Thursday, 5 April 2012

Can Psychos Enjoy Romance Novels?

This question was inspired by part of a speech given to our ORWA group this month.  I don’t remember the exact words but the gist of it was: everyone, with the possible exception of sociopaths, enjoys romance to one degree or another.

So this got me thinking, do sociopaths enjoy romance novels or would they see them as examples of tools to manipulate people?

It’s an interesting question.  MRIs show that when sociopaths talk about emotions, they use the language part of their brain rather than the feeling part.  It’s actually part of the diagnostic criteria for declaring someone a sociopath, I believe.  The implication is that they don’t actually feel the emotions but react intellectually to emotional situations.  (Side note, it would be really interesting to do a comparison study of actors playing a part.  Do their emotion centers light up or would it be more language?)

If you’ve never experienced love, would you enjoy a vicarious portrayal of it?  Do you need to be able to relate to something in order to enjoy it?  If they did get something out of it, could it help to moderate less social impulses?  A sort of physiotherapy for the heart.  Or maybe a prosthetic would be a better analogy.

There’s lots of interesting evidence that having the brain chemistry of a sociopath does not mean you end up becoming a sociopath.  One particular researcher discovered he had the same brain patterns as the serial killers he was studying.  But he was raised in a compassionate, caring home and had a loving wife and children of his own.  So clearly he felt emotions.  If one takes his research as a given, then you need both predisposition and environment  to get a sociopath.

Looking at it that way, there might be something to the theory that exposure to empathy in various creative forms (TV, movies, books, music) might actually be able to help.  It suggests that even psychopaths are born with a kernel of empathy, one which could be squashed or nurtured by those around them.  The time to do it is obviously in childhood and adolescence.  Adults are generally set in their ways and it’s rare to get a real change in personality and patterns without extensive professional help and effort.

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