The cover story in this week’s Science News is an in-depth investigation into the science of psychopaths and psychopathy.
The article is a fantastic round-up of much of the most recent work on the neuroscience and psychology of psychopathy, and clarifies exactly what is meant when someone is diagnosed as being a ‘psychopath’.
One psychopathic offender murdered his ex-girlfriend to stop her from interfering with his new relationship. Another psychopathic inmate arranged and committed the murder of his wife to cash in her life insurance policy.
In contrast, a large majority of the nonpsychopathic prisoners had killed someone in the heat of the moment or upon reaching an emotional breaking point.
Porter measured psychopathy using a tool called the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). This clinical-rating scale, devised by psychologist Robert D. Hare of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has served as the gold standard of psychopathy tests for about 20 years.
In this approach, a psychologist or psychiatrist interviews a person and reviews his or her criminal record. The rater then judges whether any of 20 psychopathy-related traits applies to that person. These traits include being superficial, acting grandiosely, lying frequently, showing no remorse, lacking empathy, refusing to accept responsibility for misdeeds, behaving impulsively, and having committed many crimes.
The article also looks at an increasing area of research – non-criminal psychopaths.
These are supposedly people with many of the psychopathic personality traits who don’t come in contact with the law or legal system. Many supposedly thrive in business, where socially underhand but lawful tactics can be an advantage.
If you want a good overview of the current state of psychopathy research, the Science News article is a remarkably good summary, although the recent study on the recognition of facial emotion in psychopaths was too new to be included.