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Notes on Psychopathy

15 Post author: gwern 19 December 2012 04:02AM

This is some old work I did for SI. See also Notes on the Psychology of Power.

Deviant but not necessarily diseased or dysfunctional minds can demonstrate resistance to all treatment and attempts to change their mind (think No Universally Compelling Arguments; the premier example are probably psychopaths - no drug treatments are at all useful nor are there any therapies with solid evidence of even marginal effectiveness (one widely cited chapter, “Treatment of psychopathy: A review of empirical findings”, concludes that some attempted therapies merely made them more effective manipulators! We’ll look at that later.) While some psychopath traits bear resemblance to general characteristic of the powerful, they’re still a pretty unique group and worth looking at.

The main focus of my excerpts is on whether they are treatable, their effectiveness, possible evolutionary bases, and what other issues they have or don’t have which might lead one to not simply write them off as “broken” and of no relevance to AI.

(For example, if we were to discover that psychopaths were healthy human beings who were not universally mentally retarded or ineffective in gaining wealth/power and were destructive and amoral, despite being completely human and often socialized normally, then what does this say about the fragility of human values and how likely an AI will just be nice to us?)

As usual in my 'notes' articles, the following is a series of excerpts and citations; if any interest you, leave a comment and I will try to jailbreak a copy for you or failing that, post a request on the research help page.

1 Psychopathy

The Psychopath: Emotion and the brain, Blair et al 2005:

There are now a relatively large number of studies indicating that individuals with psychopathy reoffend at higher rates than non-psychopathic individuals. For example, in an early study, the PCL-R was administered to 231 offenders prior to release from prisons (Hart et al., 1988). Within 3 years, 25% of non-psychopathic individuals had been re-incarcerated. In sharp contrast, 80% of the individuals with psychopathy had breached the terms of their release. In another study Serin and Amos (1995) followed 299 offenders, and within 3 years, 65% of individuals with psychopathy versus only 25% of the non-psychopathic individuals were convicted of a new offence. Such results have been found in European studies also. Thus, in a Swedish sample of forensic patients, Grann et al. (1999) found that individuals scoring above 25 on the PCL-R violently reoffended at a rate of 66% versus only 18% for those with a score less than 26. In Belgium, the reconviction rates of psychopathic, middle scoring, and low scoring individuals were 44% , 21% , and 11% , respectively (Hare et al., 2000)…An international study of 278 offenders is of particular interest. This found that 82% of the individuals with psychopathy but only 40% of non- psychopathic individuals were reconvicted of an offence (Hare et al., 2000). In the same group, 38% of the high psychopathy group committed a violent offence, but only 2.7% of those with a low PCL-R score did. Interestingly, both the individuals with psychopathy and the non-psychopathic individuals failed to show attenuated reconviction rates following treatment after controlling for age and criminal history. However, the pattern of results changes when Factor 1 scores [interpersonal/affective: glib charm, grandiosity, lying, callosity, cunning] are carefully examined. Participants with high Factor 1 scores reoffended at higher rates if they had been treated: 86% as opposed to 59% ! Similarly striking results have been seen when examining participants who engage in educational and vocational training programs. Here offenders with low Factor 1 scores show an improvement in recidivism rate following the course. However, offenders with high Factor 1 scores are reconvicted at higher rates if they take part in these programs rather than if they do not. In what is perhaps the most comprehensive review and meta-analysis to date, Hemphill and colleagues (1998) examined nine available published and unpublished prospective studies of psychopathy and recidivism. The length of followup for the studies reviewed ranged from 1 to 10.5 years. The authors determined that within a year of release, individuals with psychopathy are three times more likely to recidivate, and four times more likely to recidivate violently. In fact, the relative risk for reoffending (the proportion of psychopathic individuals who reoffend divided by the proportion of non-psychopathic offenders who reoffend) ranged from 1.7 to as high as 6.5 across studies. Taken together, at a 1-year follow-up, the general recidivism rate for individuals with psychopathy was three times higher than that of non-psychopathic individuals and the violent recidivism rate was three to five times higher. Psychopathy is associated with both general and violent recidivism at follow-up lengths of as little as a year, or as long as more than 10 years.

  • Hart S. D., Kropp P. R., Hare R. D. (1988). Performance of male psychopaths following conditional release from prison. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 227-232
  • Serin R. C., Amos N. L. (1995). The role of psychopathy in the assessment of dangerousness. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 18, 231-238
  • Grann M., Langstrom N., Tengstrom A., Kullgren G. (1999). Psychopathy (P. C. L-R) predicts violent recidivism among criminal offenders with personality disorders in Sweden. Law and Human Behavior, 23, 205-217.
  • Hare R. D., Clark D., Grann M., Thornton D. (2000). Psychopathy and the predictive validity of the P. C. L-R: an international perspective. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 18, 623-645
  • Hemphill J. F., Hare R. D., Wong S. (1998). Psychopathy and recidivism: a review. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 3, 139-170

However, preliminary work conducted by Paul Frick using the APSD has examined the incidence rate of psychopathic tendencies in community samples involving children. As discussed in chapter 1, we have used a score of 27 on the APSD as our cut-off point for a classification of psychopathic tendencies in many of our studies (Blair et al., 2001a, b). Using this cut-off results in a prevalence rate of psychopathic tendencies of between 1.23% and 3.46% (Frick, personal communication); i.e., approximately one quarter of the incidence rate of CD in community samples. Moreover, epidemiological studies examining the prevalence of psychopathy in forensic samples have been conducted. These reveal that while up to 80% of US inmates reach diagnostic criteria for ASPD, only 15-25% of US inmates meet criteria for psychopathy according to the criteria laid down by the PCL-R (Hare, 1996). In other words, approximately one quarter of those receiving the DSM-IV diagnosis of ASPD meet the criteria for psychopathy. Based on these findings and the 3% community incidence rate of ASPD suggested by the DSM-IV, the prevalence of psychopathy can be inferred. If we assume approximately 25% of those with a diagnosis of ASPD might meet criteria for psychopathy, we can estimate an incidence rate for psychopathy in males in the community of 0.75%.

