Psychopathy- environmental or genetic?

By: Nirvan Marathe

Psychopathy, or antisocial personality disorder, is a neurological disorder which has been ‘romanticised’ in a sense by the media through pop culture portrayal. The illness has distinct phenotypes, included poor emotional responses, lack of empathy and general antisocial behaviour. There is an ongoing debate on whether psychopathy should be regarded as having a genetic or environmental aetiology, with both influences having several points backing them.

When looking at the definition of psychopathy, it is important to compare it to sociopathy. Sociopathy is an environmentally-influenced disorder, where your surroundings in growing up play a large influence in its incidence. On the other hand, psychopathy is thought to be present in the sufferer since birth- a hypothesis initially proposed by the discovery of the heritability of its distinct phenotypes. It would be unwise to discredit the influence of the environment surrounding the sufferer on psychopathy, however it is now more commonly regarded as something which shapes the biological background of the disorder. Further research has found that this biological basis is not consistent across sufferers. The downregulation of the CDH5 and OPRD1 genes together with the upregulation of the RPL1099 and ZNF132 genes in neurons are some of the identified genetic origins of psychopathic phenotypes. All these genes bear an association to the prefrontal-temporo-limbic circuit in the brain, which includes regions associated with our emotions as humans. This provides a clear link between the phenotypes of lacking empathy with a genetic aetiology.

Despite several breakthroughs in the field, the wider scientific community still regards the research for psychopathy having a biological basis as insufficient, hence it is yet to be implemented in other areas of society. This is significant as statistic shows that criminals with antisocial personality disorder bear the consequences of harsher treatment when in prison, a substantial increase in severity of their sentences and an increased chance of execution. If psychopathy is proven to have a sufficiently genetic aetiology, and that it is present in sufferers from birth, then it is morally incorrect for us to sentence sufferers in the same way as criminals without the disorder.

Further research into the areas of epigenetics and neuroplasticity need to be conducted before we can reach a formal conclusion. If psychopathy is found to have a genetic basis, then the lack of guilt and observations should be regarded as phenotypes that must be treated through rehabilitation and the aid of psychiatric institutions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: