What Causes People to Become Psychopaths?

Definition

Venables, N. C., Hall, J. R., & Patrick, C. J. (2014). Differentiating psychopathy from antisocial personality disorder: A triarchic model perspective. Psychological Medicine, 44(5), 1005-1013. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S003329171300161X

Due to longstanding, continued debate as to the precise definition of psychopathy, there has been a high degree of variance as to what psychopathy really is. Even now, "psychopathy"- though a term no longer foreign to the layman and fairly intuitively understood by many due to high media awareness- lacks a solid, disambiguous clinical definition.

For our purposes, we will be using the term "psychopathy" as it defined according to Christopher J. Patrick's "Triarchich Conceptualization Model of Psychopathy", a model which attempts to operationalize psychopathy by incorporating widely accepted measurement tools (PCL-R, PPI) in its paradigm. This conceptualization defines "psychopathy" as a threefold personality disorder characterized by a combination of an individual's boldness, meanness, and behavioural disinhibition.

Boldness

A numbness to the behaviour-altering effects of many common stressors results in a quality of boldness in the psychopath; characterized by a high social aptitude, high self-confidence, seeming fearlessness, and an ability to maintain proper function as well as recover quickly from high stress situations (ie. the event of danger, unfamiliar situations).

Meanness

A lack of empathy which forms the mental environment necessary for the often socially unacceptable behaviours (ie. meanness) characteristic of the psychopath; these behaviours include, but are not exclusive to manipulativeness, cruelty towards others, aggressive tendencies, defiance of authority, etc.

Disinhibition

A lack of proper impulse control; an inability to plan or foresee the result of ones actions and an affinity towards instant-gratification are typical.

It then becomes the combination of these three keystone characteristics that makeup the psychopath well known to the layman- the bold, remorseless, antisocial that, with an impeded moral sense, disregards the rights of others in all that he does.

Psychopathy and ASPD

It may be worthwhile to note that psychopathy shares many similarities to the DSM-V's antisocial personality disorder.


Testing

Micheal Stone's Scale of Evil

upcycle. (2011, Oct 30). Michael stone description of what traits make up psychopaths or evil person. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE3C4cfAEXA

Michael Stone, Professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, argues that people with good character are highly unlikely to become a psychopath and are composed of a different make up than those with psychopathic impulses. He argues that individual’s psychopathic tendencies can be tested through what he calls the Scale of Evil. This scale is composed of 20 descriptors including superficial charm, manipulative, lack of guilt, etc. These descriptors can be rated between 0 if its not there, 1 if its there slightly and 2 if the descriptor is distinctly there, therefore the maximum score attainable would be 40. Stone states that although the test may be valuable, scores are subject to misinterpretation. He states that these certain subjectivities may result in a grey zone, which he explains as an ambiguous finding pertaining to one or many descriptors, for example, an individual may be callous but not as callous as another. This ambiguity can be detrimental to the accuracy of the test and can also have life threatening affects on the individual testing. While this scale of evil provides an important look at the traits and severity of psychopaths to the study of psychopathy the scale should be taken as a guideline and not scientific fact until all grey zones can be eliminated. 

PCL-R

Patrick, C. (2005). The pcl-r assessment of psychopathology: Development, structural properties, and new directions. In Handbook of psychopathy (pp. 58-72). New York, NY: The Guildford Press.

Christopher Patrick, professor at Florida State University, explicates that the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is a tool to assist in rating individuals psychopathic or antisocial tendencies. The PCL-R is mainly used in courtrooms and institutions and is comprised of two parts, a semi-structured interview and a review of the individual’s records. The test’s format is one of a rating scale based on 20 symptoms that could be scored out of 0,1, or 2. Some of these symptoms included pathological lying, impulsivity, etc. Patrick argues that this was a valid and useful tool to determine the presence and extent of psychopathy in any given individual. According to the test, classic psychopaths would receive a maximum score of 40 while on the other hand a non-psychopathic individual would receive a score of 0. Due to the tests possible and significant consequences to ones future, any administered PCL-R is only considered valid if conducted by a qualified clinician under scientifically controlled environments. The PCL-R, while it holds value and merit to the justice system and safety of society, its vague and ambiguous means of measurement can result in very serious and life threatening changes to individuals who’s scores may not be completely distinct.

