© All rights reserved
“The truth is, the personality structure of the psychopath spells trouble for the rest of us.” ~ Robert Hare, PhD | Without Conscience, 1993, p. 87
What is a psychopath?
Psychopathy is a neurodevelopmental (personality) disorder (Blair, 2010). This condition is unique from other disorders of the mind. This particular group of individuals tend to disrupt or harm the safety and well-being of others.
Many pose a risk to society in general. Therefore, increasing awareness of psychopathy could impact millions.
They can often negatively impact culture, politics, relationships, and work environments.
Some with psychopathy hurt and damage complete strangers. Sadly these unsuspecting people have no idea they are on the psychopath’s radar. For instance, the driver, screaming obscenities at you, tailgating, and trying to get your attention because you didn’t move your car the second the light turned green.
Some with psychopathy are predatory. They hunt or stalk other human beings for the purpose of:
- release of perverse fantasies,
- additions to their collection,
- and/or power gratification.
This can be through romantic relationships, work interactions, proximity (e.g., neighbor), or through the act of a crime. For example, child molestation, rape, abduction, murder, business transactions, fraud, corporate misconduct, theft, political activities.
Although most with psychopathy are not criminals, a significant portion of criminals. This group has a large number of crimes that are extremely violent and heinous.
They do not necessarily set out to intentionally harm. Psychopathic traits are not limited to one socioeconomic class or race. They can be found among all groups. Primarily male, however both men and women can have this personality disorder. The true estimate of women with psychopathy is suspected to be skewed. Some within this group might be misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
The devastation and pain caused from intimate involvement with a psychopath can be tremendous. There are some people who do not leave these relationships with their lives (e.g., Lacie Peterson). There will be many who will not leave these relationships with intact mental or physical health.
Risk to the public?
Psychopaths can be dangerous to others for many reasons. Because of,
- Inability to bond
- Emotion processing problems
- Inability to care about others
- Poor moral judgement, Immorality, or amorality
- Lack of a conscience, guilt, shame, or remorse
- Preoccupation with power and control
- and their neurobiological make up.
Some lack the insight to ‘see‘ themselves accurately and all lack the empathy to care.
They deceive, manipulate and destroy the lives of others for their own gratification. They cheat people, barging into their lives, winning their trust, cleaning out their bank accounts and disappearing. They lie about their past and accomplishments to get what they want. They can be anybody.” (Davis-Barron, 1995, p 1315)
12 basics of psychopathy
- Psychopathy is a personality disorder. The symptoms are associated with underlying neurobiological dysfunction, genetics, and/or environmental circumstances during childhood.
2. This disorder is associated with several regions and systems of the brain. For example, many studies support that individuals with strong psychopathic traits tend to have dysfunctional reward, morality, bonding, and affective/emotional processing systems. There are several additional variables at play with respect to psychopathy that impact the intensity and demonstration of some of the symptoms (e.g., genetics, parenting, environment).
3. The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are encompassed within the disorder of psychopathy.
4. Research supports 2 possible variants of psychopathy – Primary and Secondary. There is some debate in the literature as to whether secondary psychopathy is ‘truly’ psychopathy (Skeem, Polaschek, Patrick, & Lilienfeld, 2011).
5. With regard to primary psychopathy – the underlying cause is typically genetic. However, environmental factors can contribute to and/or exacerbate symptom expression as well.
6. There is a paradox, as most with psychopathy can present themselves as one without psychopathology – ‘normal.’ They display a mask when attempting to make an impression. Some can be charming, exciting, fun, stable, calm, free of anxiety, and initially likable. These positive symptoms are often confusing to others after they get a glimpse of their dark personality traits.
7. Psychopaths lack empathy, however this is often in association with ’emotional empathy.’ Some with psychopathy can ‘read’ you, however cannot ‘feel’ you (Blair, 2005; Goleman, 2007). And on top of it all, they simply do not care.
8. A few of the brain regions that are likely involved with psychopathy include, the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), anterior insular cortex, anterior cingulate gyrus, and white matter communication tracts (e.g., right uncinate fasciculus). These communication problems are particularly problematic between the vmPFC and the amygdala (Motzkin, Newman, Kiehl, & Koenigs, 2011; Kiehl, Bates, Laurens, Kristin, Hare & Liddle, 2006).
