Young people with high levels of emotional coldness show “low levels of guilt about the possibility of committing immoral acts” and have difficulty “judging an immoral action as wrong, indicating psychopathic signs”, reveals a study released today.
Published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, the pioneering study was carried out with adolescents from the Portuguese population and brought together the universities of Coimbra (UC), Porto (UP) and Minho (UMinho), and the University London and Royal Holloway, in the United Kingdom, refers to a note from the UC, sent today to the Lusa agency.
In the investigation, which involved 47 young men between the ages of 15 and 18, the traits of emotional coldness were assessed, that is, the lack of empathy and contempt for the well-being and feelings of others.
For this, “young people saw video animations with examples of moral transgressions, such as taking the place of an elderly woman on public transport or saving money that fell out of someone else’s pocket”, exemplifies the UC.
“The cartoon approach has allowed us to create more real and closer stimuli to young people that can happen in our daily lives,” says Óscar Gonçalves, researcher at the Proaction Lab at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at UC.
The young people, the researcher explains, were asked “how guilty would they feel if they were themselves to commit the immoral actions and how wrong they judged them to be”.
The traits of emotional coldness observed in childhood and adolescence are considered precursors of psychopathy – “a disorder marked by severe and persistent antisocial behavior” – in adulthood, stresses the UC.
The main finding of this study, he adds, is related to the moderating role of the traits of coldness in the association between the feeling of guilt and moral judgment.
Margarida Vasconcelos, researcher at UMinho, explains that “adults with psychopathy have low levels of guilt, but judge immoral actions as wrong”.
However, the study shows that “young people with high levels of emotional coldness have low levels of guilt and judge immoral actions as less wrong”.
However, underlines the study’s coordinator, Ana Seara, also from UMinho, “evidence of dissociation between moral emotions and moral judgment was found, that is, between the feeling of guilt and the judgment of immoral actions. Even at subclinical levels. of traits of emotional coldness, this typical dissociation in adult psychopathy already manifests itself during development “.
According to the authors of the study, the results obtained will “contribute to the development of a model of severe antisocial behavior and, also, allow the development of targets for intervention, rehabilitation and early prevention of antisocial behavior”.