Genetics

Viding, E., & McCrory, E. J. (2012). Genetic and neurocognitive contributions to the development of psychopathy. Development and Psychopathology, 24(3), 969-983. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S095457941200048X

Essi Viding and Eamon McCory, Professors of developmental psychopathology at University College London, argue that there are no specific genes for psychopaths however, genes code for protein that influence characteristics and vulnerabilities that may influence an individuals risk for developing psychopathy. Viding and McCory argue that although there is not gene for psychopaths, twin’s studies have been able to show that approximately 40%-78% variation in Callous-unemotional (CU) traits including lack of guilt and empathy, are influenced heavily due to genetics. These findings in favor of genetic causes in psychopathy are important to psychology and the study of psychopaths as it allows for a better understanding of the development of psychopaths and a guide for future research.

Twins Early Development Study

Viding, E., Blair, R. J., Moffitt, T. E., & Plomin, R. (2005). Evidence for substantial genetic risk for psychopathy in 7-year-olds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(6), 592-597. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00393.x

Essi Viding Professors of developmental psychopathology at University College London, argues that extreme callous-unemotional (CU) traits are heritable. Viding states that psychopathy involves both CU traits and antisocial behaviour (AB). Her use of twin studies is due to her belief that is provides an important view on the developmental origins of CU traits in individuals with antisocial behaviour. Vidings Twins Early Development Study was comprised of children born in the UK born between 1994 and 1996. The study includes teacher assessments of CU as well as AB for 3487 same-sex twin pairs at 7 years old. She argues that teacher rating were more accurate and showed higher consistency and stability that was free of bias when compared to parent rating. The results of the study suggest that showing high levels of callous-unemotional (CU) traits is has strong genetic influence. In particular, antisocial behaviour (AB) found in children with high variance of CU traits is highly heritable. The Twins Early Development Study helps to better understand the direct effects of genes on psychopathic antisocial behaviour. This is important to psychology and the study of psychopathology as it informs treatment options as well as preventative measures at a young age.

MAO-A Gene

TED. (2009, July 16). Jim fallon: Exploring the mind of a killer. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2V0vOFexY4

Jim Fallon, Neuroscientist and Professor at the University of California, argues that everyone carries the MAO-A gene but in order for this gene to be expressed in a violent manner is if the individual is involved in something violent at a young age. Fallon argues that the MAO-A gene is sex lengthened on the x chromosome. Due to this he claims that it can only be passed on by the mother and due to this it is mostly males who are psychopaths. He explains this conclusion by stating that daughters acquire one x chromosome from their mother and one from their father, whereas, the son receives only one x chromosome of which is from the mother. This is important to psychology and the study of psychopaths as it gives direction on how possible reduce the chances of expressing this high risk gene violently and also provides information on who is mostly effected by this gene and likely to show psychopathic tendencies.


Neurological (Brain) Irregularities

limbic.jpg

An image showing the location of the frontal cortex (which includes the orbitofrontal cortex), corpus collosum, hippocampus, and amygdala; all of which are deficient structures in the brains of psychopaths.

Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC) and Limbic System Abnormalities

Weber, S., Habel, U., Amunts, K., Schneider, F. (2008). Structural brain abnormalities in psychopaths - A review. Behavioural Sciences and the Law, 26(1), 7-28. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/bsl.802

Biological reductionists seek to answer the above question by examining the human body, more specifically the brain, and searching for an internal cause. So what exactly makes a psychopath’s brain different everybody else’s? Biologists thought they had answered this question when the case of Phineas Gage in 1848 revealed that physical damage to orbitofrontal cortex (of the prefrontal cortex) could alter one’s behaviour allowing them to be aggressive, impulsive, and disrespectful. Weber et al., are all properly qualified with M.Sc, M.D or Ph. D degrees and are working at RWTH Aachen University in Germany as they extend their inquiry about the biological basis of psychopathy and investigate various recent studies which examine brain abnormalities in the prefrontal-limbic system. Researchers have found that many psychopaths have a significant 20% reduction in amygdala volume (part of the limbic system) which is involved in memory, emotional reactions and the stimulus-response associations of emotional learning. They also found a loss of gray matter in the right superior temporal gyrus (STG) which is involved in emotional awareness, empathy, and abstract learning, and appropriate modification of behaviour. The reduction in this area of the brain may explain why psychopaths are not empathetic towards their victims and cannot express complex social emotions such as love and guilt. Moreover, unsuccessful psychopaths, have an asymmetrical hippocampus (with the right volume greater than the left), reduced prefrontal volume, and reduced autonomic stress reactivity. Thus, they are more likely to make inappropriate decisions in risky situations and be caught and arrested. The hippocampus is also responsible for fear conditioning and thus, unsuccessful psychopaths may not recognize social cues which predict capture and punishment.