  • Blair R. J. R., Colledge E., Mitchell D. G. (2001a). Somatic markers and response reversal: is there orbitofrontal cortex dysfunction in boys with psychopathic tendencies? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 29(6), 499-511.
  • Blair R. J. R., Colledge E., Murray L., Mitchell D. G. (2001b). A selective impairment in the processing of sad and fearful expressions in children with psychopathic tendencies. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 29(6), 491-498
  • Hare R. D. (1996). Psychopathy: a clinical construct whose time has come. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23, 25-54

Hare and colleagues, using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, found little correlation between IQ and both PCL-R total scores and emotional dysfunction (Factor 1) scores. However, there was a modest negative correlation with antisocial behavior (Factor 2 [Impulsive/antisocial lifestyle: delinquency, parasitism, no long-term goals]) scores (Hare, 1991); i.e., lower IQ was associated with higher levels of antisocial behavior. Similar findings have been reported with children with psychopathic tendencies (Frick et al., 1994). Similarly, Hare, using a battery of tests that measure over 20 mental abilities, found no correlation between cognitive functioning and Factor 1 or total PCL-R scores, but did find a significant negative correlation (r = −0.46) between Factor 2 and “crystallized intelligence” (Hare, 2003). Crystallized intelligence can be considered a measure of accumulated knowledge. It is highly influenced by an individual’s experience (i.e., their schooling and involvement in cultural activities). Moreover, Hare, in a comprehensive review, reports a consistent, though modest, negative correlation between education and Factor 2, but not Factor 1, scores (Hare, 2003). Overall, then, there is no evidence to suggest that individuals with psychopathy have superior IQ compared to individuals with no psychopathy. However, antisocial behavior does appear to be linked with lower intelligence and lower level of schooling.

  • Hare R. D. (1991). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist - Revised. Toronto, Ontario: Multi-Health Systems
  • Frick P. J., O’Brien B. S., Wootton J. M., McBurnett K. (1994). Psychopathy and conduct problems in children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 700-707
  • Hare R. D. (2003). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (PCL-R), 2nd edn. Toronto, Ontario: Multi-Health Systems.
  • psychopathy uncorrelated with schizophrenia; negatively correlated with depression & anxiety/fear in general (interestingly, positively correlated with Neuroticism, see “Psychopathy and Personality” in the Handbook); positively correlated with substance abuse of various sorts, and with ADHD

In this chapter, we also reported that age, SES, and IQ are all inversely related to antisocial behavior. The older an individual is (after the age of 20 years), the higher their SES, and the higher their IQ, the less likely they are to engage in antisocial behavior. Moreover, we also reported that all of these variables are inversely associated with the antisocial behavior (Factor 2) component of psychopathy. However, it was interesting to note that none of these variables are associated with the emotional dysfunction (Factor 1) component of psychopathy…Much antisocial behavior shown by individuals with psychopathy is instrumental in nature - it has the goal of gaining another’s money, sexual favors, or “respect” (Cornell et al., 1996; Williamson et al., 1987). Individuals can attempt to achieve these goals through a variety of means. Having a higher SES (or for that matter intelligence) enables a wider choice of available routes for achieving these goals than having a lower SES (or intelligence). We suggest that a reason for the inverse relationship between SES and IQ with the antisocial behavior component of psychopathy is that lower SES/IQ limits the behavioral options available so that antisocial behavior appears a useful route to the goal. A healthy individual of limited SES/IQ may also have a narrow range of behavioral options but will exclude antisocial behavior because of aversion to this behavior formed during socialization (see chapter 8). In contrast, individuals with psychopathy may entertain the antisocial option because they do not find the required antisocial behavior aversive…In other words, we anticipate that there are individuals of higher SES who do not present with the full psychopathic syndrome even though their emotional dysfunction is of an equivalent degree to other individuals who present with both the emotional and behavioral components of the disorder.

  • Cornell D. G., Warren J., Hawk G., Stafford E., Oram G., Pine D. (1996). Psychopathy in instrumental and reactive violent offenders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 783-790
  • Williamson S., Hare R. D., Wong S. (1987). Violence: criminal psychopaths and their victims. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 19, 454-462

One extinction task that has been used with individuals with psychopathy is a card playing task originally developed by Joe Newman and colleagues (Newman et al., 1987). In this task, the participant has to decide whether to play a card. Initially, the participant’s choice to play is always reinforcing; if the participant plays the card he or she will win points or money. However, as the participant progresses through the pack of cards, the probability of reward decreases. Thus, initially ten out of ten cards are rewarded, then nine out of ten, then eight out of ten continuing on until zero out of ten cards are rewarded. The participant should stop playing the cards when playing means that more cards are associated with punishment rather than reward. That is, they should stop playing the cards when only four out of ten cards are associated with reward. Children with psychopathic tendencies and adult individuals with psychopathy have considerable difficulty with this task; they continue to play the cards even when they are being repeatedly punished and may end up losing all the points that they had gained (Fisher and Blair, 1998; Newman et al., 1987; O’Brien and Frick, 1996).

