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February 21, 2024

Difficulty with smelling linked to psychopathy

By Alice Hung | October 4, 2012

Ever wonder if there’s a good way to identify psychopaths? A recent study by scientists from Macquarie University in Australia suggests that those with psychopathic traits may also have an impaired sense of smell.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized using four factors: interpersonal, affective, lifestyle and antisocial. Those with psychopathic tendencies tend to be highly manipulative and proficient liars. Emotionally, psychopaths have trouble feeling guilt. This may be due to the fact that they lack empathy.

In terms of lifestyle, psychopaths don’t have long-term goals and are generally impulsive. They often seek highly stimulating activities. Additionally, psychopaths show many behavioral problems very early in childhood. Junior delinquency is a common problem, and this often leads straight toward a life of criminal actions.

Biologically, psychopaths are shown to have impairment in the frontal lobe. Considering that this area of the cerebral cortex is responsible for impulse control, long-term planning, and complex thought, it makes sense that malfunction in this area is correlated with the traits characteristic of psychopathy.

Located at the base of the frontal lobe are the olfactory bulbs. It is no surprise that general impairment of the front part of the brain affects the olfactory bulbs. The recent study shows that psychopaths have an impaired sense of smell.

The researchers, Mehmet Mahmut and Richard Stevenson, performed the correlational study on 79 adults. They measured the sensitivity of participants’ smell and correlated that with the four measures of psychopathy: interpersonal relationships, emotional capacity, lifestyle choices and behavioral tendencies.

The results indicated that those who show more psychopathic traits also had trouble with identifying and differentiating between smells. This suggests that the olfactory system is impaired in those who show psychopathic tendencies.

This potential marker may help diagnose psychopathy. Olfactory performance expectations are difficult to predict, thereby making it hard for subjects to fake responses. The objectivity in responses renders this correlation a promising method of identifying psychopaths.

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