What is Psychopathy?

Psychopathy is among the most difficult disorders to spot. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, they lack conscience and empathy, making them manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal. They are an object of popular fascination and clinical anguish: adult psychopathy is largely impervious to treatment, though programs are in place to treat callous, unemotional youth in hopes of preventing them from maturing into psychopaths.

Psychopathy is a spectrum disorder and can be diagnosed only using the 20-item Hare Psychopathy Checklist. (The bar for clinical psychopathy is a score of 30 or more). Brain anatomy, genetics, and a person’s environment may all contribute to the development of psychopathic traits.

The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are often used interchangeably, but in correct parlance a “sociopath” refers to a person with antisocial tendencies that are ascribed to social or environmental factors, whereas psychopathic traits are more innate, though a chaotic or violent upbringing may tip the scales for those already predisposed to behave psychopathically.  Both constructs are most closely represented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Recent Posts on Psychopathy

These Crimes are Not for Sensitive Ears

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on February 07, 2016 Shadow Boxing
New book in a series about Canadian crimes revives interest in psychopathic child killer from 1950s.

Making Sense of the "Senseless" Crime

The search for a "motive" often leads to a dead end.

Can Some Lead a Better Life by Listening to their Voices?

The Hearing Voices Movement offers a paradigm shift for people confronting auditory hallucinations.

Behind the Mask - Inside a Psychopathic Romance

By Rhonda Freeman Ph.D. on January 26, 2016 NeuroSagacity
Most with psychopathy are nothing like what we might imagine (i.e., the socially awkward loner, disengaged from society, plotting to do harm.) Actually, they often have attractive

The New Demonic Possession

By David Ludden Ph.D. on January 25, 2016 Talking Apes
How we deal with the mentally ill depends what we think caused the disorder.

Everything You've Always Wanted to Know about Narcissism

Where do we draw the line between a healthy amount of self-love and narcissism as a personality disorder? Is Donald Trump really a narcissist? Are there any upsides to narcissism?

The Psychology of Supremacism: Whether White, Male or Human

By Darcia Narvaez Ph.D. on January 24, 2016 Moral Landscapes
As a child the women around me routinely warned each other not to insult the ego of a nearby male. Male supremacism was not challenged, till later. How about human supremacy?

The Neuroscience of Comforting Behavior in Times of Distress

A groundbreaking new study has pinpointed the brain systems that drive humans—and other animals—to physically comfort others during times of distress.

Psychopaths at Work

By Adrian Furnham Ph.D. on January 01, 2016 A Sideways View
There is increasing interest in the "normal psychopath". How do your recognise them and how should you react to them in the work place?

Why Being Normal Isn't Always Healthy

You may not be "normal" and that could be a good thing! Your beauty, intelligence, and gifts may make you extra-ordinary.

Can You Be Conned?

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on December 22, 2015 Shadow Boxing
During a season of gift giving and charity come plenty of scams. A new book will educate you in how to be prepared.

The "Grinch in Elf's Clothing" & Other Covert Villains

Is the Grinch in your life creating holiday chaos? When it's not all "merry and bright," how to spot covert villains, set healthy limits, and enjoy the season.

Lost Guys, Pig Feeders, and Dark Places

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on December 16, 2015 Shadow Boxing
Writing about true crime from my home state was more unnerving than I'd expected. There's something about the Great Lakes and dark woods that sets up spooky business.

How Scary Are the Mental Health Risks of Vegetarianism?

By Hal Herzog Ph.D. on December 15, 2015 Animals and Us
While most vegetarians don't have histories of psychiatric disorders, some studies have linked meat-avoidance with mental illness. But how strong is the link and why does it exist?

Psychoanalyst Michael Eigen on Violence

By Pythia Peay on December 10, 2015 America On The Couch
Eigen has spent over half a century confronting in his patients the boiling lava and fiery agonies of humankind’s darkest side: its evil, madness, and sheer, psychotic craziness.

The Psychopath and Violence: Predatory and Affective

By Seth Meyers Psy.D. on December 07, 2015 Insight Is 20/20
Most people believe that the psychopath is controlled and calculating when he or she is violent, but psychopaths display a second type of violence that can be equally dangerous.

Mass Killers Explained by Syndrome E (Evil)

By Darcia Narvaez Ph.D. on December 06, 2015 Moral Landscapes
Recently, Itzhak Fried hosted a conference on Syndrome E, an idea he published in 1997 to explain mass killers. Let’s examine the characteristics and alternative explanations.

Personality's 'Big One' and the Enigma of Narcissism

Narcissists can be charismatic yet also alienate others. Narcissism combines adaptive and maladaptive traits. This makes it difficult to reconcile narcissism with the theory that all personality traits express a single underlying dimension such as a general factor of personality.

Forensic Psychology Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree

Are you interested in a career in Forensic Psychology, but you don't want to go to graduate school? There are career opportunities available that only require a Bachelor's degree.

Female Serial Killers Are No Myth

By Scott A. Bonn Ph.D. on November 23, 2015 Wicked Deeds
The news and entertainment media focus on and sensationalize the acts of violence and torture perpetrated by male serial killers. Although the graphic images of male serial killers sell countless books and movie tickets, they also perpetuate the myth that all serial killers are demented men.

Forensic Psychology: Exciting New Career Opportunities

Are you thinking of a career in Forensic Psychology? There are many possible career options that you might consider.

When the World Doesn't Make Sense

What to believe in when many of modern life's activities threaten to get you killed.

Psychopath for President?

By David Ludden Ph.D. on November 04, 2015 Talking Apes
When psychopathy is combined with a high degree of intelligence and a strong ability to delay gratification, the result is a ruthless, Machiavellian type who often makes it to the highest echelons of business and government.

Dracula on the Couch: The Psychiatry of Vampires

By Joe Pierre M.D. on October 29, 2015 Psych Unseen
A psychiatric view of vampirism over the past 50 years

Producing TV's True Crime

Ed Hydock has been involved with true crime TV series for years, and he answers questions for viewers curious about the backstory of production.

The Men Who Murdered Halloween

Halloween has thrilled trick or treaters for years and terrified parents for just as long. What if your child bites into an apple with a razor blade inside or trips out on an Ecstasy-laced Pixie Stixx? Are there real boogeymen just waiting for Halloween to do their evil deeds? The answer might surprise you.

From Mass Incarceration to 'Mass Chaos'?

Will the new reform lead to more crime?

American Narcissism and Mass Shooters

By Jean Kim M.D. on October 15, 2015 Culture Shrink
The American Dream of the self-made individual is failing; the easy way to get narcissistic fame and attention has become turning to mass shooting. How do we get rid of this toxic phenomenon?

What Do Master Manipulators and Psychopaths Have in Common?

Psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism are personality traits that make up the "Dark Triad." These three traits all have interrelated features. But Machiavellianism and psychopathy have more in common with each other than either has with narcissism.

Inside the Mind of a School Shooter, Part 2

My very smart and astute friend, Peter Winick, founder of Thought Leadership Leverage shared with me a conversation he had with a doctor who hypothesized that the present day rampage shooters were often the disenfranchised oddballs that have always been part of school, college and community populations. But they didn't commit violence.