Expert: Psychopaths Can’t Access Emotions Because Brains Differ


In the second in a series, National Public Radio describes the work of Kent Kiehl, one of the world’s leading investigators of psychopathy and a professor at the University of New Mexico. He scores their pathology on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which measures traits such as the inability to feel empathy or remorse, pathological lying, or impulsivity. “The scores range from zero to 40,” Kiehl explains. “The average person in the community, a male, will score about 4 or 5. Your average inmate will score about 22. An individual with psychopathy is typically described as 30 or above. Brian scored 38.5 basically. He was in the 99th percentile.”

“Brian” is Brian Dugan, who is serving two life sentences. Last July, he pleaded guilty to raping and murdering 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, and he was put on trial to determine whether he should be executed. Kiehl was hired by the defense to do a psychiatric evaluation. Kiehl says people like Dugan cannot access their emotions because their physical brains are different. He believes he has the brain scans to prove it. Kiehl uses a $2 million mobile MRI provided by the Mind Research Network at the University of New Mexico. He transports it to maximum-security prisons around the state, and over the past few years, he has scanned the brains of more than 1,100 inmates, about 20 percent of whom are psychopaths.

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