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  1. #1

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    I've been reading about psychopathy, and have discovered that it is not exactly the same disorder as Anti Social or Conduct disorder. A lot of the material I've been reading, both online and at the liebrary tend to contradict each other though. Some say that a psychopath is in fact capable of experiencing remorse or guilt, and can actualy love another person. So I am confused. What exactly defines a psychopath, or are there different levels of severity with this disorder as with any other disorder? Also, is it possible that psychopathy can be an extreme case of narcissism?

  2. #2

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    Or maybe not:

    Dr. Robert Hare's checklist for psychopathy:

    1. Glibness/superficial charm
    2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
    3. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
    4. Pathological lying
    5. Conning/manipulative
    6. Lack of remorse or guilt
    7. Shallow affect
    8. Callous/lack of empathy
    9. Parasitic lifestyle
    10. Poor behavioural controls
    11. Promiscuous sexual behaviour
    12. Early behaviour problems
    13. Lack of realistic, long-term plans
    14. Impulsivity
    15. Irresponsibility
    16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
    17. Many short-term relationships
    18. Juvenile delinquency
    19. Revocation of conditional release
    20. Criminal versatility
    Narcissism is also a characteristic

    In my readings about Narcissism, it was evident that a narcissist is a very emotional person, but very self indulged. They can spend hours in their own catharsis, not thinking of how it affects anyone else. They are convinced that they're always the victim, and nothing is ever their fault. The world revolves around them, and the world owes them. They are the perfect martyrs. Yet they are still cabable of empathy, whereas a psychopath is not. So how can both of these personality traits be thrown together? It should also be noted that not all psychopaths have come into trouble with the law, and certainly not all are criminals. From my own readings and studying it has been noted that there are plenty of psychopaths in office and in managerial positions in institutions. So it should be clear that not all psychopaths can necessarily be impulsive either. Some can display a tremendous amount of patience, making them more thorough in their planning as well. In short, any kind of person can lack a conscience. Just my thoughts though, I'm no expert.

  3. #3

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    You may be confusing egocentricity, which is a characteristic of psychopathy, and narcissism, which isn't.

    Your confusion about what you've been reading may well stem from confusion about the definition of psychopathy. Please note that it is NOT the same as Antisocial Personality Disorder (DMS-IV: APD), a diagnois for which almost everyone in prison probably could meet the criteria. The problem is that many articles and research projects on so-called "psychpaths" actually mean and define it by the APD criteria.

    I recently sent the following responses to questions in an email interview format for a high school student project:

    1) What is the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths?
    Nothing. They are simply different names for the same thing. Sociopath is somewhat outdated - most people would use the term "psychopath" today.

    2) Are most people with anti-social personality disorder true to the way they are depicted in Hollywood movies? (cunning, smooth, calm, intelligent)?
    Yes and no. The diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is much looser than how most people would define a psychopath. Most people who are repeat criminals would meet the criteria for APD but most would NOT meet the criteria for Psychopathy. However, officially there are no published diagnostic criteria for Psychopathy due to the difficulty in getting people to agree on how to define and measure psychopathy.

    On the other hand, there is no doubt that psychopaths do exist (I have met some in my work). The true psychopath is indeed usually intelligent (average or above average, usually above average). They appear calm, even cold-blooded because they do not feel empathy for other people the way most of us do, they do not feel remorse for hurting someone else or stealing or lying, they do not feel anticipatory fear or anxiety when they are about to do something wrong, they do not feel guilt after the fact. They are very good actors - they can fake or mimic emotions including empathy even though they don't actually feel it - and they are very good at figuring out what people want to hear and then saying that. They are highly manipulative and very good at that so they can get other people to feel sorry for them and to do things for them.

    3) Are people with personality disorders usually a threat to society? Explain how.
    Yes. For all the reasons stated above. They do not feel fear or anxiety when they plan crimes so they don't learn from their mistakes - they do not learn NOT to commit crimes. They lack empathy so they are capable of great violence repeatedly, if it suits them. They do not feel any remorse or guilt so there is nothing to inhibit future impulses. Statistically, they commit many more crimes than non-psychopathic criminals and they are responsible for most of the most violent crimes. Basically, lacking empathy, remorse, or anxiety, they cannot be rehabilitated.