  • Fisher L., Blair R. J. R. (1998). Cognitive impairment and its relationship to psychopathic tendencies in children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26, 511-519
  • Newman J. P., Patterson C. M., Kosson D. S. (1987). Response perseveration in psychopaths. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96, 145-148
  • O’Brien B. S., Frick P. J. (1996). Reward dominance: associations with anxiety, conduct problems, and psychopathy in children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 24, 223-240

There are several ways in which people differentiate between moral and conventional transgressions. Thus, first of all, people generally judge moral transgressions to be more serious than conventional transgressions (Nucci, 1981; Smetana and Braeges, 1990; Turiel, 1983). Second, people give different reasons for justifying why moral and conventional transgressions are wrong. Thus, for moral transgressions, people refer to the distress of the victim (i.e., it is wrong to hit someone because it will hurt them), but for conventional transgressions, people refer to the social disorder that may ensue (i.e., it is wrong to talk in class because you are there to learn) (Smetana, 1993; Turiel, 1983). Third, and more importantly, modifying the rule conditions (for example, by an authority figure removing the prohibition against the act) only affects the permissibility of conventional transgressions. Thus, even if there is no rule prohibiting the action, participants generally judge moral transgressions as non-permissible (i.e., they still think it is wrong to hit another individual even if there is no rule against it). In contrast, if there is no rule prohibiting a conventional transgression, participants generally judge the act as permissible (i.e., they think it is OK to talk in class if there is no rule against it). While participants do not always make the moral/conventional distinction in their seriousness judgments, they do always make the moral/conventional distinction in their modifiability judgments. Thus, children at certain ages have been found to judge some conventional and moral transgressions as equally serious (Stoddart and Turiel, 1985; Turiel, 1983). However, they still identify the moral transgressions as less rule contingent and less under authority jurisdiction than the conventional transgressions.

  • Nucci L. P. (1981). Conceptions of personal issues: a domain distinct from moral or societal concepts. Child Development, 52, 114-121
  • Smetana J. G., Braeges J. L. (1990). The development of toddlers’ moral and conventional judgments. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 36, 329-346
  • Turiel E. (1983). The Development of Social Knowledge: Morality and convention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Smetana J. G. (1993). “Understanding of social rules”. In M. Bennett (ed.), The Child as Psychologist: An introduction to the development of social cognition, pp. 111-141. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • Stoddart T., Turiel E. (1985). Children’s concepts of cross-gender activities. Child Development, 56, 1241-1252

Children with psychopathic tendencies and adults with psychopathy have considerable difficulty with the moral/conventional distinction task (Blair, 1995, 1997; Blair et al., 1995a, 2001c). In addition, similar difficulties have been observed with more general populations of children presenting with antisocial behavior (Arsenio and Fleiss, 1996; Dunn and Hughes, 2001; Hughes and Dunn, 2000; Nucci and Herman, 1982). Children with psychopathic tendencies, adults with psychopathy, and other antisocial populations do generally regard moral transgressions as more serious than conventional transgressions. However, such populations are far less likely than comparison individuals to make reference to the victim of the transgression when justifying why moral transgressions are bad (Arsenio and Fleiss, 1996; Blair, 1995; Blair et al., 2001c; Dunn and Hughes, 2001; Hughes and Dunn, 2000). In addition, when the rules prohibiting the transgressions are removed, such populations are far less likely to make the distinction between moral and conventional transgressions that is seen in healthy individuals (Blair, 1995; Blair et al., 2001c; Nucci and Herman, 1982)…while it has been repeatedly shown that the use of empathy-inducing positive parenting strategies by caregivers decreases the probability of antisocial behavior in healthy developing children, it does not decrease the probability of antisocial behavior in children who present with the emotional dysfunction of psychopathy (Wootton et al., 1997).

  • Blair R. J. R. (1995). A cognitive developmental approach to morality: investigating the psychopath. Cognition, 57, 1-29
  • Blair R. J. R. (1997). Moral reasoning in the child with psychopathic tendencies. Personality and Individual Differences, 22, 731-739
  • Blair R. J. R., Jones L., Clark F., Smith M. (1995a). Is the psychopath “morally insane”? Personality and Individual Differences, 19, 741-752
  • Blair R. J. R., Monson J., Frederickson N. (2001c). Moral reasoning and conduct problems in children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Personality and Individual Differences, 31, 799-811
  • Arsenio W. F., Fleiss K. (1996). Typical and behaviourally disruptive children’s understanding of the emotion consequences of socio-moral events. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 14, 173-186
  • Dunn J., Hughes C. (2001). “I got some swords and you’re dead!”: violent fantasy, antisocial behavior, friendship, and moral sensibility in young children. Child Development, 72(2), 491-505
  • Hughes C., Dunn J. (2000). Hedonism or empathy? Hard-to-manage children’s moral awareness and links with cognitive and maternal characteristics. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 18, 227-245
  • Nucci L. P., Herman S. (1982). Behavioral disordered children’s conceptions of moral, conventional, and personal issues. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 10, 411-425
  • Wootton J. M., Frick P. J., Shelton K. K., Silverthorn P. (1997). Ineffective parenting and childhood conduct problems: the moderating role of callous - unemotional traits. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 292-300

Long section summary:

Data indicating that individuals with psychopathy present with relatively little or no impairment for functions known to require the integrity of the amygdala, such as the formation of stimulus-reward associations and aspects of social cognition, qualify the amygdala dysfunction position. They suggest that the genetic anomalies, which we assume are the fundamental causes of psychopathy, do not globally disrupt the functioning of the amygdala but rather have a more selective effect, perhaps by disrupting the functioning of specific neurotransmitter(s) involved in specific aspects of amygdala functioning. We suggest that the noradrenergic response to stress/threat stimuli may be disturbed in individuals with psychopathy.