The Somatic Marker Hypothesis
The somatic marker hypothesis, theorized by Antonio Damasio, proposed that prefrontal cortex damage in young people leads to poor decision making skills, inability to follow rules and laws, and lack of accountability for their actions. Damasio believes that these individuals are incapable of linking certain somatic states with rewards or punishments that were established in past situations. There has been a clearly established connection between psychopathy, bad decision making and dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex. For example, a study found that psychopaths gambling decisions very closely resembled the gambling behaviour of patients with orbitofrontal damage, thus, proving that psychopaths’ compromised decision making skills are related to an abnormality in their prefrontal cortex

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (orbitofrontal cortex) and the limbic system (which includes the amygdala, superior temporal gyrus, and hippocampus) are connected and thus, damage or deformity of the limb structures early in life may negatively affect the orbitofrontal cortex later on. Thus, psychopathy is most likely due to interconnected and co-dependent brain structures rather than one localized region of the brain. The authors remind the audience that social, economic, familial, and gene related factors should be acknowledged and examined in addition to neurological causes for psychopathy. A limitation of the studies presented by Weber et al.,is that psychopaths may be characterized differently by various researchers. For instance, one could be considered a psychopath because of their base high PCL-R score (Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised) which includes characteristics of emotional detachment and antisocial behaviours. However, other researchers may consider individuals diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders to be psychopaths. Moreover, many psychopaths have substance abuse problems and certain drugs are known to affect prefrontal cortex activity and thus, results which characterize psychopaths as having prefrontal abnormalities may be inaccurate.

As researchers and psychologists decode the complex psychological phenomena of psychopathy, adequate treatment, rehabilitation, prevention, and legal procedures will be established so that psychopaths can learn to be productive members of society (once again).

Connection Between the Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC) and Limbic System - The Uncinate Fasciculus

Craig, M. C., Catani, M., Deeley, Q., Latham, R., Daly, E., Kanaan, R., Picchioni, M., McGuire, P. K., Fahy, T., Murphyl, D. G. M. (2009). Altered connections on the road to psychopathy. Molecular Psychiatry, 14(10), 946-953. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/mp.2009.40

Groundbreaking research has been done on psychopaths to investigate the potential abnormality in the fibrous connections (mainly, the uncinate fasciculus) which link the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) to the limbic system, more specifically the amygdala. Craig et al. are working at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience in the UK in Neuroimaging and Forensic Mental Health Science departments. They have analyzed the uncinate fasciculus (UF) volume of psychopaths (as characterized by high Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) scores) and non-psychopaths using diffusion tensor magnetic resonance. DT-MRI produces three dimensional images of reconstructions of white matter pathways of the UF. They found that psychopaths had reduced right UF volume as compared to age and intelligence matched non-psychopaths. They concluded that this abnormality may be the underpinning of the impulsive and aggressive behaviour displayed by psychopaths as past research has proven that individuals with certain personality disorders or mental deficiencies (such as Kluver-Bucy syndrome and schizophrenia) have UF damage and display similar qualities. Moreover, the right UF plays a significant role in the accumulation of autobiographical memory of emotional repercussions of situations. Thus, the reduction in volume of this neurological structure could contribute to the lack of emotional expression (i.e empathy) of psychopaths. The limitation of this study was that the researchers recruited a small number of psychopaths so the results may not be applicable to all psychopaths.

This newfound evidence which distinguishes psychopaths’ brains from everyone else’s can be utilized in trying to prevent psychopathy. For instance, if biologists could artificially increase the UF volume, possibly through electrical stimulation or physical implants, they may be able to
reduce psychopathic tendencies.

