Do psychopaths ever feel empathy?
Perhaps one of the most fascinating pieces of modern research is the union between empathy and the named 'dark traits' which include Psychopathy, Machiavellism, and narcissism. As outlined in the Conversation (link given below), a study has shown the presence of dark empaths who possess a high empathic rating but are also high on these other dark traits.
Typically while the dark empaths were not as aggressive as those lying on the dark triad scheme alone, they were more aggressive than typical and empaths alone.
As the article quotes:
"...least on a measure of indirect aggression - that is, hurting or manipulating people through social exclusion, malicious humour and guilt-induction. Thus, although the presence of empathy was limiting their level of aggression, it was not eliminating it completely."
The problem with some psychopaths possessing a high empathy will be the degree to which they use it for manipulation. After all how do we manipulate that which we do not understand?
From a psychopath's point of view, understanding from an intellectually empathic sense an individual, is a lot like a hunter understanding the behaviour of their prey.
That's a fascinating article, and an interesting distinction between cognitive and affective empathy. I imagine cognitive empathy would be available to a psychopath, or a reasonably intelligent one, because it can be learned, but I would wonder about the capacity for affective empathy and whether the presence of affective empathy would not exclude "dark empaths" from a PPD diagnosis.
@michelle I was stunned to discover a potential downside to empathy when I first came across dark empathy about a month ago. Yes, I think that at some levels psychopaths might be able to intellectually take the viewpoint of another. But you make a great point about affective empathy, recognising someone's emotions doesn't necessarily mean a somatic empathic response has to take place.
It's a fascinating area of research though. I look forward to seeing more research showing prevalence, maybe that might help us clear up your questions about the legitimacy of dark empaths having a PPD diagnosis.
I'll keep my eyes open😁
I would suggest not, although some may be master's at feigning empathy; when they do feign empathy, it would come across much like the empathy expressed by AI entities--like a smile that does not reach the eyes, a practiced rather than heartfelt resonance. Ultimately, psychopaths lack a connection to their hearts or feeling worlds. Which then begs the question: Do we need to differentiate between genuine psychopaths and people who have developed psychopathy as a defense against early trauma. I think it is Carolyn Myss who described a case in which she removed a "scab" over the heart of someone who had suffered under a narcissistic mother, and he regained his capacity to feel and express genuine empathy.