There is one trait that separates psychopaths from everyone else and it’s not what you might think it is. Psychopaths are always one step ahead of everyone else. At least that’s the case in all Hollywood movies and TV shows. Psychopaths are portrayed as people who know exactly what others think and what others desire, and how to use that information to benefit themselves.
In reality, things are completely different. Psychopaths are not particularly good at understanding others and their needs, thoughts and desires.
According to the theory of mind, we can imagine what’s happening in the minds of others. We are not necessarily born with this ability, but it is something we develop around the age of four. For example, if we show someone a box of cereals full of carrots, we know that they don’t know that carrots are in the box and when we ask them: “What’s in the box?” we know that they will say: “Cereals.” This is a simple example explaining how we understand people’s thoughts, what they know, what they don’t know, and what they think.
Of course, we can’t read other people’s minds and be completely right but we are able to project ourselves on them and imagine how we would feel if we were in their shoes. Understanding leads to empathy and giving a helping hand to someone who needs our help.
A lack of understanding of other people’s perspective can be the main symptom of psychopathy. It’s not that psychopaths can’t understand other people’s perspective, they just don’t take time to understand others. The antisocial and cruel behavior of psychopaths can be linked to their lack of understanding of what other people feel and think. Biologically, they can understand others and their brains are equipped to understand how others think and feel. When psychopaths were asked to take the perspective of one character in a story, they were capable to understand based on the story what’s happening with the character, what the character thinks or feels. In conclusion, when they are asked to understand others, they can but they will not do that willingly when communicating with others.
That fits the narrative of psychopaths from Hollywood movies. A character who understands what others think but lacks empathy and therefore does the unimaginable. The story is not that simple. They are able to empathize with others, but they choose not to, and they can understand people’s perspective but they again, choose not to do that.
According to a new study, the real difference between the brain of psychopaths and others is how psychopaths process emotions. If you ask a psychopath to be understanding and empathetic they can verbalize the understanding and emotions towards others.
What psychopaths do differently? The task of understanding others does not come that easily to them and it’s not something that they would do naturally. If you show an image to a psychopath with a person in a room with dots on the walls and ask them how many dots can that person see, they need more time than a regular person to count the dots if dots are placed behind the back of the person in the image. Why? They need to put themselves in the shoes of that person, they can’t simply count the dots that are in front of the person whose perspective they should see and understand.
In conclusion, normal brains automatically, without any effort can put themselves in the perspective of others, and psychopaths need to make an effort to do so.