The History of the Concept of a Psychopath

Dear Writer,
Our team of researchers have compiled an excellent source of materials for your article on the history of the concept of a psychopath. We start off with general and commonly used definitions of psychopathy and what is means to be diagnosed as a psychopath and some case studies that further explain. Following we provide information about the beginning of psychopathy, how it started and then a development of the concept through out history; how it has developed and changed. Due to the fact that their is a wide variety of personality disorders we provide information as well on the common confusions and misuses of the diagnosis of psychopathy.
All the best on your article, hope this helps.
Our team, Lauren Bergamin and Tim Byrne.

The psychopath is one of the most difficult disorders to spot, mainly because psychopaths can often appear to be normal, and even charismatic in some situations.

Definition:Psychopathy is a personality disorder; common traits assigned to psychopathy are amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc

Haycock, D. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The Hare PCL-R contains two parts, one an interview of the client’s records and history. During the evaluation, the medical professional scores the individual based on a 20 item scale that measure central elements of the psychopathic character. The items cover the nature of the subject's interpersonal relationships; his or her affective or emotional involvement and responses to other people and to situations; evidence of social deviance; and lifestyle. The material covers two key components that help define the psychopath: selfish and unfeeling victimization of other people, and an unstable and antisocial lifestyle. Some of the 20 traits assessed consist of are lack of remorse or guilt, lack of realistic long-term goals, sexual promiscuity, and early behavioural problems to name a few. The interview portion of the evaluation covers the subject's background, including such items as work and educational history; marital and family status; and criminal background. Because psychopaths lie frequently and easily, the information they provide must be confirmed by a review of the documents in the subject's case history (Haycock). Remember diagnostic assessment should only be completed by highly trained professionals, such as doctors. All this information and more can be found at the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders website. Also for more diagnostic information be sure to check out the work of Dr. Hare Ph.D., lists of his works, and others can be found at the address provided above.

Lilienfeld, S., Patrick , C., Polascheck, D., & Skeem, J. (2011, December). Psychopathic personality: Bridging the gap between scientific evidence and public policy. Retrieved from html

Case Study- Robert who has been in trouble with the law since age 10. As a child, he was seriously maltreated both sexually and physically, both at home and later in foster care. Although of average intelligence, he learned little in school and has never successfully held a job. He binges on alcohol and drugs whenever he can; endeavors to manipulate others (but is not particularly adept at it); has never had a stable romantic relationship; and has been convicted of various types of crimes, both violent and nonviolent. He is anxious, easily upset and angered, speaks in a self-centered way about his situation, and appears indifferent to his victims’ suffering. When paroled from prison, he is quickly rearrested, more often for trivial than for serious offences (Lilienfeld, Patrick , Polascheck & Skeem, 2011). Even though there is often much confusion about what actually constitutes a psychopath Robert according The Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which was primarily used in the justice system to describe individual either facing criminal charges, or already convicted of their crimes as a way of trying to gain a better understanding at the individual at hand.

Hervé, H., & Yuille , C. J. (2007). The Psychopath Theory, Research, and Practice . (pp. 31-55). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, Publishers.

In chapter 2 of the Psychopath edited by Hugues Hervé, and John C. Yuille they. Heveré and Yuille compile many different different definitions and traits of the psychopath. In this chapter Hervé desrcibes the first accounts of the psychopath and authors can be credited to the contributions. First French psychiatrist, Philippe Pinel, who used the term manie sans delire (mania, or madness, without delirium and later manie/folie raisonnante, madness like. To Pinel, manie sans delire was diagnosed in psychiatric patients, who were fully aware of the irrationality, and the destructive nature of their actions. Around the same time in American physician, named Rush descrided a similar situation, which he had coined moral derangement or anomia. Similar to Pinel's manie sans delire, persons who were morally deranged, but still having intact and intellect and reasoning abilities, engaged in socially disruptive behaviour. Often from a young age showing lack of remorse, guilt, preoccupation with the negative consequences of their actions. Prichard an English physician, expanded previous conceptualizations and was instrumental in introducing the work of Pinel, and most important the concept to the Enligsh speaking world. Prichard was seen as one of the first to a complete and clear disruption of the psychopath. In Germany, Koch in the 1900's was the first to introduce the term psychopathy, into psychiatric literature. Koch description however was limited to personality pathology, for example disorders between mental illness and health. Also unlike his counterparts Koch advocated for a more biological approach rather than environmentally predetermined causes and Koch's work was seen as overinclusive. However his work did lay the foundation for others, such as Kraepelin and Schneider to investigate psychopathy in its current form. Also be sure to check out the work of Kraeplin and others in the chapter mentioned above to see their notions and what they were up to in regards to their understanding and definition of the psychopath.

Hervé, H., & Yuille , C. J. (2007). The Psychopath Theory, Research, and Practice . (pp. 31-55). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, Publishers
Gudonis, L., & Lynam, D. (2005). The development of psychopathy. Retrieved from

In the book The Psychopath Theory, Research, and Practice and the article THe development of psychopathy both go into great detail about the history and development of psychopathy and where it is at today. This historical account gives readers a clear understanding of theory and practice. The term psychopathy or psychopath has been in use for over 100 years. It was originally used to describe individuals who lacked moral judgement, as they were were consciously aware of there actions and often lacked empathy and remorse, they also were known to have had no disregard for human life, or the destruction of their actions. However over the past 50 years the term has been used more narrowly. The Cleckley Psychopath was what started the narrowing of the term psychopathy, before Cleckley it was described by (Hervé 2007) as a wastebasket term as there was so much confusion of what the definition of psychopath really was. Development in the late 20th century the Hare Psychopathy Checklist was instrumental in psychopath becoming a clinical syndrome. The Hare Psychopathy checklist was commonly used to assess the psychopathic tendencies in convicted criminals and individuals on trial. There were two different aspects to consider when looking at in the development of psychopathy. The first looks at psychopathy across time and, researchers that are concerned with understanding the development of psychopathy and are interested in determining early manifestations of psychopathy, they then document how its form and level change across development. The second part of development is more concerned with the cause of psychopathy. Secondly researchers looked at the development and root causes of the syndrome (Gudonis & Lynam, 2005).

