How to Spot a Sociopath

Psychologists vie to enumerate the facets of sociopathy. Joseph Newman argues that the sociopath has an attention bottleneck that allows him to focus only on one activity or train of thought, to the exclusion of others. Researchers, including Howard Kamler, say that the sociopath lacks not "moral" identity but self-identity altogether. Yet nowhere do I recognize myself more than in Hervey Cleckley's clinical profiles. In The Mask of Sanity, published in 1941, Cleckley distilled what he believed to be the 16 key behavioral characteristics that defined psychopathy. Most of these factors are still used today to diagnose sociopaths/psychopaths and others with antisocial disorders. (Psychopathy and sociopathy are terms with an intertwined clinical history, and they are now largely used interchangeably. The DSM excludes both, in favor of antisocial personality disorder.)

  • Superficial charm and good intelligence
  • Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
  • Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations
  • Unreliability
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity
  • Lack of remorse and shame
  • Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
  • Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
  • Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
  • General poverty in major affective reactions
  • Specific loss of insight
  • Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
  • Fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without
  • Suicide threats rarely carried out
  • Sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated
  • Failure to follow any life plan

See also: Confessions of a Sociopath

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