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