The Making of a Psychopath

What is a psychopath?

Most likely when you think of a psychopath, you probably think of a person like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy. Although they may be categorized as psychopaths, what actually defines them as such? Yes, they were serial killers, but that’s not a required “symptom” of a psychopath. So, what is a psychopath then?

Psychopathy is a very extreme form of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). A person cannot be given the diagnosis of psychopath, those are merely traits given to a person who suffers from ASPD. ASPD is just one of the ten types of personality disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines ASPD as an individual who shows a continued pattern of disregard and violation of other peoples rights, emerging around the age of 15 with three or more of the following symptoms:

  1. Repeatedly breaking the law
  2. Repeatedly lying for personal gain or pleasure
  3. Impulsivity
  4. Irritability and aggression towards others
  5. Reckless disregard for the safety of others
  6. Consistently irresponsible
  7. Lack of remorse
Figure 1. A few characteristics of a psychopath.


Nature vs. Nurture

When we talk about any personality trait or quality a person has, scientists like to refer to the “nature” of the person as well as the “nurture.” Nature refers to the biological makeup, or the genetics a person has. Nurture, on the other hand, is how a person grew up, how they were treated as a child, and their life experiences. Figure 2, below, shows these contributing factors. It’s believed that both nature and nurture contribute to the life of a psychopath. Although there is a strong biological component, which will be explained later on, there are also environmental factors that contribute to this disease. Some of these factors may be neglect, abuse, and poor parenting.

Figure 2. The nature vs nurture of a human.

Neurobiological Roots of Psychopathy

When determining what could be going wrong in the brain, researchers found that those who were diagnosed as antisocial with psychopathic traits showed abnormal glucose metabolism and opiodergic neurotransmission in their brain. Abnormal glucose metabolism that leads to hypoglycemia has come to be one of the strongest predictors for violent crimes. One study followed individuals for eight years, hypothesizing that decreased glucose uptake in the prefrontal cortex of the brain led to violent crimes being committed by antisocial males. Over this eight year period, researchers were able to determine that 27% of the violent crimes could be explained by the decreased glucose uptake. From this study, researchers determined that substances that increase glycogen formation and decrease the risk of hypoglycemia could act as potential treatments for impulsive violent behavior.


Labeling someone as “psycho” or “crazy” is something many people do. But, neither of those terms are diagnoses. If a person truly is “crazy,” they most likely suffer from  an antisocial personality disorder with psychotic features. Nature and nurture both play a major role in understanding what creates a psychopath. But, most importantly, there are multiple neurobiological roots that contribute to this disease. Glucose metabolism, and opiodergic neurotransmission are two that researchers know about currently. Knowing whether or not there is more that contributes to the root of psychopathy isn’t quite known but researchers hope to understand more in the future.



Antisocial Personality Disorder: Often Overlooked and Untreated

How Glucose Metabolism Works

Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

Low non-oxidative glucose metabolism and violent offending: An 8-year perspective follow-up story

Nature vs. Nurture

Neurobiological roots of psychopathy

Psychopathic Personality Traits and Environmental Contexts: Differential Correlates, Gender Differences, and Genetic Mediation

The role of the opioid system in decision making and cognitive control: A review

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