The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience

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Overview

A compelling journey into the science and behavior of psychopaths, written by the leading scientist in the field of criminal psychopathy.

We know of psychopaths from chilling headlines and stories in the news and movies—from Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, to Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. As Dr. Kent Kiehl shows, psychopaths can be identified by a checklist of symptoms that includes pathological lying; lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse; grandiose sense of self-worth; ...

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The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience

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Overview

A compelling journey into the science and behavior of psychopaths, written by the leading scientist in the field of criminal psychopathy.

We know of psychopaths from chilling headlines and stories in the news and movies—from Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, to Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. As Dr. Kent Kiehl shows, psychopaths can be identified by a checklist of symptoms that includes pathological lying; lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse; grandiose sense of self-worth; manipulation; and failure to accept one’s actions. But why do psychopaths behave the way they do? Is it the result of their environment— how they were raised—or is there a genetic compo­nent to their lack of conscience?

This is the question Kiehl, a protégé of famed psychopath researcher Dr. Robert Hare, was deter­mined to answer as he began his career twenty years ago. To aid in his quest to unravel the psy­chopathic mind, Kiehl created the first mobile functional MRI scanner to study psychopaths in prison populations. The brains of more than five hundred psychopaths and three thousand other offenders have been scanned by Kiehl’s labora­tory—the world’s largest forensic neuroscience repository of its kind. Over the course of The Psy­chopath Whisperer, we follow the scientific bread crumbs that Kiehl uncovered to show that the key brain structures that correspond with emotional engagement and reactions are diminished in psy­chopaths, offering new clues to how to predict and treat the disorder.

In The Psychopath Whisperer, Kiehl describes in fascinating detail his years working with psy­chopaths and studying their thought processes— from the remorseless serial killers he meets with behind bars to children whose behavior and per­sonality traits exhibit the early warning signs of psychopathy.

Less than 1 percent of the general population meets the criteria for psychopathy. But psycho­paths account for a vastly outsized proportion of violent crimes. And as Kiehl shows, many who aren’t psychopaths exhibit some of the behaviors and traits associated with the condition. What do you do if you discover your roommate, or boss, or the person you are dating has traits that define a psy­chopath? And what does having a diminished limbic region of the brain mean for how the legal system approaches crimes committed by psychopaths?

A compelling narrative of cutting-edge science, The Psychopath Whisperer will open your eyes on a fascinating but little understood world, with startling implications for society, the law, and our personal lives.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

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Psychopaths are now the rage. In fact, these conscienceless men and women are so popular in fiction and films that websites now compile lists of style-setting film and TV psychopaths. These pop culture portrayals grip us, but what are real psychopaths really like? To find out, young Dr. Kent Kiehl has gone where few other cognitive neuroscientists have gone before: into prisons to interview and test criminal psychopaths. What he discovered about these creatures who lack empathy or remorse is far more interesting than even the latest episode of Dexter—and far more relevant to your life. (P.S. The John Seabrook New Yorker profile of Kiehl mentions that the average psychopath will be convicted of four violent crimes by the age of forty, yet this major malady receives just one one-hundredth of the research funds of schizophrenia.)

Publishers Weekly
03/24/2014
In this compassionate study, Kiehl, professor of psychology, neurosciences, and law at the University of New Mexico, attempts to provide a way to understand and improve the lives of psychopaths. His opening chapter describes his first visit to a prison as a graduate student and his first encounters with psychopaths. Kiehl’s goal is not to sensationalize, but rather to learn and assist; that helping psychopaths is his ultimate goal is evident in the nonjudgmental and caring manner in which he tells his stories. His pedigree also speaks volumes: he has devoted a good portion of his career to this oft-maligned population, conducting the first fMRI study (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) on imprisoned psychopaths, and has investigated treatment methods that break the traditional, detrimental modes of deterrence and defiance. He offers insights into psychopathic symptoms and diagnostic criteria, but perhaps most innovative is his focus on prisons, which house a disproportionate number of psychopaths relative to the general population. Neuroscience, Kiehl concludes, has the potential to change the judicial experience of psychopaths and our own concepts of free will. With such observations, this book may allow psychopaths to transition from a cultural spectacle to suffering individuals that might, in no small part due to efforts like Kiehl’s, be able to receive help. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-16
A world-renowned researcher of psychopaths delves into the origins of their behavior, especially as they relate to the inner workings of the brain. Psychopaths are at once terrifying and magnetic. Marked by an absence of empathy or remorse and possessing a seemingly insatiable appetite for criminal activity, the "psycho" has long been a recurring subject in fictional and true-life media. But until recently, little was understood about what made these offenders tick. Kiehl (Neuroscience, Psychology, and Law/Univ. of New Mexico) spent decades investigating the psychological and neurochemical makeup of psychopaths. He was a pioneer in using MRI machines to scan the brains of imprisoned psychopaths and also worked with Dr. Robert Hare, the inventor of the Psychopathy Checklist, an important tool used in psychological diagnostics. By scanning and analyzing the brains of hundreds of people who met the psychological criteria for psychopathy, most of them prison inmates, the author discovered that a majority displayed a significant abnormality in the same exact region of the brain—a huge breakthrough. Kiehl writes about the cutting-edge science involved in his research using relatable language and visual data, and he weaves several fascinating case studies throughout the technical discussion, giving readers a close look at how locating different electrical impulses in the brain can provide a more nuanced understanding of psychopathic behaviors. He reveals that one in four inmates in maximum security prisons is a psychopath, a number that lends urgency to his research but that also raises complicated moral and legal questions. For example, if a teenager displaying troubling behavior patterns produces a brain scan that matches the abnormalities clinically associated with psychopaths, should any action be taken? Alternatively, if a psychopath is on trial for murder, should these abnormal brain scans be considered evidence? Kiehl navigates these issues and more with compassion and insight. Fast-paced and thrilling.
From the Publisher
“A world-renowned researcher of psychopaths delves into the origins of their behavior, especially as it relates to the inner workings of the brain...Navigates these issues and more with compassion and insight. Fast-paced and thrilling.” -Kirkus Reviews

