‘The unscrupulous man will go and borrow more
money from a creditor he has never paid. When marketing he reminds the butcher
of some service he has rendered him and, standing near the scales, throws in
some meat, if he can, and a soup-bone. If he succeeds, so much the better; if
not, he will snatch a piece of tripe and go off laughing.’ (Theophrastus, 3 sec
is a mental disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, hidden
emotions, egocentricity and deception. In psychiatry, the term psychopathy indicate any psychic alteration
which, while inducing a condition of abnormal behaviour and subjective
suffering for the individual, does not however constitute a mental illness. Psychopaths
are strongly inclined to assume criminal behaviours and other aggressive acts
towards others, as well as being oriented to towards violent crime. Often they
seem normal people: they simulate emotions that do not actually prove, or lie
about their identity (Hare, 2009).
referred to a personality disorder (until the eighties) characterized by the
inability to attachment and an abnormality in the emotion management system,
masked by the ability to appear like a normal person (Helfgott, 2004, p.3).
Starting from the findings that the modern conception
of psychopathy is the result of several hundred years of clinical research made
by European and North American psychiatrists and psychologists, we will now
analyze several authors and theories from different eras, culture and
publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(DSM-III) changed the name used to define this mental disorder in antisocial personality disorder and it increased
the diagnostic criterion for behavioural sciences (Hare, 1996).
founded a series of Avanced Research Institutes on psychopathy, both before and
after the publication of the Scientific Diagnostic Manual-III (Patrik, 2005, p.
61). To Robert Hare (1991), Canadian researcher in the field of criminal
psychology, goes the merit of having invented the Hare Psychopathy Checklist
which is a method to differentiate antisocial personality disorder from
psychopathy. According to these studies, the spread of antisocial personality
disorder is two-three times higher than psychopathy.
It was the French psychiatrist Philippe Pinel (1801),
referring to a form of madness known at the time as la folie raisonnante, who noted that certain of his patient engaged
in impulsive and self-damaging acts, despite the fact that their reasoning
abilities were unimpaired and they fully grasped the irrationality of what they
were doing (p.9).
scientific study of individual cases failed to develop further until the second
half of the nineteenth century, when the Italian sociologist Cesare Lombroso
(1896) rejected the traditional theory that criminality can involve anyone, and
instead identified a particular type of ‘delinquent born ‘, defined as such
based on somatic evidence.
beginning of the twentieth century, the British psychiatrist Henry Maudsley
(1876) published a work on the ‘moral imbecile’ in which he described the cases
of those irrecoverable persons by means of traditional correction systems.
Maudslay realized that this resistance derived from the punitive effects of
re-socialization, by making sure that the patients somehow activated some sort
of defense mechanism against their own future failures (p.77).
In 1887 Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist, identified
the ‘morally insane’ as suffering congenital defects in their ability to
restrain the reckless gratification of immediate egotistical desires (p.281). He
reffered to psychopathic states as one of several forms of degeneration, along
with such syndromes and obsessions, impulsive insanity, and sexual perversions.
In 1904 Kraepelin identified four types of personality who had features akin to
what we speak of today as antisocial personalities.
In 1909, Karl Birnbaum, writing in Germany at the time
of Kraepelin’s later edition, was the first to suggest that the term
‘sociopathic’ might be the most apt designation for the majority of these
The origin of the current description of Psychopathy
can be traced back to the work of Cleckley(American psychiatrist). In his book,
The Mask of Sanity by Hervey, Cleckley, delineated sixteen criteria for the
diagnosis of psychopathy (Cleckley,1941).
Reconceptualizing Cleckley’s description of
psychopathy, Hare (1980) developed the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL), reviewed in
1991 and named Psychopathy Checklist-Rivised (PCL-R), for the classification of
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the
American Psychiatric Association included several concepts of psychopathy /
sociopathy / antisocial personality in early editions but, starting in 1980,
attributed a diagnosis on antisocial personality disorder that was based on one
of the criteria already employed by Cleckley but modified differently and,
moreover, more specifically related to criminology. The taxonomy (ICD) of the
World Health Organization currently includes a similar diagnosis. Both the ICD
and the DSM establish that psychopathy and sociopathy are synonymous with the
same diagnosis (Cameron, 1987).
