaning they couldn’t be reformed. Wouldn’t that make sequestering them more important than not? We should put them on a ranch in the southwest, and we’ll call it… wait for it… Galt’s Gulch. 

    • DeepCough | Aug 29, 2012 at 1:50 am |

      I think a trip to Kamp and quick shower would do them just fine.

    • other than the ignorant political snark, your on to something.

      (most of objectivist I’ve met have may have been jerks – but ethical jerks, loudly opinionated, hard, but fair types)

  4. TruthVybes | Aug 29, 2012 at 3:59 am |

    ‘psychopathy’ is an excuse for spiritual oppression and confusion. Like all labels, just a mental box that feeds off your attention until you literally become what you’re labelled. Make asufferer of depression think they are psychopaths, or ‘shizo’, and they will soon enough start to belie ve in it.

    • TruthVybes | Aug 29, 2012 at 4:00 am |

       Horror movies can have the same impact on children and its going rampant these daze.

  5. Apathesis | Aug 29, 2012 at 6:47 am |

    Yeah, let’s put the people who are more prone to violent behaviour they can’t control back on the streets faster.

  6. Calypso_1 | Aug 29, 2012 at 9:47 am |

    One of the problems with the study of ‘psychopath’ is that psychopaths are rather good at not being studied.  We therefore have a very limited range of examples, primarily those who are imprisoned and available for observation.  This group given to violent, antisocial acts and of lower IQ is taken to be representative of the whole, when in fact it is an interpolation of a larger set. Certainly there is also the higher IQ, antisocial, predatory element identified in the upper echelons of politics and the corporate world.   Is this the whole of those humans that feel little compassion, remorse, or the restrictions of social norms?  Perhaps not.   

    • Matt Staggs | Aug 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |

      Very good exploration of the difficulties involved in learning more about psychopaths. If you haven’t heard it,  you may enjoy the interview I did with “The Psychopath Test” author Jon Ronson. 

  7. Can’t help what they are, tolerance right? Everyone’s potential for damage can be limited by a better upbringing without abuse – in both psychopaths and non-psychopaths, the greatest factor in criminal behaviour isn’t incapacity for empathy (or autistic people would be criminal monsters) but a bad start in life and a lack of behavioural control from societies norms that limit the excesses of each individual. This’s why, according to Stout, psychopaths cause less damage in collectivist Asian societies.

    The same societies that value other forms of diversity and tolerance have trouble with neurodiversity, because they love the ideal that there’s one universal mind of man that applies in all places and at all times. We all know how the (mainstream) left works – “we support free speech, unless we disagree with you, then you have a mental problem that needs correcting and we don’t have to listen to you.” The crazy philosophy of Freud and the pseudoscientific Frankfurt School rears its head whenever you hear *completely unsubstantiated* claims that most of the One Percent are ‘sociopaths’.

    And people who look at psychopaths as monsters are as always looking in the mirror and hating their reflection because monsters don’t exist.

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