Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Psychopath and a question of Micheal Sandel

So, I must write about the conference I attended in Belgium.

It was the European Congress on Violence in Clinical Psychiatry. It focused on the violence of the patients with mental disorders. In addition, I noticed that several speakers mentioned the issue about seclusion and restraint in clinical settings. They are also quite important topics.

I was impressed with a certain presentation. The speaker explained about psychopathy.
Psychopathy is a trait with which a person tends to commit a crime. A psychopath feels no mercy or guilt when he acts violently toward others. It is difficult for them to exist within the confines of the law. In some countries, long term imprisonment has been adopted for psychopaths.

Understanding the mind of psychopaths is a big challenge. In ancient times, research focused on the skull of the psychopaths was performed, but results were inconclusive. Recent research through brain imaging revealed that psychopathic patients displayed some functional abnormalities. However, these topics are still taboo in Japan. It is considered that research regarding criminal behavior can cause stigma for such persons. However, globally scientists are eager to determine the essence of human behaviors.

The speaker made a reference to "question of railcar accident". This dialogue, introduced by Michael Sandel, a professor of Harvard University, has become quite popular.

The story goes something like this: There is a railway. A gigantic train is approaching fast. There are five persons on the rail. If you do nothing, the five persons would be killed by the train. You can switch the course of the train. If you do so, the train will kill another person, instead of the five. What should you do?

Prof. Sandel presents this question as an ethical issue.
Actually, my first encounter with this allegory was in a book titled  is "Logic paradox", written by Toshihiko Miura, a Japanese logician. In his book, he presents this question to teach the readers about logical thinking.

The speaker used this allegory to his research. He gave them psychopaths this question and evaluate the brain activity when they contemplated this question.

His findings were that, the amygdala of psychopaths is not so activated in comparison to control.

The amygdala is known as a region of the brain that regulates the human emotion. From these results, the speaker suggested that psychopaths had a tendency not to be stimulated by this kind of unhappy thought.

I was so impressed that the speaker used this allegory in presenting his material.

This story is useful for research about ethics, logic, and physiology. It is a good example of the integration of science.

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