    4) If yes, to number 3, how severe is this problem? Could you detail some of the specific effects on society?
    There is a huge cost in human suffering and financial loss. Psychopaths take what they want when they want it and feel no remorse. They do it again and again. Over the course of a lifetime, there will be hundreds or thousands of victims in small or large ways and many of their crimes go unpunished because they do tend to be intelligent and cunning and because they are so good at lying and manipulating and fooling other people.

    5) If such a person were to be jailed for a minor offence, could they be liable to offend again, or commit crimes that are more severe?
    Yes to both. They are almost certain to commit more crimes and often their crimes tend to get more severe over time.

    6) Is there a way to prevent further offences from occuring?
    Yes. Incarceration. Without parole. There is no "cure" for psychopathy. They cannot be rehabiltated. They have the highest recidivism rates by far of any other criminal or psychiatric group.

    7) Do you know of a case where someone who has anti-social personality disorder was not a threat to society?
    Again, see above - almost everyone who is a repeat offender meets the criteria for APD but most of those are not psychopaths. If the questions is do i know of a case of APD who is not a threat to society, I would answer yes. If the question is do I know of a psychopath who is not a threat to society, my answer would be no.

    8) How frequently have to come into contact with these people within the past five years?
    Since a certain amount of my private practice is criminal-forensic psychology (inlcluding expert testimony in criminal trials), I do come into contact regularly with criminals - more rarely with psychopaths because I pick and choose which cases I will work on. In the past, I worked in the federal and provincial correctional systems and for a while in the forensic (secure) psychiatric hospital system - in those days, I would see more psychopaths more regularly.

    9) Do you think that the media has had an influence on people to become more like the people they are seeing on the news? ie, Karla Homolka?
    No. I don't believe any sane person wants to be like Karla Homulka. Anyone who would mimic her would be already disturbed (mentally ill or unbalanced) in some way or would already be a psychopath. I don't think anything one would see in the media would encourage a normal person to want to be like her.

  4. #4

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    Dr. Baxter,

    Do you have any statistical data on what percentage of the human population would fall under the category of "psychopath?" I have heard figures as high as 1%, which is a huge number. 1% of the U.S. population is equivalent to about 3,000,000 people.

    The reason for asking is this: due to the fact that you, and probably most other psychologists, feel psychopaths are non-reformable, do you suggest some sort of program for the early identification of psychopaths (say in the future with molecular genetics)? Afterwards, perhaps then a program to either destroy the fetuses (if such prenatal identification ever proves possible) or a program where all psychopaths, say over the age of 18, whether guilty of a crime or not are immediately incarcerated for life without parole? You said you are in favor of incarcerating psychopaths for life, or at least admit this is the only way to deal with them effectively.

    It seems that philosophically this idea of criminal psychology opens up a gargantuan ethical can of worms, much like human cloning. Is it ethical to allow people whom, by your own admission, are almost 100% likely to commit violent crimes to be allowed to commit that first offense, or is it more ethical to allow every human the benefit of doubt -- innocent until proven guilty of a crime? When should scientific knowledge and psychological profiling take precedence over the fundamental idea of the modern Western criminal justice system, if ever? In other words, should we allow the proven efficacy of science in any domain -- whether psychology, genetics, or whatever -- to plunge our societies into an Orwellian inferno? A scenario where everyone is labeled with something at birth, and then must carry this label with them forever.

    I ask this because I see it coming around the bend -- anticrime advocates will be advocating the imprisonment of so-called "psychopaths" who have yet to commit any crime, merely based on the rather dubious labeling of the "DSM-IV." They will advocate this out of some sense of "peace and security" and proclaim how much safer we will all be if we remove the rights of those (even if never convicted of a crime) who are likely to commit crimes in the future. To me such a notion seems like a regurgitated programme of eugenics that took a nosedive into the dirty moat about a half-century ago.

    I ask you, or anyone else who wants to throw their two cents in, how you would ameliorate such a problem. Do we screen every human either genetically or psychologically in the future for psychopathic traits and subsequently incarcerate them, or do we leave the system as it is now and enact harsher penalties on those who do actually commit crimes?

    To me, the most interesting facet of modern science is not the science itself, but the underlying and newly emerging and changing philosophies of science.

