“They’re not simply insensitive to punishment – no, there’s a very different organisation of their reinforcement learning system. The prefrontal cortex processes punishment very differently in the psychopathic brain”
Punishment. What is it? Do we need it? Probably. I believe it’s the main way in which humans learn to be human. Not just learn, but it’s the way in which society is able to program us effortlessly. Punishment is an amazingly efficient way in making sure everything works how it should within a population. To fully understand this concept we must reshape our mental framework of what ‘punishment’ is.
You see, the brain doesn’t know how it should act or react to things – it just does. It’s untamed, it reacts impulsively, it simply aims to avoid discomfort and seek out comfort. After all, as living organisms we are programmed simply to survive and procreate. As a society however, our species has moved far beyond this repetitive task. With a completely new way of living, this brain is quite maladapted to modern day civilisation which is where our emotional system comes into play.
Our emotions allow us to do many things. They allow us to feel joy, sadness, love, hate, even empathise. They allow us to attach meaning and significance to other people and even animals or places. You don’t realise it, but emotion is tied to everything. Even your phone, your car, the house you live in, the old friends who are no longer in your life, your hobbies, your wallet, your keys, your sense of worth and identity, every single life event that has ever occurred in your life is all attached to emotions. The fact is that every meaningless and life changing second of your life is somehow and in some way tied to emotions.
This all may seem obvious at first, but the impact of having emotions tied to everything is the very essence of how you act, learn, treat others, love, lust, and live. It drives you. These emotional ‘tabs’ attached to every little event are what condition your brain. It’s these very emotions which latch onto every experience. The fact is, most of the emotions which your brain registers happens on the subconscious. That’s not because you are unaware of how you feel, it’s because the brain uses every piece of information which it receives, and your conscious-self registers things which usually only matter in your social life, or other ‘surface level’ issues. The brain however is concerned with its survival, and so every negative emotion is coded as a threat, while positive emotions are wired to be desired or craved.
Whether you consciously register them or not, your brain is hit with thousands of emotional stimuli per day. Each emotion either reinforcing or creating pathways in your brain, helping you adapt. These emotions help you truly learn right from wrong, moral from immoral, bad from good. They reinforce social norms, expectations, and rules. They help you become empathic and good-hearted, or kind and loving. They give all the instructions needed for the brain to not only know how to survive, but also they correctly wire the brain to act accordingly.
So how about the antisocial brain? Because it isn’t just empathy we don’t feel. Or at least not for me, because generally I’d say I don’t feel much at all. Usually we focus on the lack of empathy in antisocial’s, because that’s the one thing that impacts on others the most – The antisocial brain doesn’t understand that some things are wrong to do, because it has no emotion latching onto the experiene. Nothing to tell it “hey look! You really hurt someone, they’re really upset now, and this is very bad! Let’s avoid this next time around”.
One of the main functions of every brain is to continually maintain a comfortable internal environment. It doesn’t care for social norms or expectations or rules. The brain simply follows its needs. For the brain to truly make empathetic, safe, respectable, lawful, and moral choices, emotions much attach themselves to almost every experience. Emotions in a way act like a type software to help program the computer which is your brain.