Under the Hood

Psychopaths Can Feel Regret But Lack Remorse; They Don’t Learn From Experience, New Study Says

Cold, unemotional, impassive. These thoughts come to mind when we picture the classic psychopath, but new research has suggested these individuals are actually capable of feeling regret — they just don’t use it to help them make better decisions in the future.

A study now published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that psychopaths are able to feel regret and other negative emotions, especially when they are directly affected by the situation. However, unlike most of us, they are unable to learn from these negative experiences.

In addition, although there is evidence of regret in those with a psychopathic nature, the study found that these people still lack remorse, or feeling bad for actions that harmed others. 

Read: What’s The Difference Between A Sociopath And A Psychopath?

"Regret is self-focused, whereas remorse involves another," explained study co-author Dr. Arielle Baskin-Sommers, in a recent statement.

killer Understanding how psychopaths think may be key to preventing them from committing crimes. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

The findings could be helpful, especially when it comes to dealing with psychopathic criminals. For example, according to the research, if psychopaths possess a sense of regret, it may be possible to devise a strategy that would discourage them from committing the same crimes.  

"If they don't experience any regret for their actions, we don't have much of a chance, but these findings suggest that there is something to work with," added Baskin-Sommers.

The true definition of a psychopath is often mistaken. The general scientific consensus is that psychopaths lack the proper neurological frameworks to develop a sense of ethics and morality as a result of both their genetics and their environment. Unfortunately, these individuals tend to be very dangerous as a result of their own nature. For example, a 2002 study found that 93.3 percent of homicides committed by psychopaths were premeditated or planned in some way, compared with 48.4 percent of homicides by people who weren’t psychopaths. They also crave control and are impulsive, and possess a predatory instinct; in other words, not someone you’d like to encounter alone in a dark alley.

Source: Baskin-Sommers A, Stuppu-Sullivan AM, Buckholtz JW. Psychopathic individuals exhibit but do not avoid regret during counterfactual decision making. PNAS . 2016

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