Psychopathy is often confused and misused with other disorders such as sociopath, conduct disorder, and anti social personality disorder.

Dictionary Definitions:
Sociopath - a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
Conduct Disorder - repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated.

Blair, J., Mitchell, D., & Blair, K. (2005). What Is Psychopathy?. THE PSYCHOPATH - EMOTION AND THE BRAIN (pp. 1-17). UK: Blackwell. From

Case Study: John is an 11-year-old boy from a middle-class family with two professional parents. He began to present with behavioral problems at an early age and was enrolled in a school for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties at the age of 5 years. John began running away from home and school at a young age. Now, he is frequently picked up by the police because he is roaming the streets of the local town late at night. He often spends time with local juvenile delinquents. He recently broke into a construction site and set fire to materials, causing $15,000 worth of damage. John is often cruel to animals. He once dan- gled his pet hamster over a hot stove and threatened to drop it if his parents did not give him money. He is also frequently violent towards his parents, teachers, and peers. On several occasions he has threatened to hurt his mother, and stashed knives are often retrieved from his bedroom. On one occasion he threw a kitchen knife at his mother. John does not have any genuine friends at school. Teachers often express that they have difficulty treating him kindly as they feel that nice behaviors displayed by him are not at all sincere. He is very boastful about his abilities generally, and has an inflated perception of his intelligence. John sometimes tricks people into thinking that he is simply misunderstood. (Blair 2)
One could assume that due to his immoral, antisocial, criminal and extreme behaviour that John is a psychopath. His emotional and behavioural difficulties to follow the guidelines of a psychopath, however based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association John actually has a condition of Conduct Disorder.

Anti Social Personality Disorder - pervasive pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others. There may be an impoverished moral sense or conscience and a history of crime, legal problems, impulsive and aggressive behavior.

Due to the fact that there are so many personality disorders that have similar traits and behaviours as psycopathy many patients are often wrongfully labelled a psychopath.

Blair, J., Mitchell, D., & Blair, K. (2005). What Is Psychopathy?. THE PSYCHOPATH - EMOTION AND THE BRAIN (pp. 1-17). UK: Blackwell. From

The article provided is the first chapter of a book titled "The Psychopath - Emotion and Brain" written by James Blair, Derek Mitchell, and Karina Blair. This source is extremely reliable and in fact highly recommended in a study of psychopathy. James Blair is the Chief of the unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders program of the National Institute of Mental Health Intramural Research Program(NIMH). Dr Blair received a doctoral degree in Psychology from University College London in 1993; following graduation he was awarded a Wellcome Trust Mental Health Research Fellowship that he held at the Medical Research Council Cognitive Development Unit for three years. Derek Mitchell and Karina Blair both work on the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program of the National Institute of Mental Health Intramural Research Program. As well. This source and it's authors are extremely creditable and authoritative in their study of neuroscience, mental health and cognitive development. This chapter covers a wide variety of topics in the spectrum of psychopathy. It focuses on what psychopathy is, necessary background facts, possible causes, and thoroughly focuses on other sorts of personality disorders. This article gives a short but in depth look at personality disorders other than just psychopathy, that are intact commonly mistaken for psychopathy. Provided with not only definitions and explanations of personality disorders such as conduct disorder (CD) as well as explanations of how they may be confused or labelled as psychopathy.

Wallinga, J. V. (1956). The Psychopath: A Confused Concept. Law Journal Library - HeinOnline, 1, 51-52. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from

The article provided is a two page preview of Dr. Jack V. Wallinga's research paper titled "The Psychopath: A Confused Concept". Dr Wallinga is a specialist in psychiatry, and specializes in child psychiatry. He graduated from the Medical School in the University of Minnesota (where he practiced) in 1947. As credible as he is, one may think that his opinion may be outdated. However they would be wrong. This article is extremely credible and shows that the study of psychopathy doesn't change but only develops. In this preview he discusses psychopathy, and the misuses and generalizations that come along with it. He refers to Psychopathy as a "wastebasket category" and explains that because people don't want to look deeper into other personality disorders, they just throw them all under psychopathy and label anyone with a personality disorder and "psychopath" when they probably aren't. The only shortcoming or bias you could say of this article is that due to his specialization in child psychiatry a big chunk of this article is focused on psychopathy in children rather than in general. However this is not a problem because he does speak about psychopathy in general and uses psychopathy in children to strengthen his point. This article follows up on the chapter from "The Psychopath - Emotion and Brain" very nicely as both push the point that though many personality disorders do have common traits as psycopathy that does not mean they are psychopathic, just fall closely behind it.

As you can see, psychopathy is a concept that has not greatly changed but only been added onto through out history. Upon our research it become extremely evident that psychopathy is very similar to many other disorders and thus has been wrongfully diagnosed on many occurrences. Due to the fact that psychopathy can so easily be mistaken for many other mental disorders it is extremely important to be extremely careful in studying it as well as working with it and diagnosing it. We hope the sources we have conducted can be of great help in your research and writing. Best of luck.

Our team, Lauren Bergamin & Tim Byrne.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License