Personalizing Punishment-Based on Brain Psychology Essay

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Psychopathology Criminal Behavior Part

What might be some of the implications for the forensic field of the differences between the "low-fear hypothesis" and the "high-impulsive" subtypes of psychopathy? In other words, how might the differences in the models help inform us about best practices for such activities as police work on the streets, interrogation methods, trial and sentencing practices, providing treatment, or evaluating recidivism risks?

In retrospect, theorists view Lykken's conceptual framework as a first step toward distinguishing between primary and secondary psychopathy (Baskins-Sommers, 2010). As theory building continues in this decade, the typology is supported by the notion of trait-like sensitivities and trait-like cognitive capacities that suggest the following implications for criminal justice procedures. Primary psychopathy is characterized by disinhibition, which is an inability to abort a dominant response, integrate socialization, or adopt alternative objectives. An individual who is considered to have primary psychopathy will fail to consider emotional cues or effectively delay gratification (MacCoon, et al., 2004). Underlying these behaviors is a bias sensitivity to stimuli that influence adaptive self-regulation vs. maladaptive disinhibition (MacCoon, et al., 2004). Notably, those individuals with secondary psychopathy are likely to exhibit a bias that focuses attention on behavioral activation system (BAS) rather than on behavioral inhibition system (BIS) cues (Baskins-Sommers, 2010; MacCoon, et al., 2004). When attentional issues and working memory load tax cognitive processing -- which means that fewer mental resources are available to address other functions -- a psychopathic individual is likely to focus on activities that are more immediately gratifying (Baskins-Sommers, 2010; MacCoon, et al., 2004). The relationship between the sensitivity to stimuli and conditions of high load are such that difficulty processing BIS cues is exacerbated and behavior is less likely to modulate as cognitive demands increase (Baskins-Sommers, 2010; MacCoon, et al., 2004).

An understanding these inherent differences in the behavioral inhibition and activation systems of primary and secondary psychopathy -- at least as these subtypes are understood in the disciplines today -- indicates the need for great clarity and simplicity with respect to the cause and effect relations between offender behavior and the processes that are employed within the structures of the criminal justice system. The research indicates that individuals with psychopathy are not so much low-fear or high impulse responders as they are inattentive or insensitive to the cues that activate inhibition. As the research uncovers the physiological bases for these cognitive and functional differences in people considered to be primary or secondary psychopaths, greater clarity may be provided with respect to which aspects of the criminal justice system are best able to target the maladaptive and adaptive responses. As the theory about a core fear deficit is replaced with theory about emotion deficits being moderated by attention, "the differential importance of perceptual load on emotion processing" becomes clearer (Baskin-Sommers, 2013).

2. Discuss the pros and cons of using self-report assessments, such as the PCL-R, in assessing psychopathy. Should we be using this instrument? Defend your position.

The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) shows high self-scoring variability; in fact so much so that its use triggers adversarial interactions that revolve around which party retained the evaluator. The test remains popular despite the contentious context. Indeed, in the state of Texas, evaluators of every Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) are required by state statute to measure psychopathy and most evaluators use the PCL-R. Not surprisingly, prosecutors consider the PCL-R an attractive activity: Jurors faced with evidence of high psychopathy scores on the test would face a real quandary if the PCL-R were presented as anything but good forensic science. Consequently, jurors must decide capital case or make a decision about the level of repeat behavior and high risk in a case involving a convicted sex offender (Franklin, 2010). In 2010, the author of the PCL-R, Robert Hare, reportedly tried "to suppress the publication of a critical article in a leading scientific journal" (Franklin, 2010). Hare's response is likely to have a long trail that reduces the credibility of the PCL-R construct and the use of measures of psychopathy in forensic work and criminal justice environments (Franklin, 2010). The article that Hare opposes -- and which was not yet published at the time of this review -- is titled, "Is Criminal Behavior a Central Component of Psychopathy? Conceptual Directions for Resolving the Debate," and was authored by Jennifer Skeem of UC Irvine and David Cooke of Glasgow University. The article may or may not have validity, but the title and topic are guaranteed to bring considerable attention and notoriety to the authors, striking as it does, at the very nexus of forensic psychology and criminal justice.

