Genome-Wide Association Study of Dimensional Psychopathology Using Electronic Health Records

Abstract: Genetic studies of neuropsychiatric disease strongly suggest an overlap in liability. There are growing efforts to characterize these diseases dimensionally rather than categorically, but the extent to which such dimensional models correspond to biology is unknown.

We applied a newly developed natural language processing method to extract five symptom dimensions based on the National Institute of Mental Health Research Domain Criteria definitions from narrative hospital discharge notes in a large biobank. We conducted a genome-wide association study to examine whether common variants were associated with each of these dimensions as quantitative traits.

Among 4687 individuals, loci in three of five domains exceeded a genome-wide threshold for statistical significance. These included a locus spanning the neocortical development genes RFPL3 and RFPL3S for arousal (p = 2.29 × 10-8) and one spanning the FPR3 gene for cognition (p = 3.22 × 10-8).

Natural language processing identifies dimensional phenotypes that may facilitate the discovery of common genetic variation that is relevant to psychopathology. Read the full article.

A New Legal Treatment for Psychopaths? Perplexities for Legal Thinkers

Gonzalez-Tapia, Maria Isabel, Ingrid Obsuth, & Rachel Heeds, A New Legal Treatment for Psychopaths? Perplexities for Legal Thinkers, International J.L. & Psychiatry (2017).

Abstract: Public perception, fueled not only by popular and news media but also by expert claims that psychopaths are archetypes of evil: incorrigible, remorseless, cold-blooded criminals, whose crimes manifest in the most extreme levels of violence. But is there empirical evidence that psychopaths truly are what they are portrayed to be? If so, should the law respond, and adjust its treatment of psychopaths in court — permitting psychopathy to be admitted under an insanity defense and/or resulting in mitigation? In this paper, we demonstrate that fundamental questions from the law to science remain unanswered and must be addressed before any alternative treatment of psychopathy can be considered. As it stands, psychopaths cannot be reliably defined or diagnosed and, as we will demonstrate, even the presumed link with criminal dangerousness is problematic. We conclude that the current legal approach should not be modified, however, if preliminary findings regarding impairments in impulsivity/self-control are confirmed, some, but not all individuals who fall under one definition of psychopathy may merit different treatment in future.

Communicating the Neuroscience of Psychopathy and Its Influence on Moral Behavior: Protocol of Two Experimental Studies by Robert Blakey, Adrian D. Askelund, Matilde Boccanera, Johanna Immonen, Nejc Plohl, Cassandra Popham, Clarissa Sorger, and Julia Stuhlreyer, Frontiers in Psychology (2017)

Abstract: Neuroscience has identified brain structures and functions that correlate with psychopathic tendencies. Since psychopathic traits can be traced back to physical neural attributes, it has been argued that psychopaths are not truly responsible for their actions and therefore should not be blamed for their psychopathic behaviors. This experimental research aims to evaluate what effect communicating this theory of psychopathy has on the moral behavior of lay people. If psychopathy is blamed on the brain, people may feel less morally responsible for their own psychopathic tendencies and therefore may be more likely to display those tendencies. An online study will provide participants with false feedback about their psychopathic traits supposedly based on their digital footprint (i.e., Facebook likes), thus classifying them as having either above-average or below-average psychopathic traits and describing psychopathy in cognitive or neurobiological terms. This particular study will assess the extent to which lay people are influenced by feedback regarding their psychopathic traits, and how this might affect their moral behavior in online tasks. Public recognition of these potential negative consequences of neuroscience communication will also be assessed. A field study using the lost letter technique will be conducted to examine lay people’s endorsement of neurobiological, as compared to cognitive, explanations of criminal behavior. This field and online experimental research could inform the future communication of neuroscience to the public in a way that is sensitive to the potential negative consequences of communicating such science. In particular, this research may have implications for the future means by which neurobiological predictors of offending can be safely communicated to offenders. Read the full article.