Of the many disorders represented in film, books and other media the psychopath, and the condition of psychopathy, is perhaps one of the most misunderstood. Psychopathy is an extremely complex, and often controversial, issue. Debates rage in terms of its’ diagnosis and treatment. For example psychopathy is, according to the American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) a subset of Anti-Social Personality Disorders. However Blair (2005), argues that the two may be completely separate conditions.
So what are the facts? I thought it would be useful for the writers, students and other interested parties out there to give a brief overview of psychopathy and also provide some links so that you take your own research in this area further. As always, let me know if this has been useful it’s great to get some feedback.
- The estimated prevalence of psychopathy varies in studies between 0.2% and 2%. The most commonly cited estimate is 1%. A study in (2009) of prevalence in a UK household population found the presence of psychopathic traits in 0.6% of the sample (Coid et al., 2009: Link below).
2. The condition is more commonly found in males than females. Grann (2000), for example, found the rates of psychopathy for violent offenders to be only 11.0% for women versus 31.0% for men.
3. According to Robert Hare the key symptoms of psychopathy can be summarised under two clusters:
- glib and superficial
- egocentric and grandiose
- lack of remorse or guilt
- lack of empathy
- deceitful and manipulative
- shallow emotions
- poor behaviour controls
- need for excitement
- lack of responsibility
- early behaviour problems
- adult antisocial behaviour
4. Psychopaths and crime
- Psychopaths are more criminally active throughout much of their life span than are other offenders (Hare, 1991; Hare, Strachan, & Forth, 1993)
- Psychopaths are generally more violent than non-psychopaths; 97% psychopaths v. 74% non-psychopaths received at least one conviction for violent crime (Hare, 1981)
- More facts on psychopathy and crime can be found on the summary here: http://web.jjay.cuny.edu/~pzapf/classes/PY761/Week%207%20Notes.htm
Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. Hare (1999)
The Psychopath: Emotion And The Brain. Blair, Mitchell & Blair (2005).
Excellent resources on the study of psychopathy are on Robert Hare’s pages: http://www.hare.org/
Some good general information on this site:
A profile of a psychopath by Robert Hare:
c. Research papers
Prevalence and correlates of psychopathic traits in the household population of Great Britain http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160252709000028
Sex differences in psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder: A review and integration http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735801001258
Gender differences in contributions of emotion to psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder
The psycho gene. V. good article here refuting idea of ‘criminal gene’ but looking at genetic basis for psychopathy http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v11/n9/full/embor2010122.html
Psychopaths: Born evil or with a diseased brain? Brief but useful BBC article on this controversy here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15386740
Inside A Psychopath’s Brain: The Sentencing Debate. More on the controversial neurolaw debate here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128116806
The Origins of Violence: Is Psychopathy an Adaptation? Some interesting points are made in this article. http://human-nature.com/nibbs/01/psychopathy.html