More on the ADHD correlation:

ADHD is a conundrum because while there is high comorbidity of ADHD with psychopathic tendencies (Babinski et al., 1999; Barry et al., 2000; Colledge and Blair, 2001; Lynam, 1996), the neurocognitive impairments seen in children with ADHD are, to a large extent, not found in individuals with psychopathy. …Individuals with psychopathy show no impairment on classic measures of executive functioning such as the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (LaPierre et al., 1995) or the ED-shift component of the ID/ED task (Mitchell et al., 2002). Individuals with ADHD show difficulty with both of these tasks (Pennington and Ozonoff, 1996; Williams et al., 2000). Individuals with psychopathy show no impairment, or even reduced interference (Newman et al., 1997), on Stroop, or Stroop-like, tasks (Blair et al., under revision; Smith et al., 1992). As described above, individuals with ADHD show striking difficulty with such tasks.

  • Babinski L. M., Hartsough C. S., Lambert N. M. (1999). Childhood conduct problems, hyperactivity-impulsivity, and inattention as predictors of adult criminal activity. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 40, 347-355
  • Barry C. T., Frick P. J., DeShazo T. M., McCoy M. G., Ellis M., Loney B. R. (2000). The importance of callous-unemotional traits for extending the concept of psychopathy to children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109(2), 335-340
  • Colledge E., Blair R. J. R. (2001). Relationship between attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and psychopathic tendencies in children. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 1175-1187
  • Lynam D. R. (1996). Early identification of chronic offenders: who is the fledgling psychopath? Psychological Bulletin, 120(2), 209-224
  • LaPierre D., Braun C. M. J., Hodgins S. (1995). Ventral frontal deficits in psychopathy: neuropsychological test findings. Neuropsychologia, 33, 139-151
  • Mitchell D. G. V., Colledge E., Leonard A., Blair R. J. R. (2002). Risky decisions and response reversal: is there evidence of orbitofrontal cortex dysfunction in psychopathic individuals? Neuropsychologia, 40, 2013-2022
  • Pennington B. F., Ozonoff S. (1996). Executive functions and developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 51-87
  • Williams D., Stott C. M., Goodyer I. M., Sahakian B. J. (2000). Specific language impairment with or without hyperactivity: neuropsychological evidence for frontostriatal dysfunction. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 42(6), 368-375
  • Newman J. P., Schmitt W. A., Voss W. D. (1997). The impact of motivationally neutral cues on psychopathic individuals: assessing the generality of the response modulation hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 563-575
  • Blair K. S., Newman C., Mitchell D. G., Richell R. A., Leonard A., Morton J., Blair R. J. R. (under revision). Differentiating among prefrontal substrates in psychopathy: neuropsychological test findings
  • Smith S. S., Arnett P. A., Newman J. P. (1992). Neuropsychological differentiation of psychopathic and nonpsychopathic criminal offenders. Personality and Individual Differences, 13(11), 1233-1243

A possible overall picture:

No biologically based disorder other than psychopathy is associated with an increased risk of instrumental aggression Currently, there are no reasons to believe that there are any biologically-based disorders associated with a heightened risk of instrumental antisocial behavior other than psychopathy. There are other disorders associated with a heightened risk of instrumental antisocial behavior (e.g., adolescent-limited CD) but they are not biologically based. In chapter 8, we developed an account of psychopathy. In essence, this account suggests that genetic anomalies give rise to a disorder where there is reduced responsiveness of the amygdala to aversive stimuli in particular. This specific form of reduced emotional responsiveness interferes with socialization such that the individual is more likely to learn to use anti-social behavior to achieve goals.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, Babiak & Hare 2006:

Psychopathy is a personality disorder described by the personality traits and behaviors that form the basis of this book. Psychopaths are without conscience and incapable of empathy, guilt, or loyalty to anyone but themselves. Sociopathy is not a formal psychiatric condition. It refers to patterns of attitudes and behaviors that are considered antisocial and criminal by society at large, but are seen as normal or necessary by the subculture or social environment in which they developed. Sociopaths may have a well-developed conscience and a normal capacity for empathy, guilt, and loyalty, but their sense of right and wrong is based on the norms and expectations of their subculture or group. Many criminals might be described as sociopaths. Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is a broad diagnostic category found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV). Antisocial and criminal behaviors play a major role in its definition and, in this sense, APD is similar to sociopathy. Some of those with APD are psychopaths, but many are not. The difference between psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder is that the former includes personality traits such as lack of empathy, grandiosity, and shallow emotion that are not necessary for a diagnosis of APD. APD is three or four times more common than psychopathy in the general population and in prisons. The prevalence of those we would describe as sociopathic is unknown but likely is considerably higher than that of APD.

Several recent twin studies provide convincing evidence that genetic factors play at least as important a role in the development of the core features of psychopathy as do environmental factors and forces. Researchers Blonigen, Carlson, Krueger & Patrick stated that the results of their study of 271 adult twin pairs provided “substantial evidence of genetic contributions to variance in the personality construct of psychopathy.” Subsequently, researchers Larrson, Andershed & Lichstenstien arrived at a similar conclusion in their study of 1090 adolescent twin pairs: “A genetic factor explains most of the variation in the psychopathic personality.” Viding, Blair, Moffitt & Plomin studied 3687 seven-year-old twin pairs and also concluded that “the core symptoms of psychopathy are strongly genetically determined.” They reported that the genetic contribution was highest when callous-unemotional traits were combined with antisocial behaviors.

