Friday, April 5, 2013

Psychopaths are Rewarded but not Punished, and Autistics are Punished but not Rewarded by Social Interaction

I believe that most psychopaths are not innately evil, perverse or malevolent. For neurological reasons they are not easily punished during social situations but are readily rewarded by them. For instance, the fear and apprehension centers (including the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex) are not activated by social stressors in psychopaths to the extent that they are in nonpsychopaths. Similarly, I believe that most individuals with autism are not innately cognitively impaired, they are simply less attentive to social cues because they are less readily rewarded by them.

For this reason, I think that psychopathy (as well as antisocial personality disorder) and autism can be meaningfully compared.

An animal’s brain is wired up from experiences involving environmental reward and punishment, and a genetic disinclination from social punishment fundamentally changes the way working memory operates. I believe that psychopaths represent an evolutionary strategy that worked well when social ties were tenuous and it was best to work cooperatively with others but only so far as it reaped benefits. In other words, the psychopath is hardwired to benefit from others (potentially in a mutually beneficial relationship) but not to worry about or become concerned with the other person’s perspective. Environmental experience can turn this simple inclination into many things including charisma and assertiveness, but also antipathy and remorselessness. 

The opposite may be true of autism. People with autism are less likely to be rewarded by social situations and more likely to be punished by them. This makes it sound like people with autism should grow to be self-loathing and codependent, but of course this isn’t the case. The strong social punishment actually causes them to severely limit their social interactions from a very early age and the lack of reward keeps them from attempting to gain positive experiences from social interaction. Interestingly, in autism the amygdala is overactive during social situations and the ventral straitum (the pleasure center) is missing oxytocin receptors (the social pleasure hormone).

No comments:

Post a Comment