The smell of a psychopath

So, psychopaths smell funny. (Sorry we couldn’t resist).

Yes, recent research demonstrates that psychopaths have an impaired sense of odor recognition. (Here). This is odor recognition — but not odor threshold. So if they smell something, they may not recognize what it is. But they still smell something.

The researchers used “Sniffin’ Sticks,” something that we think everyone should now have in order to test everyone around them.

The rational for the study looks pretty straightforward to us:

Olfactory processing is known to involve the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The OFC is also believed to function less effectively in individuals scoring higher in psychopathic personality traits. In this study, we examined whether poorer olfactory discrimination and identification—taken as an indicator of OFC integrity—was associated with the degree of presence of psychopathic traits . . .

Compare and contrast to other conditions:

War vets with PTSD and children with ADHD also have impaired odor recognition. (Article here).

There are numerous studies of  declining odor identification ability with various neurodegenerative disorders (dementias, Alzheimer”, Parkinsons).  Impaired olfactory function also predicts death. (Here).

We’ve wondered if psychopathy was a species of dementia (here, here, here).

And so, if “dementia” is defined not by it’s behavioral phenotype, but rather by it’s biology (white matter impairment in the OFC), then psychopathy would be a form of dementia.

And we don’t wanted a bunch of demented people running the world, so we question the view that psychopathic “fearless dominance” is a beneficial quality of leaders. You can’t take that single quality without a dose of empathy or at least compartmentalization of who gets empathy and who doesn’t.