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

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.

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.

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.

Inside the Mind of a School Shooter

What may cause a person to become a school shooter is when his mind becomes so disorganized that the three brains that make up his triune brain react by becoming "locked and loaded" and focused on a mission to get in and get even with a world that caused him to feel put down and pushed away.

Is Total Mind Control Possible?

In the dark and sinister underworld of spies and madmen many things are possible. So, has hypnosis been used to program people to do something illegal or even diabolical?

The Sex Offender Next Door: Why Reintegration Helps

Ex-offenders are less likely to re-offend if there are people who will support their recovery.

5 Types of Extreme Narcissists (and How to Deal With Them)

By Joseph Burgo Ph.D. on September 22, 2015 Shame
The word "narcissist" has become trivialized, it's become more or less synonymous with vanity or conceit. In connection with the release of his new book — The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age — Clinical Psychologist Joseph Burgo describes five of the more serious types of narcissist and how to cope with them.

Why Some of Us Commit Romantic Revenge

What happens when someone cheats? Is revenge the answer? For some people, yes.

Caution: Releasing "Non-Violent" Offenders

How much do we really known about offenders who may be turned loose?

'Stop Checking Your Smartphone!'

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on September 16, 2015 In Excess
Few people would say that their lives are worse because of mobile phones. However, in the scientific literature, excessive mobile phone use has been linked with self-reported dependence and addiction-like symptoms, sleep interference, financial problems, and dangerous use (phoning while driving). But can disordered mobile phone use be considered as an addiction?

Who's Most Likely to Post a Video Selfie, and Why?

Selfies have gone from the occasional Facebook post of people celebrating good times to elaborate video recordings of their everyday activities. Some people even post videos of themselves surviving an emergency. Whether or not you believe the selfie is a cause, or result, of narcissism, it seems to be here to stay, especially in its most recent, video, format.

20 Signs That Your Boss May Be a Psychopath

When psychopathy hits the workplace, the effects can be devastating, especially if that psychopath is your boss. Take this 20-item quiz to find out if this recently-discovered form of the dark triad personality may be affecting you and those you love in ways you didn’t realize.

Machiavellians at Work: The Case of the Conniving Counselor

Machiavellians are cunning and can exert their influence gradually and subtly. At work they can cause significant harm before their schemes are outed. I responded to one such employee by calling her bluff and blocking her attempts at continued manipulation. Wrath ensued.

Your Field Guide to the Femme Fatale

By Rebecca Coffey on September 09, 2015 The Bejeezus Out of Me
According to research psychologists from the U.K.’s University of Liverpool, narcissistic women are often sexually coercive. But rather than rape, they use emotionally manipulative tactics like threatening blackmail or vowing to harm themselves.

What Is a Machiavellian?

I am a master manipulator and a member of the dark triad. Pleased to meet you, won't you guess my name?

Who Murders Children? Psychology Profiles Child Killers

Published in the academic journal Victims and Offenders this review also confirms the police can infer a lot about who committed the crime just from the age of the victim. When a child is younger than five, the suspect, who is equally likely to be male or female is most probably from within the same family, not motivated by molesting, and tends to kill using their hands.

The Degenerate Anthropophaginian

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on September 02, 2015 Shadow Boxing
True crime author places Packer tale in context of cannibalism and crimes in American history.

Guns, Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, Trauma and Murder

Restricting guns and increasing access to mental health treatment is only part of the answer to violence in the US. We need to look at the role of substance abuse and family violence that surrounds children with violence. There is a need to examine our cultural tolerance of substance abuse and guns as a rite of passage and family violence as nobody else's business.

Does Your Bright Side Have a Dark Side?

We know that people high on psychopathy and related traits lurk in the “dark side” of personality, but what about its opposite? Having a “bright side” to your personality may sound positive, but it can create its own shadows in your life. See how you rate on these 13 typical qualities of the colorful (but still dark) personality.

How to Tell Which Therapist is Right for You

There is a reason that a person uses to excess. That underlying issue must be acknowledged and worked through if recovery is going to be long lasting.

Why Male and Female Psychopaths Get More Sex

One theory is that male and female psychopaths end up hypersexual through different routes via contrasts in personality - it's the antisocial aspect in men, but instead the impulsive thrill seeking in women.

Why Psychopaths Are Immune to Contagious Yawning

Catching a yawn from someone is deeply rooted in empathy, and seen across intelligent, social species. A new study shows that psychopaths, who are lacking in empathy, are far less likely to catch a yawn.