Psychopaths Deprived Sense of Smell

Divining the scent of L’Air du Temps wafting on the breeze?Scent of Psychopathy

Nosing a marlish I Sodi Chianti for plum & red currant body with notes of tobacco & cocoa?

 

Not if you’re a psychopath.

In the ever increasing range of neural dysfunction being discovered among those displaying sociopathic tendencies, impaired sense of smell has been added to the list.

In a study published in the journal  Chemosensory Perception “researchers found that those individuals who scored highly on psychopathic traits were more likely to struggle to both identify smells and tell the difference between smells, even though they knew they were smelling something. These results show that [frontal] brain areas controlling olfactory processes are less efficient in individuals with psychopathic tendencies.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120920115739.htm

Could this be a factor in lack of emotional understanding & callousness?  After all it is a familiar experience to most how deeply scents imprint memories and emotions.  If this ability it impaired would it not follow that that the displayed emotional shallowness of psychopaths could be related to such mechanisms?

Let’s take a look at a connection to smell this study didn’t touch on, one that opens some intriguing questions relating to psychopathy – the amygdala.

“The amygdala is involved in aversive conditioning and instrumental learning. It is also involved in the response to fearful and sad facial expressions. The amygdala is thus involved in all the processes that, when impaired, give rise to the functional impairments shown by individuals with psychopathy. It is therefore suggested that amygdala dysfunction is one of the core neural systems implicated in the pathology of psychopathy.”http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/182/1/5.full

The amygdala also processes smell directly from the olfactory bulb. In animals it processes pheromones, species identification and mate selection; essentially threat response and sexual desire. In humans this role is debated.

It has been shown, however, that evoking a specific emotion in a human causes a change in body odor.  When other humans are presented with the scent the emotion is also evoked in them.  For normal subjects it is easiest to identify and respond to smells of sexual emotions and happiness. 

It has been shown that psychopaths, due to amygdala dysfunction, derive pleasure from fear responses in others.

Current studies have shown this to be true visually, verbally and in the written word.

Studies of rodents have shown that sexual smells processed in the amygdala are sent to the areas of the brain identified in our first study as malfunctioning in psychopaths.

So what do we have here?

Not a psychopath who is a connoisseur of all things elevated and epicure above the lesser beings they despise.  It’s one who can’t perceive the world in the same richness as a ‘normal’ person.

Instead more primitive aspects of sensory systems are feeding back on themselves and becoming aroused when perceiving fear in others.

All studies to date have focused on the lack of empathy psychopaths display when shown images of fearful faces.

I suspect adding additional emotion-extracted scent studies may yield some interesting results.

 

 

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  • Bender

    And I thought I was losing my sense of smell due to age… this is MUCH better news!

  • Bender

    And I thought I was losing my sense of smell due to age… this is MUCH better news!

    • Calypso_1

      Do you derive pleasure from fear response in others? ; )

  • Daguerreotype

    Clearly any insight into people with these issues that could lead to early intervention would be invaluable.  If we could find patterned traits in children we could keep them from becoming a Jeffrey Dahmer & maybe steer them in the “Dexter Morgan” direction. 

    • Haystack

      I have always maintained that, if only Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer had once learned to enjoy the scent of goldenrod fields on a cool autumn day, they would not have become the monsters they did.

  • Infvocuernos

    so the new psychopath test should include a little “silent but deadly” sample to check for olfactory response?  

    • Andrew

      Fart, and keep farting!  Your life may depend on it!

    • Calypso_1

      I would say that depends on whether or not your ‘emission’ is fear based.  Fight-or-flight in its more extreme forms causes evacuation of the bowels, in more mundane expression the passage of winds might carry those scents that bypass the higher processing centers and go straight to your intended subjects warped amygdala.  Then you might find yourself identified as prey. 

  • alizardx

    while the possibilities for diagnostic testing that could be conducted by non-psych professionals is obvious, I’m wondering about false-positive rates. Interesting research direction.

    • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

      modern medicine false positive rates:
      prostate screening ~50%
      breast mammogram  ~60%
      Multimodal Cancer Screening ~60%
      and let not forget
      eye witness testimony >50%

      uses of tests to control behavior and compel submission ~90%

    • Calypso_1

      “False positives” falls into a lay concept that the test is perhaps irrelevant when this is not the case.  In any statistically designed study the errors called false positives are referred to as a Type I error and indicate the level of significance of the test.  “False negatives” (when the condition occurred but was not detected) are called Type II errors and are referred to as the power of the test.  These are designed into the study.
      How you design the study, based on available sample sizes, the nature of the hypothesis (variables being tested, randomization, assignable correspondences, etc) and what the outcomes of the test are being used for is a balance of the probabilities between these two errors. 
       
      It gets complex.  But no test is used in isolation.  All it indicates are probabilities and they are viewed with other indicators.  When combined with other statistical measures probabilities become narrowed down further and further.  You are not proving or disproving anything.
       
      In regards to this particular study, the one cited in the Science Daily article, the idea was that scents could possible be used as a further testing measure in conjunction with personality testing:  “Olfactory measures represent a potentially interesting marker for psychopathic traits, because performance expectancies are unclear in odor tests and may therefore be less susceptible to attempts to fake good or bad responses.”

    • Calypso_1

      “False positives” falls into a lay concept that the test is perhaps irrelevant when this is not the case.  In any statistically designed study the errors called false positives are referred to as a Type I error and indicate the level of significance of the test.  “False negatives” (when the condition occurred but was not detected) are called Type II errors and are referred to as the power of the test.  These are designed into the study.
      How you design the study, based on available sample sizes, the nature of the hypothesis (variables being tested, randomization, assignable correspondences, etc) and what the outcomes of the test are being used for is a balance of the probabilities between these two errors. 
       
      It gets complex.  But no test is used in isolation.  All it indicates are probabilities and they are viewed with other indicators.  When combined with other statistical measures probabilities become narrowed down further and further.  You are not proving or disproving anything.
       
      In regards to this particular study, the one cited in the Science Daily article, the idea was that scents could possible be used as a further testing measure in conjunction with personality testing:  “Olfactory measures represent a potentially interesting marker for psychopathic traits, because performance expectancies are unclear in odor tests and may therefore be less susceptible to attempts to fake good or bad responses.”

  • Matthewpond

    in the first place i’m reminded of peter redgrave saying that freud was empathy impaired due to cocaine use wrecking his sense of smell (the black goddess and the sixth sense, bloomsbury, 1987) but also all the empathy disabled psychos out there who don’t go on killing sprees but just make themselves always the centre of attention and who are, according to a study mentioned in a bbc ‘horizon’ programme 4x more prevalent among corporate heirarchy than the general population. i met one last year set off the distrust alarm something fierce but others seemed impressed by his forcr of personality.

    • Calypso_1

      I can think of a few other aspects of cocaine usage that may have impaired Freud’s empathy response! But that is an interesting thought and would coorespond to recent research involved in the loss of facial emotion recognition with the use of botox.
      Did you happen to notice any response this sociopathic individual had towards you vs others who were impressed?

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Uh oh… Here’s to hoping a lack of smell is necessary but not sufficient…

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Uh oh… Here’s to hoping a lack of smell is necessary but not sufficient…

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    > those displaying sociopathic tendencies,
    (have an) impaired sense of smell

    no wonder Obama & his hardon supporters
    don’t think his shit stinks
    Romney has a trud smelling cologne
    but can’t tell it stinks either
    in fact
    most Amerikans can’t smell the stench of their favorite
    news source, political party, corporate employer, religion

    Horatio:
    Have after. To what issue will this come?
    Marcellus:
    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

  • Sefer_Yetzirah

    This research opens the door to some interesting possibilities. The question of psychopaths is one of the greatest challenges and conundrums not just of our age but one of the history (and future) of the human race. Could discoveries such as this lead to treatments for psychopathy that could head off this condition in childhood? 

  • Sefer_Yetzirah

    This research opens the door to some interesting possibilities. The question of psychopaths is one of the greatest challenges and conundrums not just of our age but one of the history (and future) of the human race. Could discoveries such as this lead to treatments for psychopathy that could head off this condition in childhood? 