One additional issue at point is that, to date, no research has established the agreement between PCL-R scores by independent clinicians retained by opposing sides in a legal case (Murrie, et al., 2008). The study does raise concerns about the susceptibility of PCL-R scores to influence by the allegiance of the forensic evaluator (Murrie, et al., 2008). The PCL-R scores have shown to be effective predictors of violence in the community, at least for European-American male offenders (Walsh & Walsh, 2006). This said, the PCL-R assessments do not necessarily meet the relevant evidentiary standards for prediction of violence among females, adolescents and ethnic minorities (Walsh & Walsh, 2006). When PCL-R is used as a self-assessment instrument, reliability is lowered and applicability is reduced.

3. Discuss your opinion of why it might be important for us to understand the etiology of psychopathy. How will this understanding impact our work in the field of criminal justice?

Lykken (1957, 1995) theorized that the heterogeneity of criminal behavior presumes the development of antisocial behavior from "complex and continuous interaction of innate characteristics and environment" (Newman & Brinkley, 1997, p. 236). Lykken (1957, 1995) argued for a low-fear subtype hypothesis, and further structured his theory through subdivisions of antisocial behavior: normal, psychopathic, and sociopathic. Lykken's theory is perhaps best conceptualized as a teeter-totter dynamic in which the psychopath and sociopath are located on the extreme ends, fully susceptible to the forces of stress (e.g., in the young child, poor parenting) and the predisposing difficult temperament (i.e., the diathesis) that yield abnormal development. Some significant environmental factors are seen across the histories of a majority of individuals with psychopathy. In particular, the correlation between anti-social personality disorder (ASPD) and attachment disorder in infancy and toddlerhood is significant.

From this seminal work by Lykken and the myriad researchers who have followed this line of research, those who work in the criminal justice system and the human services disciplines have come to understand the substantive impact that parenting behavior and environmental context have on the developing child. Criminal justice professionals are keenly interested in and engaged in preventative efforts to curtail the development of psychopathy, particularly in its secondary and more malleable form. Countering -- when necessary -- the propensity of human service workers to secure the sanctity of the family, criminal justice professionals recognize the critical need for ensuring dysfunctional parenting does not become a multi-generational pattern and problem. This factor functions as a strong rationale for a goodly amount of criminal justice work.

Where common traits appear in psychopathic individuals, there are clues for exploiting this attributes to facilitate the success of processes such as interrogation, provisions of parole, and investigation of crimes that have been committed by individuals who exhibit psychopathy.

4. If it is true that there are physical differences in brain structure or function that explain psychopathic behavior? Discuss the implications this fact may have on some aspect of the criminal justice system. Consider, for example, such activities as sentencing, rehabilitation, and recidivism.

Individuals who exhibit psychopathic tendencies exhibit basic biological patterns of brain dysfunction. Significant impairment in specific regions of the brain, such as the orbital frontal cortex (OFC), is seen. These abnormalities are found most often in the brain areas involved with impulse control and the inhibition of behavior. The constellations of maladaptive behaviors associated with primary and secondary psychopathology are currently considered to comprise distinct facets. These subtypes or facets are represented in the literature as: 1) Interpersonal-affective traits, such as manipulativeness, poverty of affect, and superficial charm; and 2) antisocial traits, such as impulsivity and aggression. Other studies suggest that the traits Fearless Dominance and Impulsive Antisociality stem from different etiological process of primarily genetic nature. Theoretically, this points to maladaptive personality traits that may combine or coalesce to form a particularly virulent phenotype (Blonigen, et al. 2005).

Research indicates that distinct physical abnormalities in the part of the brain known as the amygdala and in the prefrontal cortex are common in murderers and psychopaths. Th amygdala mediates fear and anxiety and the prefrontal cortex regulates guilt and empathy. A number of studies have found that psychopaths have amygdalae that are 18% smaller on average than the amygdalae of non-psychopaths. There is discussion in criminal justice and forensic psychology circles that these differences may pave the way to personalized sentencing that takes brain abnormalities into consideration. A factor that gets a lot of attention…[continue]

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