London, Oct 15 (ANI): Psychopathic individuals seem fearless to the average person because of an attention deficit, say researchers.
The discovery challenges the long-held characterisation of such people as cold-blooded predators.
"A lot of their problems may be a consequence of something that's almost like a learning difficulty," says Joseph Newman, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
To reach the conclusion, the researchers investigated how prisoners with psychopathic personalities react when anticipating pain, reports New Scientist.
Earlier research has suggested such people may not feel fear, while brain imaging studies have found abnormalities in the amygdala, a region that processes fear and other emotions. This has encouraged the perception that they are "emotionally shallow", Newman says. "People call them cold-blooded predators." But he questioned whether this was the whole story.
In order to find out why such people behave the way they do, Newman's team recruited 125 prisoners and subjected them to personality tests, in order to assess their levels of narcissism, impulsiveness and callousness.
Some 20 percent of the participants scored high enough to be considered psychopaths, a significantly higher percentage than the one-percent level in the general population. This was to be expected, however, considering that the individuals had been already convicted of serious crimes.
Newman's experiments demonstrated that psychopathic individuals felt fear in the same way others did, but that they appeared fearless because they no longer went through the trouble of paying attention to things, and evaluating which was dangerous and which was safe.
Newman says that the new knowledge could help devise new methods of preventing repeating offenders from causing further harm to others.
The study has been published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. (ANI)