Unfortunately, no group is more surprised to learn that they have been psychologically manipulated than those who believe they are smarter and stronger than others, no matter how true this may be. Narcissistic managers, in particular, tend to rise to management positions in organizations in disproportionately large numbers. Being particularly self-absorbed, they are known to use (and abuse) their subordinates and play up to their superiors to assure their own personal career success. (See pages 40-41 for similarities and differences between narcissists and psychopaths.) We have spoken with a number of narcissistic managers who also felt victimized by corporate cons: much to their own surprise-and not easy for them to admit- they were outclassed and outgunned. Additionally, and this really plays into the hands of the corporate con, individuals with strong personalities, such as narcissism, are far less likely than most to seek assistance, guidance, or even personal feedback until it is too late, making them attractive long-term targets.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) reported that in 2003, 37 percent of 3,600 companies in 50 countries had suffered from fraudulent acts, with an average company loss of more that $2 million. The actual average loss likely was much higher because of failures to detect or report frauds, or a tendency to write them off as a commercial loss. One quarter of the frauds were committed by senior managers and executives with a sophisticated understanding of the company’s internal controls and risk management procedures. In spite of the public outrage at the recent spate of high-profile scandals in the corporate world, things are not getting any better. In 2004, the percentage of companies in the PWC global survey that experienced fraud rose from 37 to 44 and then to 45 in 2005.

  • “Corporate Fraud in the Boardroom” Skalak, S., Nestler, C., & Bussmann, K. Global Economic Crime Survey, 2005. PricewaterhouseCoopers

In the journal Psychology, Crime, and Law, researchers Board and Fritzon administered a self-report personality inventory to a sample of British senior business managers and executives. They concluded that the prevalence of histrionic, narcissistic, and compulsive personality disorders was relatively high, and that many of the traits exhibited were consistent with psychopathy: superficial charm, insincerity, egocentricity, manipulativeness, grandiosity, lack of empathy, exploitativeness, independence, rigidity, stubbornness, and dictatorial tendencies.

  • Board, B. J., & Fritzon, K. Disordered personalities at work. Psychology, Crime and Law, 11(1), 17-32, 2005.

In our original research working with almost 200 high-potential executives, we found about 3.5 percent who fit the profile of the psychopath as measured on the PCL: SV (pages 26-28). [Unable to find a paper about this original research]

We now know that some organizations actively seek out and recruit individuals with at least a moderate dose of psychopathic features. Some executives have said to us, “Many of the traits you describe to us seem to be valued by our company. Why shouldn’t companies hire psychopaths to fill some jobs?” A proper, scientific answer is that more research is needed to determine the impact of various doses of psychopathic characteristics on the performance of different types of jobs. The “optimal” number and severity of such characteristics presumably is higher for some jobs (such as stock promoter, politician, law enforcement, used-car salespeople, mercenaries, and lawyers) than for others (such as social workers, teachers, nurses, and ministers). Until such research is done, we can safely say that those who believe that “psychopathy is good” clearly have not had much exposure to the real thing.

Are psychopaths particularly well suited for dangerous professions? David Cox, a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University, doesn’t think so. He studied British bomb-disposal operations in Northern Ireland, beginning his research with the expectation that because psychopaths are “cool under fire” and have a strong “need for excitement” they would excel at the job. But he found that the soldiers who performed the exacting and dangerous task of defusing or dismantling IRA bombs referred to psychopaths as “cowboys”-unreliable and impulsive individuals who lacked the perfectionism and attention to detail needed to stay alive on the job. Most were filtered out during training, and those who slipped through didn’t last long.

We analyzed the succession plans of a few hundred North American executives and noted that the similarities between the developmental issues for some managers identified as “high potentials” and psychopathic-like features were startling. Our list of questionable characteristics-dysfunctional behaviors, attitudes, and judgments-was refined to form the B-Scan, a research instrument for use by companies as part of their evaluation for succession planning. We obtained clear differences between a group of successful, high-performing executives and a group of convicted white-collar or economic criminals (that is, individuals who defrauded their companies and other innocent victims). In a follow-up investigation, we also found predictable differences between the successful high performers and corporate psychopaths. Research on the B-Scan continues.

“A Genetic Factor Explains Most of the Variation in the Psychopathic Personality”, Larsson et al 2006:

The authors used a self-report questionnaire (The Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory) to study the importance of genetic and environmental influences on psychopathic personality traits in a sample of 1,090 monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs, aged 16 -17 years. Results showed a strong genetic influence behind the higher order “psychopathic personality” factor, underpinned by the three psychopathic personality dimensions. Over and above the effects to the higher order factor, significant unique genetic influences were also found in the callous/unemotional and in the impulsive/irresponsible dimension, but not in the grandiose/manipulative dimension.

