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The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscienceby Kent A Kiehl
Synopses & Reviews
A compelling journey into the science and behavior of psychopaths, written by the leading scientist in the field of criminal psychopathy.
We know of psychopaths from chilling headlines and stories in the news and movies—from Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, to Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. As Dr. Kent Kiehl shows, psychopaths can be identified by a checklist of symptoms that includes pathological lying; lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse; grandiose sense of self-worth; manipulation; and failure to accept one’s actions. But why do psychopaths behave the way they do? Is it the result of their environment— how they were raised—or is there a genetic component to their lack of conscience?
This is the question Kiehl, a protégé of famed psychopath researcher Dr. Robert Hare, was determined to answer as he began his career twenty years ago. To aid in his quest to unravel the psychopathic mind, Kiehl created the first mobile functional MRI scanner to study psychopaths in prison populations. The brains of more than five hundred psychopaths and three thousand other offenders have been scanned by Kiehl’s laboratory—the world’s largest forensic neuroscience repository of its kind. Over the course of The Psychopath Whisperer, we follow the scientific bread crumbs that Kiehl uncovered to show that the key brain structures that correspond with emotional engagement and reactions are diminished in psychopaths, offering new clues to how to predict and treat the disorder.
In The Psychopath Whisperer, Kiehl describes in fascinating detail his years working with psychopaths and studying their thought processes— from the remorseless serial killers he meets with behind bars to children whose behavior and personality traits exhibit the early warning signs of psychopathy.
Less than 1 percent of the general population meets the criteria for psychopathy. But psychopaths account for a vastly outsized proportion of violent crimes. And as Kiehl shows, many who aren’t psychopaths exhibit some of the behaviors and traits associated with the condition. What do you do if you discover your roommate, or boss, or the person you are dating has traits that define a psychopath? And what does having a diminished limbic region of the brain mean for how the legal system approaches crimes committed by psychopaths?
A compelling narrative of cutting-edge science, The Psychopath Whisperer will open your eyes on a fascinating but little understood world, with startling implications for society, the law, and our personal lives.
"In this compassionate study, Kiehl, professor of psychology, neurosciences, and law at the University of New Mexico, attempts to provide a way to understand and improve the lives of psychopaths. His opening chapter describes his first visit to a prison as a graduate student and his first encounters with psychopaths. Kiehl's goal is not to sensationalize, but rather to learn and assist; that helping psychopaths is his ultimate goal is evident in the nonjudgmental and caring manner in which he tells his stories. His pedigree also speaks volumes: he has devoted a good portion of his career to this oft-maligned population, conducting the first fMRI study (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) on imprisoned psychopaths, and has investigated treatment methods that break the traditional, detrimental modes of deterrence and defiance. He offers insights into psychopathic symptoms and diagnostic criteria, but perhaps most innovative is his focus on prisons, which house a disproportionate number of psychopaths relative to the general population. Neuroscience, Kiehl concludes, has the potential to change the judicial experience of psychopaths and our own concepts of free will. With such observations, this book may allow psychopaths to transition from a cultural spectacle to suffering individuals that might, in no small part due to efforts like Kiehl's, be able to receive help." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
KENT A. KIEHL, PhD, is an executive science officer of the nonprofit Mind Research Network and a professor of psychology, neurosciences, and law at the University of New Mexico. In addition to authoring more than 130 articles in peer-reviewed publications, Kiehl has written for Scientific American, has appeared on NPR, and was profiled by John Seabrook in The New Yorker. He currently directs five major NIH-funded projects in psychopathy and related mental illnesses. He lectures extensively to state and federal judges, lawyers, correctional officials, and lay audiences about the intersection of neuroscience and the law.
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