Thriller movies, crime shows, and mystery novels discuss psychopaths and their stares. But is it truly a thing or some made-up story? Well, this is what we are going to talk about. To differentiate fact from fiction, we must first understand what a psychopath is and whether or not it is a mental disorder. Let’s get straight to the point without any delay.
Who is a Psychopath?
Psychopathy is a complex term often overlapped with the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), a mental health condition that makes people break the rules and chronically act out.
Although ASPD and psychopaths have certain similarities, they aren’t the same. A psychopath is an unemotional, morally depraved, and callous person.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) has given a clinical definition for ASPD, but for psychopathy, there is no definition. Psychopathy is not diagnosable; it can only be evaluated and assessed through Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) developed by Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian psychologist.
To understand it better, let’s talk about the psychopathic stare.
What is a Psychopathic stare?
Psychopathic Stare is the most common characteristic highlighted in movies, crime shows, and thriller novels. But the way it is portrayed is right? From a clinical perspective, psychopathic stare has not been mentioned as an item in the PCL-R and its variants. However, psychopaths do show different visual behaviors.
Our eyes and their movement tell a lot about our emotions and moods, from being angry to being happy and hurt. They say it all. When you like someone, you may stare at them, while when you see something disgusting, you may look wary. Your pupils dilate when you experience fear, anger, or love.
But with psychopaths, that is not the case. Studies show in psychopaths, pupils do not dilate when seeing scary scenes or images. Also, they often hold gazes uncomfortably long when engaging in deception or persuasion. Another study found that when psychopaths listened to screaming or negative sounds, pupil dilation was reduced.
Sometimes people with psychopathy stare to control and intimidate others, and they do not move their heads while they tend to look at a thing. This is not normal because when we communicate, we often move our heads to convey a message, but psychopaths don’t. They keep their heads still as they do not want to give away personal information.
When we move our head in a conversation, like nodding in agreement or shaking in disagreement, we express a lot without even saying anything, and this is precisely what the psychopath doesn’t want.
A psychopath’s greatest strength is their deceitful nature and ability to manipulate. They hide what’s cooking in their heads by keeping their heads still.
Psychopaths’ eyes differ in terms of behavioral responses.
Different studies have been conducted on psychopathic offenders, and each explains that the eyes of psychopaths do not respond to disturbing images. In contrast, another study says psychopaths avoid eye contact when communicating, listening, and looking at others.
The default eye behavior of a psychopath when facing dangerous stimuli is a cold stare. This means their eyes never show what they feel inside.
Examples of Psychopaths Eyes
Penetrating Gaze –This means psychopaths can stare longer than average.
No dilation of pupils.
Callus nature and unemotional.
Why Do Psychopaths Have Different Eyes?
The reasons why psychopaths have different eyes are –
Amygdala is up to 18% smaller
Their eyes do not get the signal to react to emotions.
Are unable to process emotional responses.
“The eyes of psychopaths have been described variously as cold, dull, emotionless, lifeless or empty, and as unseeing or staring… Some people say that it’s like looking into the eyes of a shark or reptile.” — Dr. Robert Hare
Compared with ordinary eyes, the eyes of a psychopath are dead, emotionless, and blank and have dark irises and no pupil dilation when witnessing dangerous situations or threats. Another feature that defines psychopathic eyes is the serial killer’s eyes (long stare.)
Psychopath stares are without emotions, there is no empathy, and they often make the person believe they are focused and listening to them attentively. Also, they lack facial expressions and head movements, which makes it difficult for others to gauge psychopaths’ intentions and emotions.
Another noteworthy feature of psychopath’s eyes is ‘Sanpaku eyes, ‘where the eye’s sclera can be seen above or below the iris. But remember, you can see this in others too.
Furthermore, most psychopaths have dark irises and a “crocodile-like” smile that does not reach their eyes, showing no emotional connection and making others uneasy.
Physiological Traits Of Psychopath’s Eyes
1. Pupillary Function
Generally, when the environment or brightness changes pupils dilate. However, psychopaths’ eyes do not show any such change. Also eyes do not show any emotions and there is a lack of responsiveness through facial expressions. To confirm this researchers at Cardiff and Swansea universities conducted a study on psychopathic and non psychopathic offenders.
They showed disturbing images to all offenders. Where the non psychopathic prisoners showed positive and negative pupillary responses, the psychopathic prisoners showed no pupillary response to both disturbing and positive images.
In short there is no pupil dilation in psychopathic eyes, and often they keep their gaze even when people move away from them. Also when facing dangerous situations they show emotional detachment.
2. Eye Contact
When communicating, eyes play an important role. Eye contact lights up various parts of the brain and helps in effectively sending and receiving messages. However, compared to non-psychopaths, the expressions psychopaths show are primarily cold, calculated, and emotionless. They avoid eye contact while speaking and listening.
Also, they don’t pay attention to other people’s eye movements or expressions. This is why they face difficulty in forming solid relationships and building genuine connections. They stare for a longer duration without showing emotions that intimidate others.
Though you can find other people with similar physiological traits, if you keep these things in mind identifying a psychopath can become easy for you.
3. Poor sense of smell
A study at Macquarie University in Sydney found that compared to non psychopaths who can smell ten types of different smells, psychopaths face difficulty in smelling certain smells. Higher the psychopathy score lower was the score of smell.
4. Punishments do not affect psychopaths
In a study conducted at University of Montreal it has been found that punishment or negative outcomes are often overlooked by psychopaths. For them the positive consequence of their actions matter.
6. No head movement in psychopaths
In a study published in Journal of Research in Personality it has been discovered that individuals with more psychopathic scores do not move their head much. This happens due to amygdala dysfunctioning that affects emotional processing, interpersonal communication and reinforcement learning.
Psychological Traits of Psychopath Eyes
Eyes speak without words; the same is true for a psychopath’s eyes. By looking into their eyes, you can learn a lot about them.
1. Manipulative and Charming
Psychopaths use their charm and manipulative behavior to make needs meet the end.
They have a captivating gaze, making a person believe that there is a connection between them and trusts them.
Psychopaths easily blend it making it difficult to identify them.
2. Unemotional Eyes
In 2002, James Blair discovered psychopaths do not fear and their eyes show no emotions or remorse. Neutral response to emotional stimuli which explains they lack empathy and are antisocial. Psychopathic person is controlling and trying to influence the relationship.
Psychopaths are impulsive and they disregard others emotions. For their personal gain they are ready to perform any reckless action like substance abuse, criminal activities, etc
Psychopath Stare – It is Superficial
Studies show that psychopaths have certain eye traits and stare for long without remorse or emotions, but there is no standardized “psychopath eyes test.” The descriptions researchers give about psychopath’s eyes and how they respond to a situation are enough to help differentiate between a normal and a psychopath.
Eyes are windows to our soul, but for psychopaths, this isn’t true as they never show any emotions, and neither do they show head movements that tell about their intentions.
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