Deficiencies in Prefrontal Gray Matter

Yang, Y., Raine, A., Colletti, P., Toga, A. W., & Narr, K. L. (2009). Abnormal temporal and prefrontal cortical gray matter thinning in psychopaths. Molecular Psychiatry, 14(6), 561-562. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/mp.2009.12

Psychopaths display uncommon and distinctive characteristics such as selfishness, aggression, lack of empathy, impulsivity, and poor decision making skills. Neuropsychologists have been aiming to locate and identify the brain anatomy responsible for this phenomena. Yang, Toga, and Narr work in the Department of Neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine in the US while Raine works at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Colletti works in Department of Radiology at U.S.C. School of Medicine. Together, these qualified individuals observed and measured temporal and frontal cortical thickness of 27 psychopaths and 32 non-psychopaths using brain scans. The results indicated that psychopaths had significantly reduced gray matter in the right frontal and temporal cortices, which is involved in the formation of the conscience. The reduced prefrontal cortex may account for psychopaths’ lack of remorse after committing a heinous crime. Moreover, the conclusions agreed with past research which showed that damage to the right hemisphere resultd in an individuals’ compromised ability to recognize and decipher facial expressions. Psychopaths may lack empathy because they are unable to recognize depressed or frightened expressions and thus, it is impossible for them to identify with their victims. Another past study revealed that ventromedial prefrontal cortex damage impairs decision making skills and ability to process emotional and social context of situations and thus, psychopaths may act inappropriately in a variety of scenarios. While scientists identify which regions of the brain are abnormal in psychopaths, they become more aware of possible maladpative behavioural patterns which can be used to identify psychopaths in early stages of life. Moreover, deficiencies in the brains of psychopaths may allow neurologists to discover novel pathways or systems of interconnectivity which were not previously known and with further investigation, could be utilized to establish cures for neurological deficiencies and disorders.

Abnormalities in Corpus Callosum

Raine, A., Lencz, T., Taylor, K., Hellige, J. B., Bihrle, S., Lacasse, L., Lee, M., Ishikawa, S., Colletti, P. (2003). Corpus callosum abnormalities in psychopathic antisocial individuals. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60(11), 1134-1142. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.60.11.1134

Raine et al. are well trained and work in Departments of Psychology, Research and Radiology at the University of California and the Hillside Hospital in California. They conducted a study in which the corpus callosum abnormalities of eighty three participants diagnosed as psychopaths, based off their DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) scores, were measured. SPARC workstation computer software was used to generate images of the gray and white matter of the corpus callosum and thus, length and thickness could be determined. They found a 23% increase in callosal white matter, a 7% increase in callosal length, and a decrease in callosal thickness by 15%. They attributed the increase in callosal volume to behavioural patterns common to psyhcopaths such as lack of emotional expression (i.e empathy and remorse) as well as a reduced number of social interactions and friends. Moreover, increased innerhemispheric connectivity was observed within psychopaths and this deficiency results in a diminished lateralization (left and right side brain functioning differently to accomplish different tasks), reduced auditory attention, and a slower brain response to visual action-related stimuli. Furthermore, lower spatial IQ which signifies a reduced ability to solve navigation problems and visualize items, faces, or scenes from different angles, has been associated with increased callosal volume in patients who have neurofirbromatosis, antisocial personality disorders, and psychopathy.

A limitation to this study is that all 83 participants were male psychopaths and thus, this evidence of deficiencies in the corpus callous cannot be applied to female psychopaths until more extensive research and neuroimaging is performed on women.

As more research investigates the differences between psychopathic and non-psychopathic brains, neuropsychologists are able to visualize an all-inclusive image of the psychopathic brain, and thus expand their knowledge of brain circuitry, interconnectedness, and co-dependence of certain brain structures.


Biochemical-Hormones

Serotonin and Interactions

Glenn, A. L., & Raine, A. (2008). The neurobiology of psychopathy. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31(3), 463-475. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2008.03.004

This paper has been written in conjunction by Andrea L. Glenn and Adrian Raine. Andrian Raine’s qualifications include: Ph.D, whilst being a professor, in the departments of criminology, psychiatry and psychology in the University of Pennsylvania. Andrea L. Glenn is an assistant professor in the department of psychology, in the University of Alabama.