  5. #5

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    The reason for asking is this: due to the fact that you, and probably most other psychologists, feel psychopaths are non-reformable, do you suggest some sort of program for the early identification of psychopaths (say in the future with molecular genetics)? Afterwards, perhaps then a program to either destroy the fetuses (if such prenatal identification ever proves possible) or a program where all psychopaths, say over the age of 18, whether guilty of a crime or not are immediately incarcerated for life without parole?
    Definitely not. For one thing, it's not yet entirely clear whether psychopathy is genetically based or a product of early environment opr both. For another, I don't have faith in any of the existing instruments or procedures for identifying psychopaths (I believe the Hare Psychopathy Checklist to be flawed), and especially not prenatally or even in early childhood.

    You said you are in favor of incarcerating psychopaths for life, or at least admit this is the only way to deal with them effectively.
    No. What I said is this is the only way to guarantee they won't commit criminal offences.

    Is it ethical to allow people whom, by your own admission, are almost 100% likely to commit violent crimes to be allowed to commit that first offense, or is it more ethical to allow every human the benefit of doubt -- innocent until proven guilty of a crime?
    Again, that isn't what I said. Psychopaths as a rule don't necessarily set out to commit violent crimes, or even nonviolenet crimes. It's just that if that's what it takes for them to achieve their goals, that's OK with them. They are definitely NOT "100% likely to commit violent crimes" or even any crimes at all. There are probably many psychopaths who are quite successful businessmen or other professionals - if they have been able to achieve their goals without the need for committing criminal acts, they are happy to do that too. Again, the object is to achieve their goals without regard for anyone in their way - the object is not to commit crimes per se.

  6. #6

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    By the listed criteria above, my brother would definately fall into the catagory of psychopath. He has very little or no capasity for compassion, enjoys "pulling one over" anyone who tries to keep him from his goals, and he sexually molested me several times while we were growing up. He meets the other criteria (pathological lying, manipulation of others for his own gain, clever, etc.). But he was also a Green Beret, a special forces soldier in the Army called the 82nd Airborne. Not everyone can get into Airborne. It takes someone who has almost suicidal bravery and an unshakable belief in the inherent rightness of their cause. They have to be able to kill anyone they are told to kill without remorse. The only groups that even come close to them in bravery and skill are th Navy Seals and The Rangers. Without these groups, (the first ones in, last ones out) we would lose a great deal more soldiers in any mission.

    Now, I am not endorsing war, by any stretch, but who else could we get to do a job that is almost guarenteed to have a high loss of life? Unfortunately we can't force psychopaths to join the military, for that would be a good outlet for them, if we could trust them. But realistically, in the world we live in, we need people who have psychopathic traits to defend us against those who wish to hurt us, ie, 9-11.

    Allegro

  7. #7

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    "Again, the object is to achieve their goals without regard for anyone in their way - the object is not to commit crimes per se."
    But it does usually end up a crime somewhere down the line. Or unless by "acheiving their goals without regard for anyone in their way" merely implies hurting someone's feelings. I am no psychologist, but where do we draw the line between someone getting their feelings hurt and someone being a victim of a crime in regards to how one would diagnose a psychopath? It seems to me that psychology really has little reason to even worry with psychopathic behavior except out of some academic curiosity. Is it really something that matters clinically since they are beyond reform anyway?

    I suppose it really boils down to the popular stigma of "psychopath," you know the image of an axe wielding killer in a hockey mask or Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" busting the door down with an axe yelling "Here's Johnny." Maybe that isn't even "psychopathic" behavior at all in the clinical sense, but certainly the public is apt to append "psychopath" to any individual who seems different or aggressive.

    The scary thing is the fact that the legal system often likes to consider someone "insane" or "psychotic" for the reaction of those on the jury, as if this person is so crazy they shouldn't be walking the streets just because of the fact there are "psychotic." (I realize "psychotic" and "psychopathic" are two different things, but in the popular vernacular they are the same). It is also worrisome that those who are not mentally ill use the "insane" defense. It works both ways. Often times the experts called to testify are biased toward either the defense or prosecution depending on who hired them. This is common knowledge, since "experts" usually disagree at the same trial over the same issues. Any lawyer will be quick to tell you this. The fact is the jury is often swayed in favor of the prosecution when two experts disagree.

