The term “psychopathy” it is not clear to most people because it has several meanings attributed to it. In fact, even in psychology, this word is used to designate very different realities, the most questioned criterion being the relationship between psychopathy and crime.
Authors such as Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare have treated delineate the psychological profile of psychopaths, Describe the personality traits and behavioral patterns characteristic of those to whom such a qualifier applies. Let’s see what conceptualizations there are on psychopathy and what is the classic profile of this disorder.
What is psychopathy?
Psychopathy is a personality disorder not recognized by major diagnostic classifications. It is characterized by a lack of empathy and a feeling of guilt, As well as for egocentricity, impulsiveness and the tendency to lie and manipulation. In contrast, sociopathy is more associated with antisocial personality disorder.
In common parlance, this term is often associated with criminal conduct, especially serial murder; however, the truth is that psychopaths they don’t always commit crimes and can be perfectly suited in society. In fact, authors like Kevin Dutton (2013) have defended the virtues of the psychopathic personality in today’s context.
The current conception of psychopathy it is largely based on the work of Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare. In his book The Mask of Wisdom (1941), Cleckley described the most influential psychopathy to date, while Hare built on this work to create the well-known PCL Scale (1991), which assesses psychopathic traits. .
According to the triarchical model of Patrick et al. (2009), psychopathy consists of three main traits: boldness, disinhibition and pettiness. We know that psychopaths they are less afraid than the others, That they have more difficulty controlling their impulses and that their lack of empathy leads them to use others to their advantage.
For his part, Garrido (2000) divides psychopathy into two dimensions: the emotional and interpersonal domain and the lifestyle. The former encompasses signs such as self-centeredness, manipulative tendencies, and lack of guilt, while behavioral factors include the need for stimulation, impulsiveness, and criminal behavior.
Psychological profile of psychopaths
In this section we will summarize personality traits of psychopaths according to the classifications made by Cleckley and Hare.
The presence of these characteristics therefore indicates the similarity of a given person with the concept of psychopathy treated by experts.
1. Lack of empathy
Psychopathy has been linked to a deficit of empathy, that is, the ability to understand the mental state of others or to put yourself in their shoes. However, studies suggest that psychopaths have the ability to empathize, but “turn it on” at will; this would explain both the coldness and the social skills that characterize them.
Simon Baron-Cohen, who popularized the concept of “theory of mind,” said that psychopaths have cognitive empathy, but not emotional empathy, and therefore they are not bothered by the suffering of others. These deficits have been associated with lower activation in the fusiform cortex and extrastriatum, which are linked to facial recognition.
2. Self-centeredness and narcissism
Self-centeredness, or the inability to adopt points of view other than one’s own, is closely linked to a lack of empathy. Very often psychopaths are also narcissists; That means they tend to think that they are superior to others and more important than them.
3. Superficial charm
The typical profile of the psychopath is that of a charming and sociable person, With good social skills. The case of murderer Ted Bundy, who seduced his victims to gain their trust and received multiple love letters and marriage proposals after being sentenced to death, may serve as an extreme example.
4. Emotional poverty
The brain disorders inherent in psychopathy mean that the range of emotions in these people is limited. Specifically, in addition to emotional coldness, psychopaths are characterized by feel less negative emotions, especially fear, Although it is believed that they normally feel positive emotions.
5. Antisocial and Criminal Conduct
Psychopathy test scores correlate with substance abuse, imprisonment, gender-based violence, rape, and pedophilia. Economic and war crimes, as well as participation in organized crime, are also more common among psychopaths than in the general population.
Like an antisocial disorder, a predisposition to psychopathy it can manifest in childhood in behaviors such as theft, frequent lying, vandalism and violence against people and animals; these signs are classified as “dissocial personality disorder”.
6. Difficulty in learning from experience
According to research, psychopaths’ problems learning from experience are due to alterations in the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These structures are respectively related to executive functions and emotional learning.
Apparently, psychopaths have a harder time than the general population to associate the punishments they receive with the behaviors that provoked them. Another biological explanation is the presence of reduced levels of cortisol and serotonin, linked to aversive conditioning and behavioral inhibition.
7. Impulsiveness and lack of planning
Psychopathic impulsivity can be caused by decreased activation of the frontal cortex, associated with increased testosterone levels and reduced serotonin levels. All of this could reduce self-control, Facilitate impulsive behavior such as drug addiction or physical assault.
This is also linked to a lack of long-term planning. There are usually no vital goals; behavior is guided more by momentary impulses.
8. insincerity and manipulation
The insincerity and manipulative tendency typical of psychopaths can manifest with varying degrees of subtlety, but these are two very common characteristics in people with moderate levels of psychopathy who may not manifest many of the traits other than us. have seen.
9. Predisposition to boredom
The biological alterations of psychopaths they lead them to a need for continuous stimulation. This allows them to get bored easily, a trait shared by very outgoing people (who have a low level of brain activation while resting) and others with disorders that affect the brain, such as ADHD.
10. Parasitic lifestyle
The manipulation and egocentricity of psychopaths prompt them to enjoy others to meet your basic needs. Thus, they often live off the money of others, such as their parents or their partner.
11. Absence of remorse
Although they engage in behaviors that harm other people, such as some of those we have mentioned in previous sections, psychopaths they usually don’t feel guilty for their actions; their lack of emotional empathy allows them to commit crimes or manipulate others without remorse.
12. Sexual promiscuity
Often psychopaths they have many different relationships that last a short time. In addition, given their interpersonal difficulties and to establish commitments, they get involved superficially and are mainly concerned with sex and profit. practices that they can take away from their partners.
- Cleckley, H. (1941). The mask of common sense: an attempt to clarify some questions about the so-called psychopathic personality (6ª Ed.). Saint-Louis: CV Mosby Co.
- Dutton, K. (2013). The wisdom of psychopaths. Barcelona: Ariel.
- Garrido, V. (2000). The psychopath. A chameleon in today’s society. Alzira: Algar.
- Hare, RD (1991). Revised Hare Psychopathy Checklist (Hare PCL-R). Toronto: multi-health systems.
- Hare, RD (2011). Unconscious: the disturbing world of psychopaths among us. New York: Guilford Press.
- Patrick, C., Fowles, D. and Krueger, R. (2009). Triarchal Conceptualization of Psychopathy: Origins of the Development of Disinhibition, Boldness, and Pettiness. Development and Psychopathology, 21 (3): 913–938.
- Vernon, PA, Villani, VC, Vickers, LC and Harris, JA (2008). A genetic investigation into the behavior of the Dark Triad and the Great 5. Personality and Individual Differences, 44 (2): 445-452.