Psychopaths and how can we identify them

Psychopaths and sociopaths are pretty rare but more common than we believe. They can be our boss, our coworker, or just a stranger that approaches us. Even though they may not be the next serial killers, they might (more than possible) manipulate or at least lie to us in order to get what they want.

I believe everyone has heard at least once in their life about psychopaths. Some of them might have been called one, which might be true or not. You may say: “But they live in prisons, don’t they?” Well, most people in prisons are psychopaths, but not every psychopath lives in prison. What does that mean?

Firstly, let’s define a psychopath. “A person suffering from a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior.” would be the theoretical definition of it but let’s go a little further with the psychopathic traits.

10 traits of a psychopath are:

  1. Superficial charm.
  2. Grandiose sense of self-worth.
  3. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom.
  4. Pathological lying.
  5. Manipulation.
  6. Lack of remorse or guilt.
  7. Shallow affect (i.e., reduced emotional responses).
  8. Lack of empathy

A great deal of research suggests that the core, precipitating features of psychopathy are developmental in nature, with relatively persistent traits becoming apparent before the age of 10.

Furthermore, it seems that these traits are predicted by significant genetic risk factors. It can occur due to a combination of genetics and a person’s environment (conflict between parents or caregivers; inconsistent parenting; parents or caregivers who misused alcohol or drugs). This notion has profound implications which suggest that neurocognitive peculiarities can hijack the
development of our moral sensibility. It further suggests a basis for the failure of traditional remedial interventions on those with seemingly intractable behavioral problems ranging from conduct disorder in youth to the adult criminal psychopath.

The psychiatrist Philippe Pinel (1806) used the phrase manie sans délire (madness without delirium) to describe this disorder over 200 years ago, but the sophistication with which we define psychopathy has advanced a great deal since then. For this, we owe a debt to those who developed reliable measures for operationalizing these traits, particularly Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist (PCL), now in its revised form (PCL-R; Hare, 2003), which remains the most widely used psychopathy assessment tool for institutionalized samples. Reliable measurement of the construct instigated an escalating number of investigations dedicated to defining psychopathy in more empirical ways. Out of a maximum score of 40, the cut-off for the label of psychopathy is 30 in the United States and 25 in the United Kingdom.

As such, this disorder can now be described in fairly specific neurobiologicalterms, which includes dysfunction in parts of the brain responsible for utilizing emotional responses, such as responding to cues indicating a potential for punishment, in the modification of ongoing behavior. Scientists who scanned the brains of men convicted of murder, rape, and violent assaults have found the strongest evidence yet that psychopaths have structural abnormalities in their brains. The study showed that psychopaths have reduced connections between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), the part of the brain responsible for sentiments such as empathy and guilt, and the amygdala, which mediates fear and anxiety.

A psychopath might often be confused with a sociopath or vice versa. So, let’s learn the differences. While psychopaths are classified as people with little or no conscience, sociopaths do have a limited, albeit weak, ability to feel empathy and remorse. Psychopaths can and do follow social conventions when it suits their needs. They often blame others and have excuses for their behavior. Some experts see sociopaths as “hot-headed.” They act without thinking about how others will be affected. Psychopaths are more “cold-hearted” and calculating. They carefully plot their moves and use aggression in a planned-out way to get what they want.

Let’s clarify some things.

● Make it clear they do not care about how others feel
● Behave in hot-headed and impulsive ways
● Prone to fits of anger and rage
● Recognize what they are doing but rationalize their behavior
● Cannot maintain a regular work and family life
● Can form emotional attachments, but with difficulty

● Pretend to care
● Display cold-hearted behavior
● Fail to recognize other people’s distress
● Have relationships that are shallow and fake
● Maintain a normal life as a cover for criminal activity
● Fail to form genuine emotional attachments
● May love people in their own way

As I was saying at the beginning of the article, psychopaths are more common than we may know (1 in every 100 people you know is a psychopath). Why? Because studies show that people in executive positions are more likely than average to manifest psychopathic behavior. They can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, they lack any semblance of a conscience. Their antisocial nature inclines them often (but by no means always) to criminality. So, your boss might be a psychopath. Those traits actually help them be a better leader; that is the reason many of the non-violent psychopaths have leading position.

To summarize all the information, psychopaths and sociopaths are around us and we need to keep an eye out for our own safety, in order to prevent being manipulated or lied to.

Editor: Ionela David

Grafician: Anton Florina

Verdeata Elena-Stefania