This paper is a brief attempt to introduce the reader to psychopathy as it
relates to deviant crimes. It is for those who may wish to research the
topic further, and will provide several references for the reader. Psychopathy is relevant to the study of deviant crimes because many
offenders demonstrate traits of this character disturbance, and is best
described in the writings of Hare (1993), Meloy (1988), and Cleckley (1988).
The Hare Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (1991), or PCL-R, was developed by
Robert Hare as a reliable measure of psychopathy. The PCL-R measures 20
items (characteristics of psychopathy) using historical, interview and
specific diagnostic data, to estimate the degree to which the individual
meets the criteria of psychopathy. Although a clinical interview is an
aspect of the process, the historical data should come from other sources
other than a self-report from the individual. Training courses in the use of
the PCL-R are required to use the instrument, and these courses can be found
at Robert Hare's web site, which is listed in the
links section of Deviant Crimes.
Items on the PCL-R are scored with a 3-point scale (0,1,2), with a total of
40 points possible. Zero (0) is given when the item does not apply to the
individual, one (1) point is given if the item applies to some extent or if
there is an uncertainty, and three (3) points are given if the item
consistently applies to the individual according to the information
gathered. An individual scoring 30 or greater is considered a psychopath
with the use of this instrument. Meloy (1988) believes that a scale of
severity be used when using the PCL-R and suggests the following:
Mild psychopathic disturbance 10-19
Moderate psychopathic disturbance 20-29
Severe psychopathic disturbance 30-40
(Meloy, 1988 p. 318)
(Note: While writing this paper, it was brought to my attention that Meloy
is now using a higher number to indicate psychopathy. The first author has yet to find
anything in the literature as a reference to this.)
Two items on the PCL-R, lack of empathy and lack of remorse, are often seen
in offenders of deviant crimes. Lacking empathy, offenders are able to view
their victims as objects, to use and throw away as they please, not unlike a
piece of garbage. By viewing the victim in this manner, offenders also seem
to lack remorse for their actions, which protects them from feeling guilt.
It should be noted that psychopaths can and do express feelings of empathy,
remorse and guilt without actually experiencing the associated feelings. In
other words, psychopaths can state that they feel sorry for their actions,
or seemingly empathize for the victims, yet actually feel nothing. To the
psychopath, these are simply words they have learned from others that
describe the appropriate feelings, but are only used to gain a future
victim's trust or to minimize punishment. Cleckley (1988) appropriately
called this a "mask" because these words or actions of the psychopath do not
truly reflect his internal world. The exception to this seems to be the
secondary psychopath (Sue et al., 1997) that apparently does experience
remorse and guilt and does not score above 30 on the PCL-R. This will be
discussed further in another article.
Grandiosity is also a hallmark of psychopathy, and there are those who have
argued that psychopathy is simply an extreme form of narcissism. According
to Meloy (1997), the main difference between narcissistic personality
disorder as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders, (4th ed.) (1994) and psychopathy is the way in which
the individual devalues others. He further states that in Narcissistic
Personality Disorder (NPD) the individual devalues others in fantasy, while
the psychopathic personality devalues others by aggressive means. As one may
imagine, psychopathic offenders may be viewed as aggressive narcissists that
commit offenses to restore or further build upon their own sense of being
dominant, powerful, or otherwise better than their victims.
Psychopaths are wonderful at lying and manipulation, which allows them to
gain the confidence of future victims. In addition, these individuals are
impulsive and seemingly strive for excitement, while disregarding any
responsibility for their actions. This is often displayed through chronic
antisocial acts (those which deviate from the socially acceptable norms of
society and violate the rights of others), because the psychopath also seems
to lack the ability to conceptualize the consequences of his or her actions. Yet, this does not mean that psychopaths do not know right from wrong; it is
more a matter of not caring whether it is right or wrong.
One interesting theory presented in Sue et al (1997) states that like
heroes, psychopaths are fearless and represent the opposite side of a coin.
Heroes are fearless to save lives, while psychopaths are fearless to destroy
or end lives. Author David Lykken (1995) has written extensively about the
psychopath (also see sociopathy) and fearlessness in his book entitled
Personalities. Again, fearlessness points to characteristics such as
impulsivity, sensation-seeking behavior, and an inability to foresee the
consequences of actions. More on the fearlessness aspect of psychopathy will
be written about in a future article.
