Steven Gillespie (University of Birmingham, pictured top), Joseph McCleery (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, pictured middle) and Lindsay Oberman (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, pictured bottom) have recently had a letter published in the journal Brain, commenting on differences in empathic functioning between individuals with psychopathy and autism.
The letter was written as a reply to a recent paper by Meffert and colleagues (2013), which showed abnormal functioning in brain regions involved in vicarious emotional experience among psychopaths while viewing video clips of two hands interacting. In their letter, as well as discussing the ways in which these results add to existing knowledge on empathy deficits in psychopathy, they also highlight findings from a similar line of research in individuals with autism.
They conclude that while activation of the empathy system in autism seems to be dependent upon personal familiarity, and may explain their socially aloof phenotype, psychopaths may show a complete failure of empathy. These predictions may account for an increased propensity for instrumental and goal directed acts of aggression in psychopathic individuals. Based on these hypotheses and related findings, the team also discuss potential avenues for psychotherapeutic intervention among individuals with psychopathy and autism. A reply to their letter, from the authors of the original paper, was also published in the same journal (Keysers et al., 2014).
Gillespie, S. M., McCleery, J. P., & Oberman, L. M. (2014). Spontaneous versus deliberate vicarious representations: different routes to empathy in psychopathy and autism. Brain.
Keysers, C., Meffert, H., & Gazzola, V. (2014). Reply: Spontaneous versus deliberate vicarious representations: different routes to empathy in psychopathy and autism. Brain.
Meffert, H., Gazzola, V., den Boer, J. A., Bartels, A. A., & Keysers, C. (2013). Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy. Brain, 136, 2550-2562.