The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

Female Psychopaths

Are there more than we think?

Callous. Unemotional. Lacking empathy. Aggressive. Impulsive. Acting without any regard for the welfare of others. These descriptions have consistently been used to describe psychopathy, a rather grim personality constellation that is over-represented in prison inmates (although the majority of inmates are not psychopaths and most psychopaths are not in prison). This personality make-up is also consistently documented more often in men versus women; in fact, the ratio has been as high as 20:1.

However, new research suggests that some of the difference between men and women may not be in the existence of deceitful, manipulative, and exploitive personality traits but in the expression of them. Specifically, these researchers found that women may be more likely to express these personality deficits through behaviors that are typically associated with, and diagnosed as, other mental illnesses.

For example, these researchers found overlap between some of the symptoms  such as histrionic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. A woman whose extreme fear of abandonment leads her to periodic outbursts of rage over real or imagined transgressions, flips between seeing her significant other as either completely perfect or totally evil, or  who has to constantly be the center of attention certainly isn't who we think of when we think of the classic psychopath. But she may be just as incapable of true empathy, and just as manipulative and deceitful, as the callous, unemotional male.

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

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