Psychopathy: A Misunderstood Personality Disorder

Psychopathic personalities are some of the most memorable characters portrayed in popular media today. These characters, like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Frank Abagnale Jr. from Catch Me If You Can and Alex from A Clockwork Orange, are typically depicted as charming, intriguing, dishonest, guiltless, and in some cases, downright terrifying. But scientific research suggests that psychopathy is a personality disorder that is widely misunderstood.

“Psychopathy tends to be used as a label for people we do not like, cannot understand, or construe as evil,” notes Jennifer Skeem, Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. Skeem, Devon Polaschek of Victoria University of Wellington, Christopher Patrick of Florida State University, and Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University are the authors of a new monograph focused on understanding the psychopathic personality that will appear in the December issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the course of their research, the authors reviewed many scientific findings that seemed to contradict one another. “Psychopathy has long been assumed to be a single personality disorder. However, there is increasing evidence that it is a confluence of several different personality traits,” Skeem says. The authors of the monograph argue that rather than being “one thing” as often assumed, psychopathy appears to be a complex, multifaceted condition marked by blends of personality traits reflecting differing levels of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness.  And scientific findings also suggest that a sizable subgroup of juvenile and adult offenders labeled as psychopathic are actually more emotionally disturbed than emotionally detached, showing signs of anxiety and dysphoria.

According to Skeem, these important distinctions have long escaped the attention of psychologists and policy-makers. As a result, she and her co-authors set about to try to dispel some of the myths and assumptions that people often make about psychopathy. Although many people might assume that psychopaths are ‘born,’ not ‘made,’ the authors stress that psychopathy is not just a matter of genes – it appears to have multiple constitutional causes that can be shaped by environmental factors. Many psychologists also assume that psychopathy is inalterable – once a psychopath, always a psychopath. However, there is currently scant scientific evidence to support this claim. Recent empirical work suggests that youth and adults with high scores on measures of psychopathy can show reduced violent and other criminal behavior after intensive treatment.

Along with challenging the assumption that psychopathy is a monolithic entity, perhaps the other most important myth that the authors hope to dispel is that psychopathy is synonymous with violence. Skeem points out that psychopathic individuals often have no history of violent behaviour or criminal convictions. “Psychopathy cannot be equated with extreme violence or serial killing. In fact, “psychopaths” do not appear different in kind from other people, or inalterably dangerous,” she observes. Nor is it clear that psychopathy predicts violence much better than a past history of violent and other criminal behavior – or general antisocial traits.

Effectively dispelling these myths is important, the authors argue, because accurate policy recommendations hinge on which personality traits – and which groups of people – associated with psychopathy one is examining. “Decisions about juvenile and adult offenders that are based on faulty assumptions about violence risk, etiology, and treatment amenability have adverse consequences, both for individual offenders and the public,” Skeem says.

In clarifying the personality traits that characterize psychopathy, scientists can contribute to prevention and treatment strategies that improve public health and safety. “In short, research on psychopathy has evolved to a level that it can greatly improve on the current, ‘one size fits all’ policy approach,” concludes Skeem.


Thanks for writing this. I was so sick of people calling us evil and saying that we have no feelings. I’m glad someone actually knows what it really is. Thanks.

I am curious. So, what in heck are you? If you are psychopathic and not mean, not detached emotionally from others, etc., then what are you, what DO you feel, etc.? I wish you could help me there. How, then, do you identify as psychopathic?

the term psychopath is not actually a medical term. Its made up. People who show lack of empathy and such are identified as those with a personality disorder

I feel this article is way off in the way they are trying to downplay the dangers of an individual that is psychopathic.
A psychopath does not mean they will be serial killers for sure. BUT a serial killer is going to be a psychopath. 99 times out of a hundred give or take.
But in being a psychopath that individual IS GOING to be a health, mental and physical problem for anyone dealing with them.
They are anti social they have NO CONSCIENCE…even if they do not have a desire to kill they will still stop at nothing to get their way. They will harm anyone a mother, father, spouse ,sibling,wife children if that is what it takes to get what they want. They know what is right and wrong but they do not care and they don’t care that they don’t care. IF THEY DID they would not be a psychopath. Do you get the picture ? If they never have anyone in their way of getting what they want, they wont do any harm. That is if they are completely mentally healthy in all other ways. But how many of us are completely healthy and we are not even a psychopath ?
Good Luck finding happy people involved with a psychopath, as the authors seem to be implying you can be.
I just do not want to see innocent people drawn into the web of manipulation in very bad ways by the psychopath. OK, NO, not everyone is Norman Bates but they will still harm you and you may never even know where it came from. They are expert actors and quite cunning. They fool parents and doctors everyone . You I am sure if you have any problems and we all do, most likely have a psychopath in your lives. The article is on target with saying it is a condition that has other conditions mixed in . It is a part of Narcissist condition as well as Aspergers and I am sure there are many more. They are for the most part dangerous weather or not they are killers.