"In this compassionate study, Kiehl, professor of psychology, neurosciences, and law at the University of New Mexico, attempts to provide a way to understand and improve the lives of psychopaths...Kiehl's goal is not to sensationalize, but rather to learn and assist...His pedigree speaks volumes: he has devoted a good portion of his career to this oft-maligned population." -Publishers Weekly

"A renowned neuroscientist provides us with a fascinating account of his personal journey into the mind of the psychopath." –Robert D. Hare, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia, author of Without Conscience
 
“A lucid and closely observed portrait of what psychopaths are actually like, with their chilling combination of moral apathy and charm, by one of the leading researchers and innovators in the field.  A Fascinating and terrifying book, and a potential life saver.” –John Seabrook, The New Yorker
 
“A must read! Dr. Kiehl’s stories about psychopaths are as authentic as can be. I found Dr. Kiehl’s research formed the backbone of my work in analyzing the behavioral signature of a psychopath left behind at the crime scene.  Whether you work in mental health, law enforcement, the judiciary or research, don’t trust your gut about this disorder– learn about it from one of the foremost experts in the field.” –Mary Ellen O’Toole, Special Agent (retired), Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
 
"Highly engaging and personal perspective from a world leading scientist in the field of psychopathy research. What sets this book apart is the combination of an accessible overview of the cutting edge science and compelling and authentic portrayal of what individuals with psychopathy are really like." - Essi Viding, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, University College London
 
"By primates standards, humans are intensely social, affiliative, and empathic.   Thus, we are fascinated with the rare individuals who lack those traits, who have a reptilian indifference to what makes humans humane.  Criminal psychopaths are the iconic example of such terrifyingly broken humans.  In this superb book written by one of the pioneers in this field, Kent Kiehl explores what is different about the brains of psychopaths.  This is a clear, accessible account of the science and, in addition, an appealing personal story of how Kiehl has gone about his unique science." –Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Stanford University
 
“An exhilarating exploration into the lives, minds and emotions of criminal psychopaths by one of the leading researchers in the field. This lively and engaging narrative not only educates the reader on the internal machinations of the psychopath, but also takes us through Kiehl’s own life journey of scientific discovery. It’s an irresistible read that is hard to put down.  Even after decades of my own research I found myself learning new perspectives on the psychopath. Serious, witty, saddening and beguiling, The Psychopath Whisperer yells out as a “must read” for anyone interested in those without conscience.” –Adrian Raine, Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
 
“The fascinating story of how Kent Kiehl, a remarkably energetic and accomplished scientist, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a mobile brain scanner to examine the brains of more psychopathic prisoners than anyone in the world and characterize their dysfunction. Filled with entertaining anecdotes of psychopaths in prison, research collaborations, and scientific discovery, the book discusses the ramifications of his finding to the criminal system and to the treatment of psychopathic juvenile delinquents. An eye-opening read!” - Dr. Joseph Newman, Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780770435844
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 86,862
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

KENT A. KIEHL, PhD, is an executive science offi­cer of the nonprofit Mind Research Network and a professor of psychology, neurosciences, and law at the University of New Mexico. In addition to authoring more than 130 articles in peer-reviewed publications, Kiehl has writ­ten for Scientific American, has appeared on NPR, and was profiled by John Seabrook in The New Yorker. He currently directs five major NIH-funded projects in psychopathy and related mental illnesses. He lectures extensively to state and federal judges, lawyers, cor­rectional officials, and lay audiences about the inter­section of neuroscience and the law.

From the Hardcover edition.

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