The Atlantic

How Psychopaths See the World

It’s not that they can’t consider other people’s perspectives. It’s that they don’t do so automatically.
Source: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock / The Atlantic

It’s a rare person who goes out of their way to spend time with psychopaths, and a rarer one still who repeatedly calls a prison to do so. But after more than a year of meetings and negotiation, Arielle Baskin-Sommers from Yale University finally persuaded a maximum-security prison in Connecticut to let her work with their inmates, and to study those with psychopathic tendencies.

Psychopaths, by definition, have problems understanding the emotions of other people, which partly explains why they are so selfish, why they so callously disregard the welfare of others, and why they commit violent crimes at up to three times the rate of other people.

But curiously, they seem to have no difficulty in understanding what other people think, want, or believe—the skill variously known as perspective-taking, mentalizing, or theory of mind. “Their behavior seems to suggest that and are asked to explicitly say what a character is thinking, they can.

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