The neurobiology of psychopathy extends further beyond the brain regions and their functioning. Through and advanced level of research, psychopathy can be analyzed through various neurotransmitters and hormones. Early evidence has shown that while there is dysregulation of neurotransmitter systems and hormones in psychopathy, more studies are required to cement this hypothesis. One crucial hormone that suggests this hypothesis is serotonin. An increased ratio between dopamine metabolite HVA and the serotonin metabolite 5-HIAA, has been an indicator of poor serotonergic regulation of dopamine activity – in turn causing more aggressive impulses. Interactions between serotonin also occurs with other hormones including testosterone and cortisol. The connectivity and dysregulation of these hormones has caused psychopathic traits to develop as well. For example, the interaction of low serotonin levels and high testosterone levels increase chances for violent aggression, which is noted in psychopaths. Despite only being early evidence, the authors denote that hormonal research should be continually analyzed so the connectivity between hormonal systems can be pieced together with various other fields like genetics and structural functioning of the brain.

This article allows one to learn about key hormones in relation to psychopathy, and is valuable in the beginning stages of research to build a base. This academic article also provides insight into possible pharmaceutical inventions in managing serotonin, cortisol and testosterone levels.

Testosterone, Cortisol, DHEA

Glenn, A. L., & Raine, A. (2008). The neurobiology of psychopathy. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31(3), 463-475. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2008.03.004

Andrea L. Glenn is currently an assistant professor in the Cener for the Prevention of Youth Behaviour Problems and the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama. Adrian Raine is a University professor and the Richard Perry Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvannia.

Understanding the functions of hormones are useful for several reasons, mostly being because it completes the biological picture of how the disorder is induced and or maintained. In association with other biological aspects such as genetics and environmental factors one is able to critically comprehend the form in nature which psychopathy takes on. Two critical hormones associated with psychopathy is cortisol and testosterone. Cortisol is released by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is part of the body’s system that responds to stress - potentiating states of fear, generating sensitivity to punishment and promoting withdrawal behaviour; all areas in which psychopathic individuals have deficits in. Testosterone on the other hand is released by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axix. This system is antagonistic in nature to the HPA axis, as testosterone reduces fear, increases reward seeking, dominance and aggression. Moreover, studies have found children with impaired fear reactivity and increased sensation seeking men are associated with low cortisol levels. Contrastingly, many studies have found high testosterone levels in individuals observed with many psychopathic traits like sensation seeking, impulsivity, etc.. An example is the Iowa gambling task in which the participants of this study were in a lower state of fear of punishment and possessed a higher sensitivity to the possible rewards of money. Thus the mutually inhibitory functions of the HPA and HPG has been linked to amygdala responsivity as both hormones are known to bind in that region of the brain. Amygdala responsivity has been low in psychopathic individuals who show less fear, and sensitivity to the thought of punishment and or pain. Yet another hormone which may affect psychopathic traits in younger children is DHEA, thought to be a precursor to testosterone. It is hypothesized that DHEA eventually converts to testosterone and two studies have found increased levels in children/adolescents (Dmitrieva et.al. 2001; van Gaoozen et al.1998). Thus it is recognized that there is sufficient evidence to input hormones into the equation as an intermediate step in the field of biology (genetics and environmental roles also affect hormones). Specifically the relationship between cortisol and testosterone call for further and extensive research.

Future studies are needed to clarify the roles of hormones but this information is sufficient enough as an introduction to hormones. However, further conclusive research is required to solidify the findings and relationships which hormones share cortisol and testosterone).

Study: Testosterone to Cortisol Relationship

Glenn, A. L., Raine, A., Schug, R.A., Gao, Y., and Granger, D. A. (2011). Increased Testosterone-to-Cortisol Ratio in Psychopathy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120 (2), 389-399. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166523/

Andrea L. Glenn and Robert A. Schug are both trained in the department of Psychology, albeit Andrea is in the University of Alabama whilst Robert is in the University of Southern California. Yu gao is from the department of criminology in the University of Pennsylvania whilst Adrian Raine is well trained in the departments of criminology, psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Finally Douglas A. Granger is associated with the Center for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research at The Johns Hopkins University.

