Monday, November 10, 2008

Eye Contact

The November 10 issue of the New Yorker has an article about Kent Kiehl, a scientist who uses functional MRI to study the brains of psychopaths. He's got a trailer MRI machine set up at a New Mexico prison and has scanned the brains of most of its inmates. There are debates about the fruitfulness of this approach, but I am glad the problem is being studied by actually looking at real psychopaths. Dr. Kiehl says that whenever he goes to conferences the first thing his colleagues ask is “What are they like?” which seems a shame.

The assumption underlying this research is that there are physical brain differences in psychopaths, a tangible perversity. I was struck by a comment from Robert Hare, Dr. Kiehl's thesis professor, regarding psychopaths he's interviewed:
“It's their eyes that are the most remarkable feature,” he said. “How they drill into you.”
I wonder if the intense eye contact is an emotional version of lip-reading? Lacking emotional empathy or something like that, the psychopath must closely examine his conversation partner's face for clues as to what they are feeling, much like a poker player searching for tells. Perhaps the superficial charm that many psychopaths exhibit is a result of the heightened attention they are forced to devote to interpersonal interaction.

On a completely unrelated note, my latest bad movie premise: an Indian casino has been inadvertently constructed on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground.

Seen on the marquee of an indoor shooting range in Kent: “Come on in. You know you want to!”

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