Doctoral Researcher Ahmad Abu-Akel (pictured right) has had his paper accepted by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. He has conducted research into the effect on metacognition, of comorbid psychopathy in schizophrenic patients with a history of criminal offending.

Ahmad Abu-Akel

The findings from the current study provide the first insight into a group of patients that so far has been dubbed ‘unrecognized subtype of schizophrenia’. 

Metacognition refers to the ability to monitor and control cognitive processes involved in reflection on one’s thoughts and learning. It has been linked to violent tendencies in both schizophrenia and psychopathy, but for different reasons. On the one hand, schizophrenia is associated with deficits in metacognition. It has been suggested that these deficits may contribute to violence, as they may lead to the misperception of other’s intentions as threatening. In contrast, metacognition appears intact in psychopathy, which may enable psychopaths to understand how to manipulate and extort their victims. This poses a conundrum as to how these contrasting metacognitive profiles can co-exist in the same individual.

By assessing both psychopathy and metacognition in a group of schizophrenia patients with a history of criminal offending, the study identified a subgroup of patients with extreme psychopathy in whom metacognition is relatively intact. Nonetheless, the Mastery domain of metacognition, which refers to the ability to use one’s own mental states to solve social and psychological dilemmas, appears dysfunctional. The results suggest that the relative preservation of metacognitive abilities in schizophrenic patients with extreme levels of psychopathy may contribute to their offending behavior as it may enable them to understand how to manipulate and extort their victims. However, enhancing the Mastery domain of metacognition in these patients may attenuate this offending behavior.

Abu-Akel, A., Heinke, D., Gillespie, S., Mitchell, I., Bo, S. (In press, 2015). Metacognitive impairments in schizophrenia are arrested at extreme levels of psychopathy: The cut-off effect. Journal of Abnormal Psychology.