Joker in 'The Dark Knight'






You must have seen a lot of psycho movies and must have especially enjoyed the performance of the Joker in movie 'The Dark Knight' and Postman in movie 'Sangharsh'. But have you ever thought about a psychopath in real life. Let me tell you that in real life, their company can be anything but enjoyable. Let us try to understand what is a psychopath and why a person become a psychopath.

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is one of the 10 personality disorders included in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Individual with ASPD is also called as psychopath, sociopath, dyssocial, etc. It is paradoxical that ASPD is included in severe personality dosorders because a psychopathic individual lives a stimulating, enjoyable life free from any burden of social responsibility. However it is a severe personality disorder for the clinician for it is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat. 

Individuals with ASPD are characterized by early behavioral problems (begin before age of 12 years), weak or lack of conscience (conscience tells us about don't do's), lack of anxiety, remorse or guilt, impulsivity (frequently change sexual partners, employment, residence), poor behavioral control (easily angered and frustrated) and  lack of empathy (indifferent to feelings or suffering of others). They can't delay gratification and have short term objectives oriented towards getting pleasure. They are deceitful and often appear as innocent and charming. They become 'con artists' and can fool their victims including inexperienced therapists. They seek to overpower others to satisfy their sexual desires or economic needs. They don't learn from punishments and continue to engage in antisocial acts again and again. They are irresponsible and incapable to maintain enduring relationships. Their relationships are characterized by deceit and manipulation. They move through society as predators with little attention to consequences of their actions. They rationalise their actions by dismissing their victims as weak, stupid and unwary. Some famous examples of ASPD are Charles Shobhraj and Natwarlal (Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava). 

Some experts believe ASPD should not be classified as a mental disorder because it appears to excuse immoral, unethical and illegal behavior. 

Why an individual develop antisocial personality? What are the causal factors behind the disorder?

Studies suggest that both genetic and environmental factors are responsible for development of ASPD. But how lack of conscience can be genetically inherited? Researchers argue that psychopaths display relative absence of guilt and anxiety which might be due to some dysfunction in brain structures that govern emotional arousal and anxiety responses. Due to brain structure dysfunction, psychopaths consistently remain in underaroused state which result in three consequences. First, due to underarousal, they don't become anxious, or feel guilt. Second, they don't learn from punishment because there is no guilt. Third, due to underarousal they have a great drive for arousal in the form of pleasure, excitement and they seek instant pleasure, excitement and gratification. 

But a genetic predisposition may not be sufficient to produce criminal behavior. Studies have suggested that environment variables also contribute to development of ASPD. Some environmental variables associated with the disorder are indiscriminate and aversive parenting, harsh or neglectful parenting, parental conflict, antisocial parents, delinquent siblings, low socioeconomic status, economic deprivation, low IQ, etc. 

Psychodynamic theorists suggest that conscience develops due to development of supergo (part of person's mind that act as self critical conscience and police what it deems as unacceptable desires) during childhood. Superego develops in childhood by identification with parent of same sex (eg. son with father). But if parent is not available or psychological distance with parent is too much, then there are problems in developing a strong superego which result in lack of conscience.

ASPD may be considered as an unfortunate result of variety of genetic and psychosocial variables. 

ASPD is highly unresponsive to any form of treatment. However there are medicines that are effective in treating some symptoms of disorder but non compliance prevents their widespread use. Most successful treatment programs are incentive based long term structured residential settings in which patient earns privileges as he modifies his behavior. However it is very unlikely that they would maintain their good behaviour once they leave the disciplined environment.

Psychotherapy is rarely if ever effective. Many persons with ASPD learn to use therapy sessions to their advantage by manipulation and deceit.

ASPD usually follow a unremitting course from childhood to adult life. There is some evidence that suggest that more aggressive symptoms of the disorder occur less frequently in older patients. 

Whether you consider them mentally ill or remorseless criminals, they are very dangerous to people in their surroundings and society at large. Therefore, preventive measures should be taken in early childhood by showing empathy to them and educating them about responsible and prosocial behavior.




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3 Responses so far.

  1. really interesting article....

  2. Miku says:

    Informative. But pics are scary :\

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