Hare developed the Psychopathy Checklist based on the assumptions made by
Cleckley and subsequently revised. The development of the Psychopathy Checklist
(Hare, 1980, p.249) and of the III edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-III, 1980) represented the starting point for
the establishment of a thriving research network on the theoretical and
empirical construct of psychopathy.
summarizing the most used terms to indicate psychopathy are: non-scrupulous man
(Theophrastus, 3rd century BC), mania without delirium – manie sans délire
(Pinel, 1801) or sociopathy (Birnbaum, 1909).
In light of
these different studies, theories and definitions on psychopathy, similarities
are found that converge on defining more or less universal aspects that
characterize the psychopath: psychopathy consists of a deficit for different
areas, such as interpersonal relationships, emotions, and behaviours.
described psychopaths as ‘social predators’. Hare and other criminologists
wrote about the phenomenon as ‘the use of a particular charisma, manipulation,
intimidation, sexual relations and violence’ in order to control other people
and pursue their own interests:
and empathy, they do what they want and as they like, violating social norms
and social expectations without guilt or remorse, what is missing, in other
words, is the true quality that makes a human able being to distinguish himself
from an animal’ (Hare , 1999, p.182).
Hare (2006), many psychopaths are apparently able of striking the attention of
others because they can perfectly mimic the most common human emotions, and can
wander, in disguise, in a variety of environments, including corporations or
other similar associations (p. 48).
psychopathy prevents understanding the emotional states of other people, except
in the purely intellectual sense of expression.
do not perceive their emotions like normal people. Even if they are not
completely impassive, their emotions are so low that some doctors have
described them as simple ‘proto-emotions’ or ‘primitive responses to immediate
needs’ (Hare, 1999, p.196).
do not feel the need to establish a romantic relationship and are not able to
form emotional bonds with people. Although a psychopath can sometimes perceive
a person’s charm or be infatuated with him / her, he cannot reciprocate his
feelings, but only pretend and enjoy sexual encounters, even if they are
superficial and impersonal (Hare et al., 2006 , p.39).
researchers obtained brain scans on psychopaths while exposing them to
emotionally charged speeches like rape, murder and love. In a normal person,
these words cause success in the limbic system, which governs emotions.
Psychopaths did not show these activities but reacted in a totally
indifferent way (for example ‘tree / love’, ‘chair / rape’, ‘spoon / murder’),
however, they showed reactivity in the cerebral areas associated with language
processing, suggesting that their response was more cognitive than emotional
(Hare, et al., 2006, p.41).
aspect concerns plagiarism and manipulation: psychopaths are incorrigible and
recidivist liars. Often they can get what they want or to impress people, and
they do it with such skill that the investigators, even those with considerable
experience behind them, are sometimes misled (Cleckley, 1976).
psychopath tries to deceive more often than it seems (body language, trust,
etc.). In fact, psychopathic stories are often full of inconsistencies and
contradictions. The first reason for this is the often improvised nature of
their consciousness. If they are caught or faced with unforeseen questions,
they simply rework their narrative to adapt to the new reality without stopping
to reflect on things. The second reason is that psychopaths seem to have
difficulty properly integrating the language and emotional components of their
thoughts, and this does not make it possible to notice the contradictions in
their speech. Hervey Cleckley (1976), a pioneering researcher of psychopathy,
called this anomaly as ‘semantic aphasia’.
at the University of Sydney claim that psychopathy is pure impulsivity. It is
not possible to measure the risk of being surprised, discovered or affected as
a result of one’s behaviour (Dadds et al., 2006, p.280).
psychopath lives day by day, changing his plans frequently and generally has no
realistic long-term goals. Psychopaths often claim to have ambitious goals in
life, but they cannot appreciate the consistency, skill or discipline necessary
to achieve them (Hare, 1999, p.196). In the workplace, on the contrary, they
are known for irregular frequency, frequent absences, embezzlement, and
unreliability. They are financially irresponsible, often living above their
means, incurring in debts and defaults on loans. They often neglect their
children, often have unprotected sex, they make children and then abandon them and
transmit sexually transmitted diseases (Harris et al., 2006, p.184).
rate of psychopaths is twice the number of common offenders with peaks three
times higher for the most violent crimes (Hare, 1999).
Newman (1990), scholars of the University of Wisconsin note that psychopaths
have a low tolerance for boredom and an excessive need for excitement and
stimulation. They often break the rules, commit crimes, and risk their lives to
try cheap thrills: they are more likely to take drugs than normal people.