The diagnostic criteria for psychopathy according to Cleckley

Psychopathy, currently obsolete in clinical settings, can be likened to the antisocial personality disorder of DSM. It is now starting to be replaced by the term sociopathy. These are people who manipulate, transgress and violate social norms for their own benefit, without any remorse.

In this article we will talk about the diagnostic criteria of psychopathy according to Cleckley. Cleckley pioneered the study of psychopathy and embodied its criteria in his famous book The Mask Of Sanity (1941).

    Hervey Cleckley

    Hervey Cleckley was an American physician, born in 1903 and died in 1984. Cleckley pioneered research into psychopathy, And proposed a number of diagnostic criteria for this. The diagnostic criteria for psychopathy, according to Cleckley, were described in 1941 in his book “The Mask of Sanity”.

    These criteria were the basis for subsequent criteria, used in the various classifications developed since, including the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Thus, Cleckley was the initiator of the study of psychopathy, and after him came authors such as Blackburn and Hare (the latter ended up being the most relevant author).

    Also, Cleckley introduce the concept of “semantic dementia”, To refer to what he considered to be the main feature of psychopathy.

    Semantic dementia consisted of the separation of speech and action, which resulted in subjects who were highly asocial, aggressive and impulsive, who had neither feelings nor guilt (sometimes not at all), and who would be unable to create lasting affectionate bonds with other people. […] emotional superficiality, seemingly pleasant social treatment, and an inability to learn from experience. “

      Diagnostic criteria for psychopathy according to Cleckley

      Cleckley developed his criteria for psychopathy (1941, 1976) through studies he conducted in several real cases. These criteria included a number of characteristics important in the field of psychopathy, some of which have been shared with others already designated by Gray and Hutchinson (1964).

      His list of criteria would include the most meaningful and complex description of that era, and the features would remain until Hare’s description in 1991.

      Thus, the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy according to Cleckley are in total 16:

      • Presence of an exterior charm and of remarkable intelligence.
      • Absence of hallucinations or other signs of irrational thinking.
      • Absence of nervousness of psychoneurotic manifestations.
      • Instability, little formality.
      • False and lack of sincerity.
      • Lack of feelings of remorse or shame.
      • Poorly motivated antisocial behavior.
      • Insufficient reasoning and lack of ability to learn from lived experience.
      • Pathological egocentrism and the inability to love.
      • General poverty in the main emotional relationships.
      • Specific loss of intuition.
      • Insensitivity in interpersonal relationships generals.
      • Fantastic behavior and not recommended, with and without drink.
      • Suicide threats are rarely carried out.
      • Impersonal, trivial and poorly integrated sex life.
      • Not following a life plan.

      The term psychopath

      The term “psychopath” began to be used with the appearance of Hervey Cleckley’s book The Mask of Sanity, published in 1941. From this point on, the term “psychopath” began to allude to a theoretical construction with very defined personality characteristics that differentiate him from the common delinquent.

      This “ordinary criminal” is what would be diagnosed as antisocial according to the Mental Disorder Classification Manuals (DSM-IV and ICD-10).

      Thus, the term psychopath, although its official classification is that of antisocial personality disorder, has a number of characteristics and characteristics that make up a differentiated subgroup within the larger concept of antisociality.

      How are these people?

      Psychopaths today (and according to most textbooks and experts, although there are slight differences) are defined as people with characteristics such as irresponsibility, dishonesty, emotional callousness, cruelty and lack of remorse for their actions (In other words, they have no feeling of guilt). Many of these traits were already defined in the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy according to Cleckley,

      In other cases, the behavioral traits may be more subtle or “hidden” and manifest in the form of manipulative behavior, superficial charm, etc. These behaviors can confuse people in the environment as to the true evil of the psychopath’s intentions.

      Psychopaths are generally skilled and socially accepted people; they use their skills as a “social weapon” to achieve their goals. These are people who have learned the “rules of the game” to connect with people with whom they can make a profit.

      According to Cleckley’s diagnostic criteria for psychopathy, for psychopaths, human relationships are not necessary, but they only have the utility of providing what they want to obtain.

      It is from there that the need arises for them to learn social norms and social interaction, in order to take advantage of people and use them, manipulate them, abuse them or even (in extreme cases) ) kill them at your leisure.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Alba, JL and Garrido, V. (2012). Psychopathy. Case study. Psychopathy in the 21st Century: Notes for Reflection, Criminology, and Justice, 18-24.
      • APA (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid. Panamericana.
      • Millon, T. (1998). Personality disorders. Beyond DSM-IV. Barcelona: Masson.
      • WHO (2000). CIE-10. International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition. Madrid. Panamericana.

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