This study has a purpose of examining both the hormones testosterone and cortisol in relation to psychopathy, independently and interconnected. The study had a total community sample of 178 participants of which 22 were female. All of them were assessed for psychopathy using the PCL –R 2nd Edition. Saliva samples were taken at baseline whilst the participants were resting and after or in between stressor tasks (these tasks sparked in different ways hormone levels). These saliva samples analyzed baseline cortisol and testosterone levels, as well as cortisol and testosterone levels after stressor tasks. According to independent analysis of both cortisol and testosterone in correspondence to psychopathy, there was no significant association with the psychopathy test scores. However, results concluded that psychopathy scores were connected to an increased ratio of baseline testosterone to the cortisol responsivity to a stressor. In other words, the higher psychopathic scores among the 178 participants had an average higher ratio of testosterone (baseline) to cortisol. This finding has also shed light to the fact that due to a higher ratio of testosterone to cortisol, amygdala functioning may be controlled more by testosterone than cortisol. Moreover, when the balance of testosterone levels and cortisol is not equally maintained psychopathic traits such as aggression may be more prone to being provoked. The interconnectedness of the hormonal systems thus provide more evidence to the fact that psychopathy is more complex and that many hormones work together to induce, develop and maintain psychopathic traits.

It is of paramount importance that one recognizes the interconnectedness hormones share in inducing/affecting psychopathy that this study has revealed. However, there were limitations to this study which include the limited amount of women (only 22). This means the findings of this study cannot be generalized to psychopathic women. The PCL-R scores were also conducted by three raters, which means that it is not completely reliable.

Nonetheless, this article is key in further exploring the scientific avenues specifically about testosterone and cortisol and more specifically for the male population, thus it can be used as a secondary source for future confirmation of more explicit results.


Media

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight

Thomas, M.E. (2013). Confessions of a sociopath: A life spent hiding in plain sight.

Confessions of a sociopath (M.E. uses the term “Sociopath” and “Psychopath” interchangeably and claims to be a non-violent, law abiding psychopath) is, interestingly enough, an autobiography by an author who uses the pseudonym M.E. Thomas who claims to be a non-violent psychopath. According to the autobiography, M.E. Thomas is a successful professor, and attorney at law, however specific details are avoided as to maintain anonymity.

Throughout the book, M.E. gives startling accounts of her life that demonstrate many of the telltale signs of psychopathy; abuse to animals, violent desires, a numbness towards compassion, and what seems to be a complete lack of moral sense. She recalls a bleak childhood which included several traumatic events, as well as an illness she picked up at a very early age that she believes may have had a role in the development of her psychopathy (a long-lasting period of infantile colic put her in isolation for several months in which human contact was very limited), the events in the book lead to a discussion between nature and nurture in the development of her own psychopathy to which M.E. responds that although it is ultimately unclear, that it is likely a mix of certain facets of her upbringing as well as a genetic/ biological disposition that made her M.E. Thomas- the psychopath.

Although there are issues regarding her creditability as to whether or not she truly is a psychopath, her account is convincing, and hearing M.E. Speak on talk shows paints the same image of a machine in a human’s skin that she has painted with the book.

If taken cautiously, this book can provide an invaluable firsthand account of the life, and thoughts of a psychopath.

An interview with M.E. Thomas regarding her book and the psychology of psychopathy can be found below.

The Psychology of Dexter

DePaulo, B. (2010). The psychology of Dexter. Place of publication not identified: BenBella.

DePaulo is a sociologist with 20+ years of professorial experience at multiple universities. Much of her work centres on the psychology of deception and she has appeared all over the media to discuss her findings on these topics.

In The psychology of Dexter, DePaulo explores the mind of fictional psychopath Dexter Morgan in an attempt to elucidate the reasons behind his unconventional behavior. Targeted at a casual to psychological audience, the book provides the reader with an appreciation of the work that went into creating “Dexter Morgan” as it reviews all of the facets of Dexter Morgan that are consistent with psychopathy as it is defined in the field of clinical psychology and provides case studies and real life examples for support. The book includes many (occasionally contradicting) professional opinions on psychopathy in general, and its depiction in Dexter and reviewing them could help widen the breadth of ones knowledge of the foundations of psychopathy.

It may be important to be aware of this specific example of psychopathy being very well depicted in media, and worthwhile to note. Considering the accurate portrayal of Psychopathy in television show Dexter, Dexter can be used as an example when addressing the general public as he is a character known to many.