Very much agreement with Annabelle. Good initial inquiry into these aspect. Would like to see more!

More Information and research needed for Personalities that try to assume the lives and personalities of others.This Article was helpful.Not necessarily what the information I was looking for, but helpful non the less.Thank You…..Informatative

Being psychopathic is classed as a disability here in the UK.
So, on that basis, it sickens me to the stomache, when I read regularly, that phsychopaths/sociopaths/severe personalitiy disordered sufferers, are in someway accountable for their “disabilty”..!

In one hand its a disability…and yet a disabled person is ridiculed when you read up on psychopathy…its ridiculous, and discriminatory..!

Oh please some discrimination is necessary these people need to be discovered and placed. They ruin lives and costs 100s of billions of dollars in unnecessary costs while destroying progression. We need to test and place these people in specified jobs so they don’t ruin everybody else and keep then away. Indigenous cultures just killed them as they cannot socially deal with real cohesion. And if they do not feel for others what is the point of their running a mock in society.

Lynn, thank you so much! My sister’s psychopath mother ruined her life (literally, she died last year) and is trying to ruin my 4 nieces’ lives. She’s already sucked one in and is living off her.

Well said !!!
Trying to cope in the general society they cause extrene terror and chaos. They are master liars and minipulators.

It is a horrible merry-go-round for both society and the mentally ill.

Something needs to be done!

Your right. I agree with you and everyone replying as you do. They mean no one any good. There live to ruin others lives. I too have seen this.

Scant scientific evidence that shows psychopathy as inalterable? All your “empirical work” shows is that psychopaths can learn how to behave non-violently after intensive “treatment”. And any given psychopath’s criminal aptitude is relative to whether or not he/she is a criminal. In the end, there isn’t scant evidence to show psychopathy hasn’t been altered. What is abundantly EVIDENT after your “intensive treatment” is that you STILL have a psychopath.

Are you speaking from experience. Have you been through the intense treatment you discuss? Ha ha!

Therefore it is permanent?

Very nice read, well written.

If one shows no empathy, desires no social interaction, feels no remorse whatsoever, and gets to know people on a personal level just so they can be manipulated, how would they be categorised? Asking for a friend ofcourse.

The stigmatizing of certain people as psychopaths, narccicists, sociopaths, etc these days is becoming an acceptable form of discrimination these days just as bad as 100 years ago when we called developmentally disabled people as feeble-minded, idiot, etc who were forcibly steralised against their will under the eugenics laws.

Illness is illness more compassion kindness and humility goes a long way to help the healing and acceptance process

Too many people have given up the meat and the sauce of life. They have given up living, have given up on dealing with others, and have decided that, for most people, fitting in and being a nobody is the way to go.
The manipulation of the bulk of humanity into this train of behavior has become so pervasive that a minority who show a predisposition to aggressiveness, ie, with a show-me attitude, who think life should be fine or otherwise do not fit, are forced into mal-adaptive behaviors such as those described by Prof Hare.
If you forced anyone off society, they’d adapt sociopathic traits if weak, or psychopathic traits if they are strong enough mentally and emotionally.

I don’t want to burst a bubble here, but you have to play the game called life, and cease being a victim. Modern life has become such a bore that it ought to be spiced up.
If enough people were not moping, you’d be more interesting and not be getting dumped. You are responsible for your own life, no matter what happens.
I am not saying such ppl do not exist, this is more of a social phenomenon than a real thing, and it is caused by ostracizing of individuals from society in one way or another, while enforcing awful conformity of behavior.
You have a choice, get better and adapt. You have already created sociopaths and psychopaths and every kind of mental phenomena through your society. Own up to it. No sociopath or psychopath should feel sorry for you.
If you don’t take responsibility in your society, don’t cry when it bites you in the ads.
We are all people. Live life and understand others, and almost everyone will be happy.

Somehow your not understanding this. Nobody wants anyone to feel sorry for them. What we want is for psychopaths, and the other types of harmful to society problems, to not be a problem.
Nip this enormous problem in the bud and relieve society from this problem completely. We don’t want sorry’s we want RESULTS , IDENTIFICATION AND RESOLUTION.

Some of us that have extreme cases of Sensory Processing Sensitivity have to, to some degree isolate ourselves socially as just having long conversations with loud people can trigger a sensory overload and if not left alone to recover become agitated and will eventually become aggressive through no fault of our own. It is not something we can control nor is it something we want. We do what we have to in order to cope. Also many of the medications that are used to “treat” these conditions have negative epigenetic effects and make matters worse. Yes I am talking from personal experience with the medications.

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