The Opposite of Psychopathy

Williams Syndrome is a genetic condition characterized by some genes being absent from the 7th chromosome. People with this syndrome have facial features that have been described as “elfin.” They have small cognitive delays, an extra-sensitivity to sound but a love for music. One of the most remarkable characteristics of folks with this syndrome is an increase of empathy. They are very open and trusting. Fortunately for them, most people find them immensely lovable.

Examinations of their brains show an enlarged amygdala (which, in the psychopath, is small). Both psychopaths and Williams’ people have abnormalities in the white matter of their brains. Do psychopaths have split brains? White matter studies point to brain hemispheric disconnect. People with Williams Syndrome seem to williamshave problems in the white matter in the same parts of their brains. This is perplexing considering how the “Willies” are almost polar opposites of psychopaths. “Given that Williams Syndrome,  in terms of personality, is about the polar opposite of psychopathy, what gives?” What indeed.

WS is seen by many in the online community as more a panacea than a disorder. For example, the Lucky Otter, Lauren, blogged, Williams Syndrome High Empathy ‘Disorder.'” which shows a video of a camp for WS children in which a counselor opines that “We (NTs) are the ones with a ‘disability’ because we don’t know how to be as kind or open as these children.” However, the DSM places it within the spectrum of anxiety disorders. Strange when the children in the videos don’t show any sign of anxiety at all and are, in fact, markably free of anxiety associated with meeting strangers. The videos say that Williams children are slightly cognitively slower and often have cardio-vascular problems as well as digestive problems. But Psychiatric Diagnoses in Patients with Williams Syndrome and Their Families by Janet C. Kennedy, M.D. (PGY1), David L. Kaye, M.D., Laurie S. Sadler, M.D, says, “The associated mental retardation generally results in
an IQ between 41 and 80…” which is hardly a “slight” impairment. These children, according to the authors, have anxiety and depressive disorders. These were not in evidence in the videos.

Children with Down’s Syndrome are also described as being happy and friendly. They, like the Williams kids, have specific facial features. Is mental retardation the key to happiness? Are we smart ones paying for Adam and Eve’s fall from grace? I remember a movie Charlie about a retarded man who was made a subject of an experimental process that raised his IQ. As he grew increasingly smart, Charlie became aware of how many people had looked down on him and on others like him. This saddened him, naturally, and aroused his empathy for those still less intellectually endowed. His intelligence kept growing until he became a genius. He did his own scientific studies and made a discovery that filled him with dismay. The change in his intellect was only temporary. He flashed, poignantly, on a memory of what he used to be and what he would again become.

The majority of psychopaths are smart. We are not known for empathy or openness. williams1When we are friendly, people describe this friendliness as glib, superficial charm. Robert Hare calls us “social predators.” We sometimes feel lonely and bored as Williams and Downs people probably seldom do. I guess everything has its price.

Many people with normal intelligence and no disorder like to view the Williams people as a kind of lost paradise. Psychopaths also have blessings conferred on us by our extreme personalities. We enjoy a moral freedom and optimism many folks would envy us for. We are mostly free of anxiety and guilt. I cherish my gifts which I wouldn’t give up for anything. But I sometimes turn a wistful eye to the gifts of my opposites.


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