Recent research showing that the emotional circuitry in some adults’ brains is similar to children’s may explain Anders Breivik’s ability to justify his slaughter of 77 fellow Norwegians.
According to a recent ABC Science online article, a neuroimaging study by behavioural scientist Professor Vinod Menon and colleagues at Stanford University looked at how emotional circuitry develops in the brain and found evidence that anxiety in adults can result from specific parts of the amygdala remaining like those of a child.
The study was published on April 30th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. As the ABC Science article notes, it emphasizes the pivotal role of the amygdala “in perception, control over emotion, expression of anxiety and responding to threats.”
Menon and his associates wanted to see how the amygdala developed from childhood to adulthood. He said “We wanted to map out the developmental trajectory of these emotion-related circuits,".
The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study neuronal connections in the brains of 24 healthy children (aged 7 to 9) which they compared with connections in the brains of 24 healthy adults (aged 19 to 22).
A document supporting their findings notes that “Participants reported no history of neurological or psychiatric diseases, and no current use of any medication or recreational drugs.”
Note that Breivik believes that his mind is perfectly sound and all evidence gathered about him so far suggests that he was not an abuser of any mind-altering substances – legal or illegal.
The research focuses on neural activity in two sub-units of the amygdala which are known to play distinctly different roles in healthy adults: the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and the centromedial amygdala (CMA).
The CMA controls the rapid expression of fear responses, such as freezing, while the BLA plays a critical role in our understanding of, and response to, emotional stimuli such as threats.
Breivik, it will be noted, justifies the mass murder he committed – albeit “regretfully” – as a legitimate or necessary response to his fear over the possible consequences of Norway’s growing multiculturalism, in general, and liberal Norwegians toleration of Islam, in particular.
According to ABC Science, the Stanford scientists found that “in the healthy adults, the CMA and BLA were distinct units, whose circuits were segregated, but this was not the case in children.”
"In the children there was strong overlap between brain circuits that are supposed to be distinct," says Menon.
The article says this may explain why children have particular difficulty regulating their emotions and are prone to tantrums. And it notes that the same brain pattern is also seen in adults with anxiety.
"In adults with general anxiety disorder we've shown there is greater cross talk between these circuits," Menon is quoted as saying.
According to ABC Science he said “this network cross talk would make it harder for someone to evaluate a threat and make a calculated and reasoned response to it.”
Therefore they might freeze or behave irrationally in response to fear, he said.
The key question, according to him is: "At what age do (sic) these networks start to get segregated?"
The researchers suggest that reconfiguration of these networks may underlie the development of complex emotional responses during adolescence.
Menon and his colleagues research may justify a conclusion that the far right extremist Breivik is not insane – consistent with the killer’s own assertion – but rather mentally and emotionally retarded.
Presumably, Breivik is unlikely to embrace this conclusion himself. But his rejection of the view may be its primary recommendation.
One who justifies the cowardly murder of unarmed adolescents and other innocents as an act of patriotic valour is surely lost in a realm of contradictions: such persons clearly have their wires crossed.
Forensic Psychologist Kerry Daynes, author of “The Devil You Know” (TDYK) would probably agree with this assessment of Breivik.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning earlier today about TDYK, Daynes noted that a psychopath is not a mentally insane person.
And according to promotional material for TDYK, “There is a continuum of psychopathy measured by a diagnostic checklist of behaviour known as Hare's Psychopathy Checklist. The scale ranges from 0 to 40 and anyone who measures 25 or over is classified as a psychopath.”
“An astonishing 3% of the general population fall into this category.” it continues.
Perhaps this statistic may hint at the affinity Breivik felt with far right extremists in British society.
In her ITV interview today, Daynes suggested that persons in the media, politics and big business are probably more likely to be psychopaths than other members of society. These people tend to think of themselves as being special, she noted.
In subsequent articles in this series, here and on the Intelek International website (www.intelek.net) I propose to submit , Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell, Diane Abbott, , Teresa May, Barak Obama, Mitt Romney, , Osama Bin Ladin, Muammar Gaddafi, and others (including late Barbadian Prime Minister David Thompson, Pan Africanist David Comissiong and several other simultaneously gifted and cursed Caribbean citizens) to Hare’s psychopathy checklist.
Followers of my articles here will know that I have been doing essentially the same thing in my Allvoices posts for some time now.
In addition to all of the names mentioned above, possible psychopaths I have featured here include Young Urbanites founder Junior Johnson, his and my psychiatrist “love-interest” Dr. Allison Cape and our fellow social cohesion practitioner Amalia Hendricks, founder of Rainbow Nations.
It perhaps goes without saying – but best I say it anyway – I would not consider embarking upon a project like this without considering applying Hare’s checklist to myself.
To do otherwise would be both childish and churlish, wouldn't it?