As is the case with virtually all psychopathological conditions, psychopathy appears to be the result of an interplay between nature (genetics) and nurture (environment). However, with psychopathy, it appears that nature is the more significant contributor. A number of large scale studies have demonstrated that the heritability of psychopathy appears to be over 50%. There has been much less success in identifying environmental factors. A number of different types of childhood maltreatment have been investigated but, so far, no direct link to psychopathy has been found.
Thus, psychopathy appears to be, to a significant degree, a condition “of the blood’. That something contributing significantly to psychopathy is inherited has been proven. But what is that something?
A different brain is the short answer. There is accumulating evidence that the brains of psychopaths are different; and different in a way that lines up with the three core traits of psychopathy – remorselessness, lack of empathy, and impulsivity. Psychopaths display abnormalities in the limbic area, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. These are areas of the brain that are associated with the capacity to have feelings of guilt and shame; the ability to empathize with others; and the capacity to modulate impulses.
It is difficult for one to overcome the burden of these neurobiological deficits. It appears that a very small percentage of us are born with a predisposition that is antithetical to much of what we associate with being human.