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Playing Games in Prison May Reveal Roots of Psychopathy
Date:6/3/2010

The way psychopathic prisoners play certain games bears an uncanny resemblance to the patterns shown by people with damage to a particular part of the brain, according to an intriguing set of experiments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Madison, Wis. (Vocus) June 2, 2010 -- The way psychopathic prisoners play certain games bears an uncanny resemblance to the patterns shown by people with damage to a particular part of the brain, according to an intriguing set of experiments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The experiments, published in the June issue of Neuropsychologia, show that psychopaths’ decisions mirror those of patients with known damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC,) the part of the brain responsible for sentiments such as empathy and guilt.

Perhaps not surprisingly, psychopaths in prison play economic decision-making games with a distinct style.

“They’re quick to anger, and they don’t regret their bad treatment of others,” says Michael Koenigs, assistant professor of psychiatry in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“There are interesting parallels between psychopaths and our ventromedial prefrontal cortex patients,” says Koenigs. “This is an important hint that the vmPFC may be involved in the development of psychopathy.”

In their experiment, UW-Madison psychology Professor Joseph Newman and Koenigs had 47 inmates in a Wisconsin prison play two economic decision-making games. The prisoners played for the chance to win money they could exchange for items such as shamp
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