Popular Fictional Portrayals of Psychopaths
-Barry Dylan, Archer, Archer (TV Series)
-Dexter Morgan, Dexter (TV Series)
-Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter (Children's Books)
-Tuco Salamanca, Breaking Bad (TV Series)
-Walter White, Breaking Bad (TV Series)
-Dr. Gregory House House (TV Series)
-Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Hanniba (TV Series)
-Trevor Philips, Grand Theft Auto V (Video Game)


Parent-Child Attachment: The Psychological Effects of Bad Parenting

Bailey, C., Shelton, D. (2014). Self‐reports of faulty parental attachments in childhood and criminal psychopathy in an adult‐incarcerated population: An integrative literature review. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 21(4), 365-374. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jpm.12086

Scientists, psychiatrists, and psychologists have mainly focussed their research on the biological and genetic risk factors of psychopathy, however, they fail to acknowledge environmental, social, and familial elements which may increase the probability of psychological characteristics in adulthood. Also, psychologists must utilize causal science (mainly biological reductionist/atomistic) and interpretive science (phenomenological/holistic) approaches in order to fully elucidate the complex psychological phenomena of psychopathy.

Bailey, a student of the College of Education and Human Service and Shelton, the Associate Dean for Research in the School of Nursing at West Virginia University initiated a literature review to analyze previous studies which assessed parent-child relationships of psychopaths. The criteria for their search included incarcerated individuals who were older than 18 years old, with the ability to self-report the quality of their parental attachments and were diagnosed with psychopathy by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or Hare’s Psychology Checklist. They reported that Marshall and Cooke investigated the effects of early parent-child relationships on adult psychopaths. Frodi et al., examined whether incarcerated individuals with higher psychopath scores suffered from greater separation and abuse from their parents in childhood as compared to imprisoned individuals with lower psychopath scores. These studies utilized a phenomenological approach because psychopaths were told to report on their own past relationships with their parents. Therefore, they were explaining the experience as it appeared to them as opposed to the researchers providing them with likkert questionnaires which may reflect researchers’ construals and biases. Both studies concluded that physical abuse (from parents or caregivers), institutional placement (in foster care or youth detention centres), less expressive child-parent attachment styles, and dislike towards parents are associated with psychopathy in adulthood. Children may develop a distaste towards their parents due to their excessive abuse or neglect and thus, the early infant-caregiver relationship will involve distrust and lack of attachment. This may allow the child(ren) to develop very superficial emotional attachments to others in adult relationships and thus, they may begin to express psychopathic characteristics such as a lack of empathy, remorse, or kindness.

The two studies performed by Frodi et al., and Marshall and Cooke were located in Sweden and Scotland. This signifies that results cannot be generalized to other regions of the world because different countries may use other tests/lists of symptoms, besides the DSM or PCL-R to diagnose individuals as psychopaths. Moreover, many of the participants were younger and this may have caused a larger amount of psychopathic diagnoses because personality disorders are more aggressive in male youth. Furthermore, parent-child relationships were explained by psychopaths themselves and a distinctive feature (of psychopathy) is compulsive lying and thus, these recollections of their parents’ behaviour may not have been true.

A more accurate and extensive understanding of the biological and environmental basis of psychopathy will result in better therapy, treatment, and rehabilitation services offered to affected individuals. Moreover, the significance of early parent-child relationships is emphasized by these studies and therefore, respectful, caring, and expressive parenting styles are encouraged to reduce the psychopathic tendencies that may develop in adulthood.

Fodor, E. M. (1973). Moral development and parent behaviour antecedents in adolescent psychopaths. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: Research and Theory on Human Development, 122(1), 37-43. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/615906061?accountid=15182

Eugene Fodor, a professor in the Department of Social Science at Clarkson College of Technology, conducted a study which investigated psychopathic subjects’ perceptions of their parents behaviour. Participants included thirty psychopathic and thirty non-psychopathic boys between the ages of 14-17. Individuals were diagnosed as psychopaths through the use of Hervey Cleckley’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Participants were given the Cornell Parent Behaviour Description Questionnaire for their mother and father and results showed that psychopaths’ fathers were less nurturing, less likely to praise their child for accomplishments, less willing to assist their child in learning new skills and improving their abilities, and more likely to reject their child’s affection. Psychopaths’ mothers demanded less accomplishment and achievement of their sons compared to mothers of non-psychopaths. Their sons may have interpreted this treatment as their mothers not caring about their goals and ambitions for the future and thus, in adult relationships, they may display reduced attention and consideration for others and their problems.

