London: A new study has found that psychopaths do not lack empathy, but fail to use it when its required.
A brain imaging study in the Netherlands showed that individuals with psychopathy have reduced empathy while witnessing the pains of others.
When asked to empathize, however, they can activate their empathy.
This could explain why psychopathic individuals can be callous and socially cunning at the same time.
Individuals with psychopathy characteristically demonstrate reduced empathy with the feelings of others, which may explain why it is easier for them to hurt other people.
However, what causes this lack of empathy is poorly understood, as scientific studies on psychopathic subjects are notoriously hard to conduct.
"Convicted criminals with a diagnosis of psychopathy are confined to high-security forensic institutions in which state-of-the-art technology to study their brain, like magnetic resonance imaging, is usually unavailable," Professor Christian Keysers, Head of the Social Brain Lab in Amsterdam, and senior author of the study, said.
"Bringing them to scientific research centres, on the other hand, requires the kind of high-security transportation that most judicial systems are unwilling to finance," he said.
The study is published in the Journal Brain.