9. To date, psychopathy is not an official ‘stand alone’ diagnosis for patient classification within the DSM-5. Therefore, a psychiatrist or psychologist uses the diagnosis – Antisocial Personality Disorder.
10. Research supports that individuals diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder have some of the neurobiological impairments of psychopathy. This makes sense, given that narcissistic personality disorder is suspected to be along the spectrum of psychopathy. One study found (i.e., neuroimaging) those with narcissistic personality disorder to have problems associated with the right anterior insular cortex – a region of the brain suspected to be associated with empathy (Fan, Wonneberger, Enzi, de Greck, Ulrich, Tempelmann, Bogerts, Doering, & Northoff, 2010).
11. Although psychopathy is often equated with criminal behavior, research supports that most psychopaths have never and will never commit a crime (Skeem, 2011; Skeem & Cooke, 2010).
12. Within the disorder of psychopathy, there is variation. Although the core symptoms of those who have primary psychopathy tend to be similar (i.e., callous, grandiose, pathological lying, glib, superficial; Hare, 2003), we do see differences among individuals with this disorder. There are some who have traits of other personality conditions present. Some are extremely skilled socially and can speak well under any circumstances. But some cannot. There is a range. Some with psychopathy are ‘more psychopathic’ than others – more dangerous. In other words, there is not a one size fits all when it comes to this character disorder.
Through new research studies we are learning more about the neurobiological foundation of this disorder. Therefore, the information currently available will likely be clarified, expanded, and possibly changed in the future. Science will push us forward, as new information becomes available.
There are several researchers who are leading the way in the investigation of this condition. These doctors are advancing science and helping victims, survivors, and society with their findings. Here are a few of my favorite researchers and experts:
Robert Hare, PhD
James Blair, PhD
Kent Kiehl, PhD
Michael Koenigs, PhD
Essi Viding, PhD
Christopher J. Patrick, PhD
Scott Lilienfeld, PhD
David Kosson, PhD
Rhonda Freeman, PhD
2013 | All rights reserved
[Image Credit: Presentermedia.com]
Blair, R.J, (2010). Psychopath, Frustration, and Reactive Aggression: The Role of Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex, British Journal of Psychology, 101, 383 -399.
Blair, R. J. (2005). Responding to the emotions of others: Dissociating forms of empathy through the study of typical and psychiatric populations. Conscious and Cognition, 14, 698-718.
Carré , J., Hyde, L., Neumann , C., Viding, E., & Hariri, A. (2013). The Neural signatures of distinct psychopathic traits, Social Neuroscience, 8:2, 122-135
Davis-Barron S. (1995) Psychopathic patients pose dilemma for physicians and society. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 1995 Apr 15;152(8):1314-7.
Fan, Y., Wonneberger, C., Enzi, B., de Greck, M., Ulrich, Tempelmann,C., Bogerts, B., Doering, S., & Northoff,G. (2010). The narcissistic self and its psychological and neural correlates: An exploratory fMRI study. Psychological Medicine, Aug; 41 (8), 1641-1650.
Gao, Y., Glenn, A.L., Schug, R.A., Yang, Y., Raine, A. (2009). The Neurobiology of psychopathy: A neurodevelopmental Perspective. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54(12), 813-823.
Goleman, D. (2007). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. Bantam Books.
Kiehl, K., Bates, A., Laurens, Kristin R.; Hare, R., & Liddle, P. (2006). Brain potentials implicate temporal lobe abnormalities in criminal psychopaths. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 115(3), Aug, 443-453
Motzkin JC, Newman JP, Kiehl KA, Koenigs M. (2011). Reduced prefrontal connectivity in psychopathy. Journal of Neuroscience, November 30; 31(48): 17348–17357.
Skeem, J. & Cooke, D. (2010). Is criminal behavior a central component of psychopathy? Conceptual directions for resolving the debate. Psychological Assessment, 22, 433-445.
Skeem, J, Poythressb, N., Edensc, J., Lilienfeldd, S., & Caled., E. (2003). Psychopathic personality or personalities? Exploring potential variants of psychopathy and their implications for risk assessment. Aggression and Violent Behavior 8, 513 – 546
Skeem, J., Polaschek, D., Patrick, C., & Lilienfeld, S. (2011). Psychopathic personality: Bridging the gap between scientific evidence and public policy. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12, 95-162.