…there are only two published twin studies that have directly investigated the importance of genetic and environmental influences for psychopathic traits (Blonigen, Carlson, Krueger, & Patrick, 2003; Taylor, Loney, Bobadilla, Iacono, & McGue, 2003). One of these used a sample of adult male twins (Blonigen et al., 2003) and examined the genetic and environmental influence on psychopathic personality traits by using a self-report measure, the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI; Lilienfeld & Andrews, 1996). Individual differences in all eight dimensions measured by the PPI were associated with genetic and nonshared environmental effects. Genetic effects explained 29%-56% of the variation of the respective dimensions of the PPI. Shared environmental effects were not found for any of the PPI facets (Blonigen et al., 2003). Another recent study on male adolescent twins (Taylor et al., 2003) used a self-report measure that taps the impulsive/antisocial behavior and callous/unemotional interpersonal style of the psychopathic personality constellation (Minnesota Temperament Inventory; Loney, Taylor, Butler, & Iacono, 2002). In this study, genetic effects accounted for approximately 40% of the variation in both the callous/unemotional and the impulsive/antisocial factors. Nonshared environmental effects explained all of the remaining variance, whereas the influences of shared environment seemed to be of no importance (Taylor el al., 2003). [emphasis added] …As would be expected, nonshared environmental influences were found [by us] to be significant in all of the analyses conducted. Nonshared environmental factors were shown to be important for explaining 37% of the variance in the latent psychopathic personality factor.

…The results from the present study suggest that shared environmental factors produce a negligible contribution to the variance in the psychopathic personality constellation. These results replicate those of recent twin studies examining self-reported psychopathic traits in adolescent (Taylor et al., 2003) and adult (Blonigen et al., 2003) twins in finding no evidence of shared environmental influences in psychopathic traits. The results are also consistent with evidence reported from many behavioral genetic studies of psychopathology (Bouchard & McGue, 2003) and personality (Bouchard & Loehlin, 2001; Loehlin, 1992; McGuffin & Thapar, 1992).

Handbook of Psychopathy, ed. Christopher Patrick 2005

For example, in her important study of mental illness in primitive societies, Murphy (1976) found that the Yupic-speaking Eskimos in northwest Alaska have a name, kunlangeta, for the

man who, for example, repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and does not go hunting and, when the other men are out of the village, takes sexual advantage of many women-someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment. One Eskimo among the 499 on their island was called kunlangeta. When asked what would have happened to such a person traditionally, an Eskimo said that probably somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking. (p. 1026)

This is interesting since out of 500, the usual American base rates would predict not 1 but >10 psychopaths. Is this all due to the tribal and closely knit nature of more aboriginal societies, or could Eskimo society really have been selecting against psychopaths while big modern societies give scope for their talents & render them more evolutionarily fit? This may be unanswerable until the relevant genes are identified and samples of gene pools examined for the frequencies.

Considering the primary facets and citing Church (1994), Benning and colleagues (2003) identified the following as the strongest associations between the MPQ and FFM that are relevant to psychopathy: FFM (low) Agreeableness with the MPQ Aggression and Alienation facets of NEM, FFM Neuroticism with the MPQ Stress Reaction Facet of NEM, and FFM Conscientiousness with both the MPQ Control component of Constraint and the achievement facet of PEM. Thus, the Antagonism end of Agreeableness includes elements of MPQ NEM having less to do with stress reactivity, and Conscientiousness includes achievement or agentic elements of MPQ PEM.

“Treatment of Psychopathy: A Review of Empirical Findings”, Harris & Rice 2006; from Handbook of Psychopathy 2005:

The clinical literature has been quite pessimistic about the outcome of therapy for psychopaths. Hervey Cleckley, in his several editions of The Mask of Sanity (1941, 1982), described psychopaths as neither benefiting from treatment nor capable of forming the emotional bonds required for effective therapy. In contrast, some early studies claimed positive effects of psychotherapy (Beacher, 1962; Corsini, 1958; Rodgers, 1947; Rosow, 1955; Schmideberg, 1949; Showstack, 1956; Szurek, 1942; Thorne, 1959). However, all these were uncontrolled case reports. Reviewers before 1990 concluded, as had Cleckley, that there was no evidence for the efficacy of treatment with adult psychopaths (Hare, 1970; McCord, 1982).

  • Hare, R. D. (1970). Psychopathy: Theory and research. New York: Wiley.
  • McCord, J. (1982). Parental behavior in the cycle of aggression. Psychiatry, 51, 14-23

Based on these, Rice, Harris, and Cormier (1992) evaluated an intensive therapeutic community for mentally disordered offenders thought to be especially suitable for psychopaths. It operated for over a decade in a maximum security psychiatric hospital and drew worldwide attention for its novelty. The program was described at length by Barker and colleagues…The results of a follow-up conducted an average of 10.5 years after completion of treatment showed that, compared to no program (in most cases, untreated offenders went to prison), treatment was associated with lower violent recidivism for non-psychopaths but higher violent recidivism for psychopaths. Psychopaths showed poorer adjustment in terms of problem behaviors while in the program, even though they were just as likely as nonpsychopaths to achieve positions of trust and early recommendations for release. Why did the therapeutic community program have such different effects on the two offender groups? We speculated that both the psychopaths and nonpsychopaths who participated in the program learned more about the feelings of others, taking others’ perspective, using emotional language, behaving in socially skilled ways, and delaying gratification.

  • Rice, M. E., Harris, G. T., & Cormier, C. (1992). A follow-up of rapists assessed in a maximum security psychiatric facility. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5, 435-448

In another therapeutic community, Ogloff, Wong, and Greenwood (1990) reported on the behavior of psychopaths and nonpsychopaths defined by criteria outlined in an early version of the Psychopathy Checklist (Hare & Frazelle, 1985). Compared to nonpsychopaths, psychopaths showed less motivation, were discharged earlier (usually because of lack of motivation or security concerns), and showed less improvement. Similar results were reported for a therapeutic community in England’s Grendon prison in (Hobson, Shine, & Roberts, 2000), where poor adjustment to the program was likewise associated with higher PCL-R scores. A recent study of a therapeutic community for female substance abusers (Richards, Casey, & Lucente, 2003) reported that, although none of the offenders scored over 30 on the PCL-R, higher psychopathy scores were nevertheless associated with poorer treatment response indicated by failing to remain in the program, rule violations, avoiding urine tests, and sporadic attendance.

