Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Spot a Psychopath

That's the kind of title that grabs your attention. Jon Ronson in The Guardian (U.K.) describes his encounters with a mental patient named Tony who had been diagnosed as a psychopath.

Tony said the day he arrived at the dangerous and severe personality disorder (DSPD) unit, he took one look at the place and realised he'd made a spectacularly bad decision. He asked to speak urgently to psychiatrists. "I'm not mentally ill," he told them. It is an awful lot harder, Tony told me, to convince people you're sane than it is to convince them you're crazy.

"When you decided to wear pinstripe to meet me," I said, "did you realise the look could go either way?"

"Yes," said Tony, "but I thought I'd take my chances. Plus most of the patients here are disgusting slobs who don't wash or change their clothes for weeks on end and I like to dress well...."

The article mentions the Robert Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), which is used to identify psychopathic personality disorder. The test looks at 21 different traits:

Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"

Glibness/superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Pathological lying
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Callousness; lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".

Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Parasitic lifestyle
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Juvenile delinquency
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release

Traits not correlated with either factor

Promiscuous sexual behavior
Many short-term marital relationships
Criminal versatility
Acquired behavioural sociopathy/sociological conditioning (Item 21: a newly identified trait i.e. a person relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive)

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