Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

    UA researchers study psychopathy and criminal behavior


    The thought processes of criminals and the severely mentally ill is at the forefront of contemporary psychological research. What makes these individuals behave in atypical ways? What can we do to predict, prevent and better treat individuals to make them fit for society again? What kind of characteristics are they displaying early on? These are just some of the questions asked by two University of Alabama graduate researchers, Adam Coffey and Maz Mulla.

    The focus of their study is analyzing the brain patterns of individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is known in the popular vernacular as psychopathy. Coffey and Mulla are attempting to find which brainwaves are involved in psychopathic characteristics, using an electroencephalogram or EEG. This machine gauges the electrical impulses in the brain when exposed to various stimuli to find out what areas of the brain are implicated in psychopathic characteristics like impulsivity and recklessness. 

    How do you gather this research demographic? As a part of juvenile delinquent court sanctions for a broad spectrum of crimes, these kids (ages 12-17) must participate in this 9-week treatment program and they have the option to participate in a study headed by Randy Salekin and Andrea Glenn.

    “The study also offers a therapeutic element to help the misbehaved child to better cope with his/her circumstances along with the EEG measurement. The aim is promote enjoyment and an objective distinction between positive and negative emotions.” Coffey said.

    The goal of the program is to make patients be able to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive thoughts, and then let go of the bad thoughts and cultivate the good. 

    “It’s a progressive movement from the norm of punishment to societal rehabilitation by providing social tools,” Mulla said.

    Establishing empathy is also important. A lot of the children in the study are so single-minded, they do not understand that they are hurting people. Their mother’s cries and inquiries are met with blank stares and “I don’t know’s.”

    So what exactly are the symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder? They include a measure of deviance, lack of regard, and reckless decision-making. Those with the disorder crave danger and are sometimes emotionally unstable. They have an extreme self-sense of grandiosity and have a higher threshold for sensation.

    Some are social chameleons and some are social rejects, often-pathological liars. They are very reactive to stimuli. They don’t think, they just do, and they can often be unpredictable.

    Researchers Jenny Cox and Meghan Kopkin had patients take questionnaires to gauge their psychopathic characteristics. They then asked the people who scored higher on the psychopathy test about their life choices and how they feel about the aspects of their life, like any crime or deviance and drug/alcohol abuse.

    “We found that some psychopathic traits predict parenting styles, while others predict involvement in drug/alcohol use and other deviant acts,” Coffey said.

    They considered themselves to have a superior understanding of how people work and what they want to hear. This research provides a showcase of what mild, functional psychopathy looks like that makes them able to thrive in society.

    “The focus is to make individuals who are in jail functional members of society again and to move away from the conventional wisdom of punishment and move toward a more rehabilitative approach,” Coffey said.

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