Moral Aspects Of Antisociality

Another critical feature of antisociality is the absence or deficiency of any moral code. As noted above, moral function involves cognitive structures about codes of social behavior. More specifically, morality involves a system of beliefs to guide choices where there is conflict between one's immediate self-interest and the good of the larger social group. Moral function has been extensively studied within the realm of developmental and social psychology (Kohlberg et al, 1983; Gilligan, 1982; Eisenberg, 2000). Although a full review is beyond the scope of this chapter, there is wide consensus that moral development rests on the interaction between cognitive development and pro-social environmental input. Without sufficient cognitive development truly moral reasoning is not possible, as a conceptual grasp of "the public good" may be beyond the abilities of the individual. In other words, a child or cognitively impaired adult may not understand an abstract system of "right and wrong" and may regulate behavior according to immediate behavioral contingencies (rewards or punishment) or affective cues (Kohlberg's most primitive stage of moral development; Kohlberg et al, 1983). Likewise, as children mature, their moral belief system grows more abstract and less egocentric, with consequent gains in complexity and sophistication (Piaget, 1954; Kohlberg et al, 1983; Werner & Kaplan, 1963).

Such conceptual development during childhood is coincident with tremendous growth in the frontal lobe, including myelinization, synaptic growth and pruning, etc. (Schore, 1994). The dependence of moral functioning on higher order cognitive development (abstraction and decentering) explains why lower frontal function is a significant risk factor for impulsive, destructive behavior (Barratt et al, 1997). On the other hand, and perhaps of more interest, are those "true" psychopaths with intact cognitive function whose interpersonal belief systems are not informed by empathy and attachment. In such cases, we might posit that a deficit in the limbic circuitry underlying attachment and related affect precluded integration of such circuits with the pre-frontal networks subserving higher level cognition. The linking of the frontally-mediated higher order cognitions with more limbic-driven affective states is influenced by early affective experience (Schore, 1994); such that subtle differences in environmental input, specifically parental empathic responses, have far reaching influence on the development of interpersonal concepts. This notion is robustly supported in the large attachment literature (Main et al, 1985; Slade & Aber, 1992). Whether the creation of pro-social interpersonal concepts rests on the integration of prefrontal and limbic circuitry separately subserving affect and cognition or whether there is a specific localization of such interpersonal templates is not known. Watt (1990), suggested a preferential role in the right prefrontal region for interpersonal constructs, based on the right lateral-ization of several cortical aspects of affective processing (e.g., facial recognition, decoding of facial expressions, emotional prosody). A more recent fMRI study has linked cognitively generated affect, or "affective scripts" to the medial prefrontal cortex.

Of note, antisocial individuals are also known for their lack of guilt or remorse. In the literature on the "moral emotions", such as guilt and shame, these "self conscious emotions" are seen to be integrally linked with higher level cognition, specifically concepts of the self (Eisenberg, 2000; Lewis, 1997). As above, such cognitive elaboration would implicate the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex while the strictly emotional component would point to limbic involvement. In fact, one PET study of brain activation during guilt-inducing memory scripts implicated the inferior and orbito-frontal, anterior cingulate, insular and temporal cortices in healthy controls (Shin et al, 2000).

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