Norway Tragedy – “…a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism and substance abuse.”

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“There has been a long tradition of research on psychopathy that has focused on the lack of sensitivity to punishment and a lack of fear, but those traits are not particularly good predictors of violence or criminal behavior,” David Zald, associate professor of psychology and of psychiatry and co-author of the study, said. “Our data is suggesting that something might be happening on the other side of things. These individuals appear to have such a strong draw to reward — to the carrot — that it overwhelms the sense of risk or concern about the stick.”

“Our hypothesis was that psychopathic traits are also linked to dysfunction in dopamine reward circuitry,” Buckholtz said. “Consistent with what we thought, we found people with high levels of psychopathic traits had almost four times the amount of dopamine released in response to amphetamine.”

The researchers found in those individuals with elevated psychopathic traits the dopamine reward area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, was much more active while they were anticipating the monetary reward than in the other volunteers.

“It may be that because of these exaggerated dopamine responses, once they focus on the chance to get a reward, psychopaths are unable to alter their attention until they get what they’re after,” Buckholtz said. Added Zald, “It’s not just that they don’t appreciate the potential threat, but that the anticipation or motivation for reward overwhelms those concerns.”

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How Science Is Done – Not Glamorous

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The point of theoretical science is to agree with nature. What’s important in the long run is that the theory makes predictions that agree with observation.”

In any significant area of human endeavor it’s very important to solve problems, to break with tradition to solve problems, to have a new idea. The first step is you encounter some contradiction between what you need to do and the traditional machinery that’s available to do such a thing.

In theoretical physics we work with, pencil, paper and wastebasket. And the most important of these is the last. And most ideas end up in the waste basket because they are not self-consistent. Or if they are self-consistent because they are inconsistent with some experimentally very well established and coherent body of information.”

A breakthrough…you have found that something that everyone accepted as necessary isn’t necessary, you can get ride of it. And once that threshold is passed, as often as not you can solve the problem.”  (excerpted from Murry Gell-Mann lecture)