Here is a good quick description of this serious brain impairment. The economics are interesting.
What Symptoms Lead To Someone Being Classified A Psychopath?
- A lack of empathy, guilt and remorse; callousness, impulsivity, promiscuity, hot-headedness and pathological lying, among others
- Each of these traits is scored on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is compiled from an interview and an extensive background report
- The scale goes from 0 to 40. The average prisoner scores 22. We consider a score of about 30 as indicating that someone meets the criteria for the disorder
- When someone scores 34 or higher, we find that we are dealing with a person who is fundamentally out of the ordinary. It is palpable in their clinical presentation.
- They are completely different from other inmates. And it turns out that their brains are different too, both in structure and in function.
Why Do You Use Prisoners As Your Subjects?
Individuals with psychopathy have a large impact on the criminal justice system.
- Between 15 and 35 per cent of prisoners in US jails meet criteria for the disorder
- compared with about 1 per cent in the general population.
Why Is It So Important To Study Psychopaths?
In most places in the US, the way we treat psychopaths is to incarcerate them. We put antisocial people with antisocial peers, and guess what happens? They get more antisocial. It’s a system that doesn’t work
- The estimated social cost of crime in the US is $2.3 trillion a year
- psychopaths are thought to be responsible for 20 to 40 per cent of that. [Wow!]
Imagine if you could treat or remediate psychopathy. You would be able to save billions of dollars per year. The goal here is to use the very best science to understand and treat some of the most enigmatic and complex personality disorders that are associated with the worst crimes, to hopefully be able to prevent them.
How Is a Psychopath Usually Experienced?
- Well, most psychopaths have a glibness and a superficial charm to them. It does sometimes happen that, if we don’t get a chance to read a case file before we do an interview, we might walk away thinking, “Wow, what a nice guy! I can’t believe he’s in here,” because, basically he hasn’t told you the truth about anything that has happened in his entire life.
- Then when we actually do get a chance to look at the file, it’s like you are reading about a completely different person. When you see the person again, they’ll often say: “I didn’t want to talk about the old me; I thought I’d tell you about the new me.” So, I definitely find them clinically interesting and sometimes even entertaining, but not somebody I’d want to be friends with.
Are All Psychopaths Dangerous?
No. There are probably many psychopaths out there who are not necessarily violent, but are leading very disruptive lives in the sense that they:
- are getting involved in shady business deals
- moving from job to job
- or relationship to relationship
- always using resources everywhere they go but never contributing.
Such people inevitably leave a path of confusion, and often destruction behind them.
What About Those Who Manage To Forge Successful Careers?
Psychopathy, as I understand it:
- Is not typically associated with long-term success
- Rather, psychopaths normally get into so much trouble, are so impulsive and fail to consider how their behaviour impacts others, that it is unlikely they would become highly successful. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is impossible for an individual with psychopathy to have a “successful” career.
When One Pictures A Psychopath, The Image Is Almost Always Of A Man. What Do We Know About Psychopathic Behaviour In Women?
It’s estimated to be one-tenth as common. We don’t yet have a good understanding why it is so rare.
How Is A Better Understanding Of Psychopathy Going To Help Us Do Something About It?
That’s exactly the question: what medicines and/or therapies are likely to help? We certainly know that some forms of therapy have been shown to make psychopaths worse. Group therapy, for instance, in some studies has been shown to actually make psychopaths more likely to reoffend than if you didn’t treat them at all.
So it’s critical that we identify the psychopathic offenders and put them in a treatment programme that is made for them.
Do You Have Hope That Psychopathy Can Be Cured?
Absolutely. Brain imaging is just one tool to help us understand things. I don’t think it’s a panacea but it does help us to know that, yes, behaviour originates in the brain and yes, it’s malleable and treatable. So there’s a lot of hope.