  • Ogloff, J., Wong, S., & Greenwood, A. (1990). Treating criminal psychopaths in a therapeutic community program. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 8, 81-90
  • Hobson, J., Shine, J., & Roberts, R. (2000). How do psychopaths behave in a prison therapeutic community? Psychology, Crime and Law, 6, 139-154
  • Richards, H. J., Casey, J. O., & Lucente, S. W. (2003). Psychopathy and treatment response in incarcerated female substance abusers. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 30, 251-276

Besides therapeutic communities, cognitive-behavioral therapy is often recommended for psychopathic offenders. Andrews and Bonta (1994), Brown and Gutsch (1985), Serin and Kurychik (1994), and Wong and Hare (2005) all suggested that intensive cognitive-behavioral programs targeting “criminogenic needs” (i.e., personal characteristics correlated with recidivism) might be effective. For example, Wong and Hare recommended relapse prevention in combination with cognitive-behavioral programs. However, doubts as to the efficacy of this treatment with psychopaths arose from an evaluation of a cognitive-behavioral and relapse prevention program for sex offenders conducted by Seto and Barbaree (1999). High psychopathy offenders who were rated as having shown the most improvement (as measured by conduct during the treatment sessions, quality of homework, and therapists’ ratings of motivation and change) were more likely to reoffend than other participants, particularly in violent ways…It was highly structured and cognitive-behavioral, best matching the learning style of most offenders, including psychopaths. Moreover, psychopaths are high-risk offenders with many criminogenic needs (Zinger & Forth, 1998), and thus the program targeted deviant sexual preferences and antisocial attitudes (Barbaree, Peacock, Cortini, Marshall, & Seto, 1998). In view of these features, the results pertaining to psychopaths are especially notable.

  • Andrews, D. A., Zinger, I., Hoge, R. D., Bonta, J., Gendreau, P., & Cullen, F. T. (1990). Does correctional treatment work? A clinically relevant and psychologically informed meta-analysis. Criminology, 28, 369-404
  • Brown, H. J., & Gutsch, K. U. (1985). Cognitions associated with a delay of gratification task: A study with psychopaths and normal prisoners. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 12, 453-462
  • Serin, R. C., & Kuriychuk, M. (1994). Social and cognitive processing deficits in violent offenders: Implications for treatment. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 17, 431-441
  • Wong, S., & Hare, R. D. (2005). Guidelines for a psychopathy treatment program. Toronto, ON, Canada: Multi-Health Systems
  • Seto, M. C., & Barbaree, H. (1999). Psychopathy, treatment behavior, and sex offender recidivism. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 1235-1248
  • Zinger, I., & Forth, A. E. (1998). Psychopathy and Canadian criminal proceedings: The potential for human rights abuses. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 40, 237-276.
  • Barbaree, H. E., Peacock, E. J., Cortini, F., Marshall, W. L., & Seto, M. (1998). Ontario penitentiaries’ program. In W. L. Marshall, Y. M. Fernandez, S. M. Hudson, & T. Ward (Eds.), Sourcebook of treatment programs for sexual offenders. New York: Plenum Press

In another study, Hare, Clark, Grann, and Thornton (2000) evaluated cognitive-behavioral prison programs for psychopathic and non-psychopathic offenders. After short-term anger management and social skills training, 24-month reconviction rates for 278 treated and untreated offenders yielded an interaction between psychopathy and treatment outcome similar to that reported by Rice and colleagues (1992). Whereas the program had no demonstrable effect on non-psychopaths, treated offenders who scored high on Factor 1 of the PCL-R had significantly higher rates of recidivism than high-scoring but untreated offenders.

  • Hare, R. D., Clark, D., Grann, M., & Thornton, D. (2000). Psychopathy and the predictive validity of the PCL-R: An international perspective. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 18, 623-645

How can we summarize these “controlled” studies of treatment outcome? We note that only one study (Rice et al., 1992) used the PCL-R, which is the contemporary standard (and most empirically valid) measure of psychopathy. Only two employed objective measures of criminal recidivism (Craft et al., 1964; Rice et al., 1992). Interestingly, our interpretation of both of these is that the treated group exhibited higher rates of recidivism than the control group. Our reading of the “controlled” studies in the Salekin meta-analysis is that there is absolutely no basis for optimism regarding treatment to reduce the risk of criminal or violent recidivism. Other problematic aspects of the meta-analysis cast further doubt on the author’s optimistic conclusion. As mentioned earlier, most studies in the meta-analysis relied on therapists’ ratings to measure outcome [!]. We consider this inadequate, especially for psychopaths. Note that Seto and Barbaree (1999) examined the recidivism of sex offenders as a function of psychopathy and progress in treatment, with progress assessed via eight structured therapist ratings. Based on these ratings, which showed good interrater agreement and were undoubtedly more reliable than unstructured impressions of therapeutic progress, those offenders with better than average progress were more likely to recidivate violently, and this was especially true for psychopaths. In our opinion, therapists’ impressions of clinical progress cannot be defended as an index of treatment effectiveness for offenders, especially psychopaths. Independently measured criminal conduct must be at least part of the outcome for an evaluation of treatment for psychopaths. This requirement eliminates all but a handful of the studies in the Salekin meta-analysis.