    • Calypso_1

      If one is going to ask about children in this regard you have to look at the hypothesis regarding innate vs. acquired sociopathy.  You would have to determine when the areas of the brain that are malfunctioning are being damaged. 
      The orbitofrontal cortex which is indicated in this study as being the source of impaired odor discrimination is also an area known to display early developmental pathology in autism- particularly in its neural regulatory circuits with the amygdala.
      http://webpub.allegheny.edu/employee/j/jhollerm/558_web/autism_amygdala/autism_amyg_bachevalier2006.pdf
       
      Many autistics have altered senses, hypersensitive ones.  However, based solely on animal models some researchers are suggesting that one factor in autism may be a breakdown in the ability to recognize another individual by scent.  http://www.scotsman.com/news/health/autism-may-be-caused-by-breakdown-of-sense-of-smell-say-scots-scientists-1-792305
      This is speculative and meant to open a line of questioning for further study and not proof of any kind.
       
      Decreased sense of smell is an early indicator in many neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  So what this all means is that olfactory testing, establishing baselines, just as with eyesight and hearing could very well become a way to determine early brain disorders, including what currently falls under terms such as psychopathy, whether it is caused by genetics, disease or trauma. 
       
       

    • Calypso_1

      If one is going to ask about children in this regard you have to look at the hypothesis regarding innate vs. acquired sociopathy.  You would have to determine when the areas of the brain that are malfunctioning are being damaged. 
      The orbitofrontal cortex which is indicated in this study as being the source of impaired odor discrimination is also an area known to display early developmental pathology in autism- particularly in its neural regulatory circuits with the amygdala.
      http://webpub.allegheny.edu/employee/j/jhollerm/558_web/autism_amygdala/autism_amyg_bachevalier2006.pdf
       
      Many autistics have altered senses, hypersensitive ones.  However, based solely on animal models some researchers are suggesting that one factor in autism may be a breakdown in the ability to recognize another individual by scent.  http://www.scotsman.com/news/health/autism-may-be-caused-by-breakdown-of-sense-of-smell-say-scots-scientists-1-792305
      This is speculative and meant to open a line of questioning for further study and not proof of any kind.
       
      Decreased sense of smell is an early indicator in many neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  So what this all means is that olfactory testing, establishing baselines, just as with eyesight and hearing could very well become a way to determine early brain disorders, including what currently falls under terms such as psychopathy, whether it is caused by genetics, disease or trauma. 
       
       

  • citizen_watch

    So that’s why I can’t smell my own farts…who knew.

    • Calypso_1

      I believe there are a number of other pathologies that should be ruled out before you attribute your autoflatus anosmia to psychopathy.  Please consult a physician for diagnosis and treatment. 

    • Calypso_1

      I believe there are a number of other pathologies that should be ruled out before you attribute your autoflatus anosmia to psychopathy.  Please consult a physician for diagnosis and treatment. 

  • citizen_watch

    So that’s why I can’t smell my own farts…who knew.

  • morpheus

    I think it would be imperative to conduct further research into psychopaths’ disfunctional sense of smell. It is only logical to assume that phychopaths’ derailed sense of smell can cause intimacy issues. Whereas normal people only need little smell to associate certain emotions, phychopaths’ need an intense smell to experience similar emotions (especially emotions that relate to intimacy) because they crave more intense emotional impact. I think it is safe to assume that more intense feelings phycopath craves, he will be more predisposed to not use his right judgement in order to gratify his needs. Phycopath is like a junkey for feelings. I think good start would be to get a focus group of people who have sexual weaknesses to the sense of smell and do the research on them. I’m sure somewhere in the future they will have a good theraputic program to do a complete dissociation and mind reconstruction with the use of smell therapy to rewire phycopaths’ brain and re-associate certain positive/negative emotions with more intense sense of smell.

    It is sad that only way current society can keep phychopath in control is with fear or by physical enclosures like prison or a hospital. That’s how you treat an animal and then you expect it to behave like a human being. Sense of smell played/plays an important role throughout the human evolution. I think further research into this matter could be very productive.