    I find it disturbing that mental illness should even be allowed to come into a trial. Just stick with the facts -- did they or didn't they commit the crime. Mental illness should only come into play with the judge at sentencing. If someone is bipolar or schizophrenic and the prosecution tells the jury this, they automatically think "Oh, mental illness, this guy is a wacko or a psycho." The public doesn't have the intelligence or ability to imbibe and process scientific information and make a rational decision most of the time.

  8. #8

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    But it does usually end up a crime somewhere down the line.
    Not at all. I think you might find that a lot of successful businessmen and politicians probably meet the criteria for psychopathy and some of them can and do go their whole lives without committing a crime.

    It seems to me that psychology really has little reason to even worry with psychopathic behavior except out of some academic curiosity. Is it really something that matters clinically since they are beyond reform anyway?
    It certainly matters to society, the courts, and the criminal justice system.

    I find it disturbing that mental illness should even be allowed to come into a trial. Just stick with the facts -- did they or didn't they commit the crime. Mental illness should only come into play with the judge at sentencing. If someone is bipolar or schizophrenic and the prosecution tells the jury this, they automatically think "Oh, mental illness, this guy is a wacko or a psycho." The public doesn't have the intelligence or ability to imbibe and process scientific information and make a rational decision most of the time.
    As someone who does forensic-trial work, I vehemently and totally disagree with you. The law recognizes that mental illness and even certain personlaity disorders, like phsyical conditions, do indeed limit the degree of responsibility. This may result either in diminished responsibility for the criminal act itself OR in what would be considered an appropriate penalty for the crime (sentencing).

    The public doesn't have to understand mental illness - it is the job of the defense attorney (or prosecutor) and the "expert witness" to educate them in the case of a jury trial and to inform the court in the case of trial by judge alone.

  9. #9

    What exactly is psychopathy?

    But he was also a Green Beret, a special forces soldier in the Army called the 82nd Airborne.
    Aren't the Special Forces soldiers separate from the 82nd Airborne? The 82nd is a division all unto itself and they are not part of the Spec Ops community. Granted, most members of the Special Forces have to becone "jump qualified," which is usually done at the same school the Airborne trains at, but their missions and their assignments are different. I have heard of Airborne "Rangers," but not Green Berets. I was under the impression that the Special Forces in the Army were assigned to divisions all unto themselves and didn't actually operate with the 82nd.

    I know a guy who served in Iraq recently as a Force Recon Marine (ask your brother about them, they are the "bas asses" in the Marines and are very similar in training and missions to the SEALs). Now that he has gotten out of Iraq, he finds college boring and recently has signed up to join the Army (yeah that's right, a former Marine joining the Army), and is scheduled to begin Special Forces training early next year. I wonder how this will work since he already has most of the training of the SF under his belt? He is HALO certified (many Green Berets don't even have that), is SCUBA certified, and has went through much of the Special Operations training already in the Marines. I wonder what training the Green Berets have that the Recon Marines don't. Most likely land navigation training and things of that sort.

    The Force Recon Marines are such a small outfit, that they usually utilize the Navy's and the Army's facilities and training programs. They use the Army's jump school, the Army's HALO school and train with Navy SEALS for SCUBA and other waterborne techniques. I wonder if he has to go through all of this training again? Be interesting to find out.

    I once read about a guy who was a Navy SEAL, then joined the Army and Became a Green Beret, then became an Army Ranger, and THEN became a Force Recon Marine. One tough dude.

    Regards.

  10. #10

    You know a lot more about it than I do...

    ...Everything that I know about the Green Berets comes from my psychopathic brother, who is a pathological liar and is as trustworthy as a fox guarding a chicken coop. It is very possible that everything he told me about his time in the military was fabricated. The only thing I know for sure is that he really was a Green Beret. I saw him in his uniform a few times and he had the beret and arm and shoulder patches. He said he was on some sort of secret mission in Guatamala or Hondorus in the early 1980s, and I am pretty sure he actually did go. He told me that he was asked to join the Rangers, but his wife said she would divorce him if he did join. She divorced him a couple of years later anyway so maybe he should have joined.

    Everything you mentioned sounds very likely to be true. I don't know much about the military beyond what I have been told by others.

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