Sometimes i get so mad i could …: The neuroscience of cruelty

Taylor N. West, Leah Savery, Robert J. Goodman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The following chapter gives an overview of the cruel acts that humans commit. Though extreme forms of cruelty such as murder and pedophilia are touched on, the bulk of this chapter is devoted to everyday cruelty. In the chapter, cruelty is viewed on a spectrum, illustrating how everyone is capable of being cruel. This spectrum begins with empathy and extends to cruel acts enabled by a lack of empathy. To begin, the chapter covers beliefs and attitudes that can lead to cruelty, such as dehumanization, otherization, intergroup bias, and morality. From there, everyday acts of cruelty are discussed in detail, regarding both the circumstances under which such acts arise and particularly the underlying patterns of brain activity and structure involved. For example, emotions such as anger and jealousy are described as driving forces that lead to aggression and violence, and their neural correlates are described. Lastly, pathological disorders that can result in cruelty are discussed, including antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder, and psychopathy. The amygdala (AMG), prefrontal cortex, and orbitofrontal cortex are highlighted as the most commonly noted neural structures related to cruelty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Neuroscience of Empathy, Compassion, and Self-Compassion
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)9780128098370
ISBN (Print)9780128098387
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Cruelty
  • Disorders
  • Emotions
  • Empathy
  • Neuroscience
  • Personality
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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