Flicking through the book 'The Social Brain', I was particularly interested in a chapter called, 'Psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Theory of Mind', which proposes that psychopaths are a naturally selected form of cheater:
psychopaths are 'designed' by natural selection to be specialised morphs that are highly effective at accruing resources and reproductive opportunities through deception, force and social manipulation.
According to the authors of the chapter, psychopathy boils down to empathy:
Empathy requires the ability to simulate the emotional state of another individual (Brothers 1990), i.e. to be able to 'walk in another's shoes' or 'get inside another's skin’. Therefore, the more similar any two individuals might be, the more similar will be their physical and mental experience, and the better will be their 'simulations' and their ability to empathise with one another (Preston and de Waal in press). But because psychopaths have a truly different design—and different nature—they are unable to accurately simulate the emotional experiences of others and, therefore, are unable to empathise with them (Mealey 1997; Mealey and Kinner in press).
Specifically, psychopaths exhibit an underarousal of what Gray (1982, 1987) calls the Behavioural Inhibition System. Psychopaths are relatively insensitive to low levels of stimulation (Gray 1987; Newman and Wallace 1993), and they do not exhibit typical autonomic or somatic responses to situations and stimuli which normally elicit anxiety or fear in others (Lykken 1957,1995; Eysenck and Gudjonsson 1989; Williamson, Harpur and Hare 1991; Patrick, Bradley and Lang 1993; Patrick, Zempolich and Levenston 1997; Herpertz et al. 2001). This different physiology not only explains the psychopath's impulsivity, sensation seeking and poor passive avoidance learning (Zuckerman, Buchs-baum and Murphy 1980; Ellis 1987; Newman and Wallace 1993; Lykken 1995; Lalumiere and Quinsey 1996; Daderman and af Klinteberg 1997; Newman 1998; Blair 1999; Daderman 1999; Herpertz and Sass 2000), but also renders him/her unable to experience the full range of emotions that most humans naturally do. If it is true that 'information about the self is used to model the states of others' (Gallup 1998), then psychopaths will never be capable of fully empathising with others because their own physical and phenomenological self is, in fact, quite different from that of others.
...It is this lack of empathic ability, in conjunction with the consequent forced reliance on conscious monitoring of the contingencies surrounding others' behaviour,that is perceived as the psychopath's 'Machiavellian cold-heartedness' (Mealey and Kinner in press). From an evolutionary perspective, the psychopath is designed in away that allows him to develop a ToM [Theory of Mind] that understands others in purely instrumental terms: unlike the rest of us, the psychopath is unencumbered by any physiological or psychological simulation of the emotional element of another's distress, suffering, attachment or sense of fair-play. This design frees the psychopath to act in a purely ego centric and selfish manner, without the constraints typically imposed by feelings of reciprocity, guilt or shame. The 'superficial charm' and occasional (seemingly) prosocial motivation of the psychopath are simply acquired techniques—honed by years of feedback and operant conditioning—for achieving personal gain.
Okay, so a psychopath is like the Tin Man: without a heart, he isn't restrained by it. If we look at the original definition:
highly effective at accruing resources and reproductive opportunities through deception, force and social manipulation.
I have one question. Though the physiological evidence suggests that some psychopaths may be a consequence of biology, isn't it intelligent to accrue resources and reproductive opportunities through deception, force and social manipulation? If you can get others to give you what you want, through the minimal effort on your part, isn't that an understandable strategy? And here I want to mention the idea of nefarious intentions: are there people who could be defined as a psychopath and yet choose to do what they do, understanding the ramifications? Are there people that just don't care, as long as they are okay? If you understand (or at least suspect) that everything is pointless, is there anything other than a man-made 'moral' code, which actually stops you from doing what you want?Go Top