A new study published in the journal Brain suggests that contrary to popular perception, psychopathic criminals could feel empathy but are able to switch it on and off according to their will.
Researchers led by Christian Keysers from the University of Groningen in Holland asked a group of psychopathic criminals to watch a video in which one person hurting another.
They were then asked to empathize with the individual in pain while the researchers analyzed their brains. When asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt, the researchers found that the area of the brain related to pain showed activity.
"The predominant notion had been that they are callous individuals, unable to feel emotions themselves and therefore unable to feel emotions in others. Our work shows it's not that simple. They don't lack empathy but they have a switch to turn it on and off. By default, it seems to be off. Now that we've shown they have empathy - even if only in certain conditions - we can give therapists something to work with", Professor Keysers said.