It is evident that, as Bowlby states in his attachment theory, adult relationships dynamics resemble that of early child and parent relations. Thus, if adolescents have nurturing, loving, and affectionate parenting, they may be less likely to adopt psychopathic tendencies in adulthood.

Daversa, M. T. (2010). Early environmental predictors of the affective and interpersonal constructs of psychopathy. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 54(1), 6-21. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0306624X08328754

Maria Daversa, attended Harvard Medical School and currently works at McLean Hospital. She examined the neurological effects of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse experienced in the childhood of psychopaths. Previous research has indicated that when children experience parental alcohol abuse, parental negligence, and simultaneous communal and familial breakdown (i.e divorce), they are more likely to develop psychopathy. Additionally, inconsistent or reduced discipline without clear consequences results in children being less fearful of punishment and authority and more likely to commit illegal crimes in the adulthood. However, physical punishment can cause antipathy towards parents and highly aggressive behaviour later in life. Furthermore, when parents are affectionate to their children and reward them for good behaviour, they are more likely to identify with and emulate the actions of their parents. Moreover, a lack of communication, attention, and feedback from parents can lead to the underdevelopment of children’s ability to recognize, comprehend and react to emotional expressions of others and to gauge another person’s feelings. This disposition can easily develop into a lack of empathy; a distinctive feature of the psychopath.

Child abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual) and neglect from parents are associated with high PCL-R scores of psychopaths and earlier childhood abuse and/or parental negligence has a greater impact on personality and the development of psychopathy and personality disorders.


Conclusion - Nature, Nurture, or Both?

Daversa, M. T. (2010). Early environmental predictors of the affective and interpersonal constructs of psychopathy. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 54(1), 6-21. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0306624X08328754

The cause of psychopathy can be found in biological, psychological, and environmental factors working together in a co-dependent manner. Some innate biological structures (i.e genes, brain abnormalities, or hormone levels) may determine distinctive behavioural dispositions, however, these traits may only be expressed under certain social or familial conditions. For instance, the monoamine oxidase A gene has been related to reactive and impulsive aggression, however, the expression of this gene is contingent upon one’s genotype and the degree and type of abuse they experience in adolescence.

The Violence Inhibition Mechanism (VIM) was theorized by Blair. He proposed that individuals recognize stress cues such as sad or scared facial expressions of others and those visualizations pass through the VIM and subsequently, an individual’s stress response is activated. The VIM plays a significant role in moral development as children regard pain in others and the possibly of harming another person as unpleasant. Moreover, parenting styles which promote caring and compassion for others as well as emotional expression are associated with optimal VIM functioning. However, amygdala dysfunction in the VIM can lead to an underwhelming behavioural response to fear or sadness of another person. Thus, Blair proposes that the cause of some psychopathic tendencies lies in a combination of parental influence and biological functioning.

Dr. James Fallon video clip

In the video clip, Dr. Fallon, a non-psychopathic, highly functioning medical doctor, describes some of the biological factors that are responsible for the expression of psychopathy; a neural pattern of low activity in the orbital cortex is typical. After studying his own atypical neurological activity through brain scans, as well as completing an extensive study of his genealogy, Dr. Fallon discovered that not only does he have a family history of psychopathy but the neurological activity that matched those of many contemporary psychopaths. Dr. Fallon claims to be an example of an individual with a biological disposition towards psychopathy, but who has had his psychopathic nature repressed by his upbringing (which he described as warm and devoid of trauma).

This is a case for the influence of both nature and nurture in the development of psychopathy where both, indeed had a role in the development (or, lack therof) of an individual's psychopathy. The video can be found here.

Final statement

Although the environmental triggers of the development in psychopathy have been more or less thoroughly identified, there is still some ambiguity in the neurobiological and genetic factors that cause the disorder; furthermore we are left without an accurate model as to the inter-relatedness of these factors. Until technological advancements lead to a shift of scientific paradigm, we are left to trust psychopathology of this illness as it has been defined within the boundaries and parameters of our current scientific paradigm as a unique, threefold personality disorder characterized by a combination of an individual's boldness, meanness, and behavioural disinhibition- which will be expressed in the presence of some combination of biological predisposition (nature) and the right environmental triggers (nurture).


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