Can MRI Detect Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Magnetic resonance imaging – radiology technique that uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. Image credit: http://www.privatehealth.co.uk

Antisocial personality disorder is characterised by self-centeredness, and ignorance of others’ wishes, rights and feelings. Antisocial people are usually manipulative and deceitful, aiming to gain personal benefit or satisfaction, such as money, sex or power.

A person with antisocial personality disorder also tends to ignore social responsibilities. These include, for example, working and earning their living, paying taxes or keeping their word. Antisocial people are inconsiderate towards the feelings of others. They often have a unique way of behaviour, which contradicts the accepted social norms.

Failures and feeling insulted may invoke rage or physical aggression in them and previous negative experiences or punishments do not usually influence their behaviour very much.

But could this kind of personality disorder be detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)?

According to Talis Bachmann, professor of cognitive psychology and psychology of law at the University of Tartu, it is not that simple. “Based on MRI scans it is not 100% possible to claim if a person has antisocial personality disorder. The scan is more likely to detect a tendency towards antisocial personality disorder, provided that the MRI scan and the resulting images are of high quality and done professionally, and the specialist is an expert in the field of neurosciences, neurology or neuropsychology and competent in the domain of research on neural correlates of antisocial traits. He/she also has to be competent in the domain of research where neural correlates of antisocial personality traits are studied.” The statistical probability depends on each individual case, though.

“On the other hand, information gained from an MRI test is more likely to be accurate regarding issues such as vision, mobility and some other cognitive functions.”

The Estonian version of this post was first published in ERR Novaator.

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