Many of the concepts presented thus far are also indicative of a reactive
attachment disorder, which may help explain why psychopaths seem to have
difficulty forming meaningful relationships with others. The lack of
attachments can often be seen in the lives of serial murderers through
studies (Ressler et al. 1988) that have reported a high incidence of
isolation, lack of significant relationships, or several short-term
relationships in the histories of these individuals. However, this is a very
involved concept that I will not present in this article. For more
information on psychopathy and attachments, it is suggested that the reader
check out the text Violent Attachments by Reid Meloy (1992).
Other indicators of psychopathy include a parasitic lifestyle and the use of
superficial charm to succeed in these ventures. Although psychopaths have
difficulties with relationships, they are more than willing to put on their
"mask" for criminal activities that require them to be charming or
demonstrate a sense of caring. Again, this is an act; one that can change
very quickly because psychopaths lack the behavioral controls over sudden
feelings of rage. This can lead to violence on the part of the psychopath,
who does not think of the consequences of his actions.
Psychopathy is a enduring pattern of behavior. The first signs of
psychopathy may be seen in childhood with early behavior problems, juvenile
delinquency, and lack of long-term life goals or planning. This can and does
continue into adulthood where many will meet the criteria for Antisocial
Personality Disorder (ASPD) as indicated in DSM-IV (1994). Antisocial
personality disorder and psychopathy have several similar criteria, yet they
are not the same. Within the reference section of this paper are two
articles written by Hare about the differences between ASPD and psychopathy
for those interested in learning more.
Ted Bundy is probably the most often used example of a psychopathic serial
murderer. Bundy's life has been so well documented through books, television
programs and interviews that one can easily see many of the traits
previously mentioned that describe the psychopath. In fact, according to Meloy (1997), one could most likely arrive at a fairly accurate score on the
PCL-R even though Bundy was executed in 1989. The reason Bundy was so well
documented can arguably be related to his psychopathic traits of grandiosity
and manipulation. Bundy granted interviews to writers (Michaud & Aynesworth,
1999; Keppel, 1995) providing his insights into the mind of a serial
murderer, going so far as to offer opinions in an ongoing serial murder
investigation. This served as fuel for his need to be admired, perhaps even
feared, but there were most likely other motivations. In providing
researchers, writers and investigators with information, Bundy was also
attempting to manipulate his situation of impending death. Between
grandiosity and manipulation, Bundy believed he could save his life because
he was too precious to execute. One final motivation for Bundy is that it
probably gave him great pleasure talking about his crimes, thus enabling him
to relive and record his fantasies providing him once last chance to devalue
Again, this was a brief attempt to introduce the reader to psychopathy;
there are volumes of articles and books to be read on the subject. For more
references to articles, check out the
reference list portion of the site.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of
mental disorders, (4th ed.) . Washington, DC: Author.
Cleckley, H. (1988). The mask of sanity (5th ed) . St Louis: C.V.
Hare, R.D. (1991). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Toronto:
Hare, R.D. (1993). Without conscience: The disturbing world of the
psychopaths among us. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
Hare, R.D. (1996). Psychopathy: A clinical construct whose time has come.
Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23, 25-54.
Hare, R.D. (1996). Psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder: A case
of diagnostic confusion. Psychiatric Times, Available Online: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/p960239.html
Keppel, R.D. (1995). The riverman: Ted Bundy and I hunt for the green
river killer. New York, NY:Pocket Books.
Lykken, D.T. (1995). The antisocial personalities. Hillside, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Meloy, J.R. (1988). The psychopathic mind: Origins, dynamics, and
treatment. Northvale, NJ: Aronson Inc.
Meloy, J.R. (1992). Violent Attachments. Northvale, NJ: Aronson Inc.
Meloy, J.R. (Speaker). (1997). Psychopathy and sexual homicide.
(Cassette Recording). Available: Specialized Training Services, Inc.
Meloy, J.R. (2000). Violence risk and threat assessment: A practical
guide for mental health criminal justice professionals. San Diego, CA:
Specialized Training Services.
Michaud, S.G. & Aynesworth, H. (1999). The only living witness: The true
story of serial sex killer Ted Bundy. Irving, TX: Authorlink Press.
Ressler, R.K., Burgess, A.W. & Douglas, J.E. (1988). Sexual homicide:
Patterns and motives. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Sue, D., Sue, D., & Sue, S. (1997). Understanding Abnormal Behavior (5th
ed.) . Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.