Reader Question: Psychopaths and Animals

We will return to the ‘What is Psychopathy?’ arc tomorrow.  In the meantime, I wanted to answer a very fascinating question that I received from a reader.  They ask:

I enjoy your blog very much. Your introspection is very perceptive and I find your posts interesting and informative. I wanted to ask you about your relationship with animals. Animals are known to be keen on sensing people’s feelings and their mood, and since psychopaths brain’s are wired a little differently from neurotypicals, I wondered if that would arouse different reactions from them. Have animals been able to sense that you are some what different? Do they treat you differently?

And my response:

This question fascinates me on so many levels and I wish that I could give more than an anecdotal response.  I would also love to know if there was any existing research on such.

It is funny that you ask this at this time for I was thinking about something similar over the past few days.  For a few days longer, I will be staying with family while I transition between apartments of my own.  They have three animals: two cats and a German Shepherd.  Each of the animals react differently to the mask that I do or do not present while with family.  I make a note about the masks as I am not terribly fond of my family and my callousness is difficult to control when I am around them.

One cat absolutely adores me and I genuinely cherish his company.  He’s not terribly smart but is very loving.  He will follow me around the house and up into the guest bedroom and generally begs for my attention – which I gladly give (I’m fond of cats).  Even if I am outwardly cold and distant, which is the case a lot these days with my family, he is still there looking for my attention.

The other cat generally avoids me although does not run away from me.  I believe her personality is a distrusting one and that she would have the same reaction with any person that is not her owners.

Now, before I move onto the dog, I should note that I have been around family quite frequently recently.  All of the animals know who I am by this point and they are not surprised when I come in during the evenings.  They have seen more, more or less frequently, for about a year since I made amends with my family for their sins of the past.

The dog hates me.  It does not matter if I present a caring face or a callous face.  She will bark and whine and moan until I retreat into the guest bedroom.  Sometimes I will try to win her affection through feeding or petting – not because I want to but because the family members notice that I am the only person the dog does not like and they would like me to correct this – but this is always to no avail.  It is as if she senses that something is off about me and that I am cold rather than warm at my core.

I do think that animals can pick up on the differences in empathy (and demeanor) that each of us bring to the table.  I would love to read some sort of study regarding this for sure.

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