Why do they do it? If you’ve ever tangled with a psychopath, you’ve certainly asked yourself that question. Why do psychopaths engage in harmful and destructive behavior?
Most psychopathy researchers explain the nasty behavior of these disordered individuals in terms of deficits. They say that because psychopaths lack empathy and impulse control, they engage in antisocial behavior.
To Lovefraud author Dr. Liane Leedom, this makes no sense — it implies that if it weren’t for empathy and impulse control, everybody would be a psychopath. Deficits don’t cause behavior, she says. Motivation causes behavior.
In a chapter that she recently wrote for the book Psychopathy – New Updates on and Old Phenomenon, Dr. Leedom argues that human motivational systems are affected by psychopathy, and that’s what causes antisocial behavior.
All animals, including humans, have behavioral systems that are designed to achieve certain goals, such as survival and reproduction. These behavioral systems are rooted deeply in our biology and are reinforced through our brain reward systems.
Human beings, Dr. Leedom explains, have four social behavioral systems, and they’re all seriously affected by psychopathy.
Attachment Behavioral System
Most humans seek proximity to, and bonding with, certain special individuals, such as parents and romantic partners. This is called attachment. Many researchers say it is the attachment system that is dysfunctional in psychopaths, that they are incapable of forming long-term social ties.
Research, including Lovefraud’s research, indicates that this is not true — psychopaths can indeed form social ties, especially when they want to use people to provide their material needs. However, psychopaths do not form psychological and emotional bonds with others.
Caregiving Behavioral System
Most people feel a desire to take care of the individuals with whom they bond. Empathy is critical for caregiving, but empathy is impaired in psychopaths. Dr. Leedom says there is strong evidence that the caregiving system in psychopaths is deficient.
Dr. Leedom notes that antisocial mothers were found to show a lack of warmth towards their children, along with harsh and abusive discipline, passivity and neglect. Disordered fathers psychologically abused their children, even if they didn’t physically abuse them. “Given all the deficits in the caregiving system, it is remarkable that psychopathic persons function as parents at all,” Dr. Leedom writes.
Sexual Behavioral System
Psychopaths usually are highly active sexually, but the experience for them is also highly impersonal. Researchers have found early, frequent and coercive sex is strongly associated with psychopathy. Promiscuous sex is actually a symptom of psychopathy.
Dominance Behavioral System
In the long history of the human race, the dominance drive provided people with motivation to compete for the control of resources. In psychopaths, this drive has morphed into a power motivation.
“Dominance behavior is diagnostic of psychopathy,” Dr. Leedom writes. “Glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, and cunning/manipulative behavior comprise a dominance style that is typical of psychopathy.”
Dr. Leedom says psychopaths do form attachments, but they connect with other people in order to meet their material and psychological needs.
When psychopaths engage in antisocial behavior, it is because of their excessive and aberrant dominance responses, an absent or highly disordered caregiving system, and a sexual system in which they do not bond with their partners.
In the end, Dr. Leedom says, it’s not psychopathic deficiencies, but their skewed motivations, that cause their destructive behavior.
To read Dr. Leedom’s full paper, click the link below:
Psychopathy: A Behavioral Systems Approach, on IntechOpen.com