Psychopaths are able to display emotions they don’t feel, so much so that those around them are convinced that those emotions are real, new research from Brock University psychologist Angela Book shows.
“The eyes of a psychopath will deceive you, they will destroy you. They will take from you, your innocence, your pride and eventually your soul. These eyes do not see what you and I can see. Behind these eyes, one finds only blackness, the absence of light. These are of a psychopath.” ― Dr. Samuel Loomis
Psychopathy is typically characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior.
“Psychopaths tend to lack fear and we know they lack remorse,” sais Book. “We wanted to know if they were better able to fake these things.”
Book and her team did three experiments testing a theory called mimicry, “where these individuals are successful because they’re able to look normal; that would include emotional mimicry.” Brock said psychopaths use mimicry to prevent being detected.
The first experiment involved students being shown video clips of violent inmates with varying degrees of psychopathy, who were told to look at a picture of a fearful face and copy that expression on their own face.
Researchers analyzed the inmates’ expressions with the facial action coding system, gauging how well the inmates were able to imitate fearful facial movements.
“It turned out that people higher on psychopathy were better able to make that face,” says Book. “That was the same whether we were coding the inmate’s face for the muscle movements or whether we had other people rate those faces.
So, other people are seeing them as more fearful.”
In the second experiment, students were shown videos of inmates describing a true story of when they did something to hurt someone else, but did not feel genuine remorse over their actions.
The researchers instructed the inmates to tell the story as if they regretted their actions and felt bad about the situation.
“Again, people higher on psychopathy were seen as more genuine,” says Book.
The third experiment involved the students watching a series of four videos, once again of inmates telling false remorse stories. Inmates appearing in the videos had various ratings on scales measuring psychopathy traits and anti-social behaviour.
As in the other two studies:
“the two videos where the inmates were high on interpersonal and personality traits related to psychopathy were rated as being more genuine,” says Book.
Book and her team concluded that their results were consistent with the mimicry theory, first put forth by UBC researcher Daniel Jones in 2014.
Their work was partly inspired by The Mask of Sanity, a book published by American psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley in 1941, describing Cleckley’s clinical interviews with patients in a locked institution. The title refers to the normal “mask” that conceals the mental disorder of the psychopathic person in Cleckley’s conceptualization.
Angela Book, Tabitha Methot, Nathalie Gauthier, Ashley Hosker-Field, Adelle Forth, Vernon Quinsey and Danielle Molnar The Mask of Sanity Revisited: Psychopathic Traits and Affective Mimicry Evolutionary Psychological Science 20151:12 DOI: 10.1007/s40806-015-0012-x