The later Handbook paper, “Risk for Criminal Recidivism: The Role of Psychopathy” (Douglas et al), also has useful critical comments on meta-analyses including the Salekin meta-analysis.

Conclusion:

We believe there is no evidence that any treatments yet applied to psychopaths have been shown to be effective in reducing violence or crime. In fact, some treatments that are effective for other offenders are actually harmful for psychopaths in that they appear to promote recidivism. We believe that the reason for these findings is that psychopaths are fundamentally different from other offenders and that there is nothing “wrong” with them in the manner of a deficit or impairment that therapy can “fix.” Instead, they exhibit an evolutionarily viable life strategy that involves lying, cheating, and manipulating others.

The evolutionary hypothesis of psychopathy is striking (eg. it’s partially hereditable; or, sex offenders who target post-pubertal women have the highest PCL-R scores compared to any other subdivision of sex offenders), but not immediately relevant. It’s discussed a little skeptically in the chapter “Theoretical and Empirical Foundations” in the Handbook.

“Psychopathy and Personality”, Lynam & Derefinko, Handbook:

In summary, effect sizes for N came from FFM N, Eysenck’s N, and MPQ stress reaction. Effect sizes for E came from FFM E, Eysenck’s E, and the average of MPQ well-being and social closeness. Effect sizes for A came from FFM A, Psychoticism (reversed), and the average of MPQ aggression (reversed) and social potency (reversed). Effect sizes for C came from FFM C, Eysenck’s P (reversed), and Constraint. Results appear in Table 7.2. The weighted effect size for E is significantly different from zero but minuscule. N bears a small, positive relation to psychopathy with a weighted effect size of .14 and a 95% confidence interval ranging from .11 to .17. The effect for C is moderate to large and negative with weighted effect size of -.36 and a 95% confidence interval of -.38 to -.33. Finally, the relation between A and psychopathy is large and negative with a weighted average effect size of -.47 and a 95% confidence interval ranging from -.49 to -.44.

Based on these descriptions, the psychopathic individual is interpersonally antagonistic (low A). At the facet level, he is suspicious (low in trust), deceptive (low in straightforwardness), exploitive, aggressive, arrogant, and tough-minded. This individual has trouble controlling his impulses and endorses nontraditional values and standards (low C). Running somewhat counter to Cleckley’s original description is a tendency for the psychopathic individual to experience negative emotions (e.g., anger and cravingsrelated distress), although this relation is weaker than the relations to A and C. There is little evidence that the psychopathic individual is high or low in Extraversion.

…Less consistent were the results for Neuroticism (N) and Extraversion (E), perhaps due to facets of these dimensions relating differentially to psychopathy. For example, expert ratings and the PCL-R translation both suggest that the psychopathic individual can be described as high in some elements of N (i.e., angry hostility and impulsiveness/urgency) but low in others (i.e., self-consciousness). These distinctions may get lost when one moves to the domain or higher-order factor level where N demonstrates a small, positive correlation with psychopathy in the meta-analyses. The case may be similar for E. Expert raters and the PCL-R translation agree that psychopathic individuals are low in some elements of E (i.e., warmth and positive emotions) but high in others (i.e., excitement seeking). Again, these distinctions are lost at the domain level where E demonstrates a small, negative relation with psychopathy.

“Psychopathy and DSM-IV Psychopathology”, Handbook:

The relationship of psychopathy to anxiety disorders has been controversial (Frick, Lilienfeld, Elllis, Loney, & Silverthorn, 1999; Schmitt & Newman, 1999). Cleckley (1941) included within his original criteria for psychopathy an “absence of ‘nervousness’ or psychoneurotic manifestations” (p. 206). Rather than be troubled by the presence of anxiety disorders it was suggested that “it is highly typical for [psychopaths] not only to escape the abnormal anxiety and tension . . . but also to show a relative immunity from such anxiety and worry as might be judged normal or appropriate” (Cleckley, 1941, p. 206). Miller and colleagues (2001) surveyed 15 psychopathy researchers, asking them to describe the prototypic psychopath in terms of the domains and facets of the FFM description of general personality functioning. Their description included very low levels of anxiousness, inconsistent with the PCL-R assessment of psychopathy but consistent with the earlier description of this disorder by Cleckley (1941). In stark contrast, it is stated in DSM-IV that “individuals with this disorder [APD] may also experience dysphoria, including complaints of tension, inability to tolerate boredom, and depressed mood” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 702). It is noted more specifically that “they may have associated anxiety disorders [and] depressive disorders” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 702). The suggestion in DSM-IV that APD is associated with anxiety disorders can be attributed in part to the confinement of many of the APD studies to clinical populations (Lilienfeld, 1994). Anxiousness is common among persons in treatment for mental disorders.

“Neuroanatomical Bases of Psychopathy”, Handbook; summary:

Initial, preliminary structural imaging research on psychopathic groups has so far indicated (1) enlargement of the corpus callosum (Raine, Lencz, et al., 2003), (2) volume reduction in the posterior hippocampus (Laakso et al., 2001), (3) an exaggerated right > left asymmetry to the anterior hippocampus (Raine et al., 2004), and (4) reduced prefrontal gray volume (Yang, Raine, Lencz, LaCasse, & Colletti, 2005). Nevertheless, these latter two findings are specific to “unsuccessful” psychopaths and are not found in “successful” psychopaths….From a theoretical standpoint, anatomical prefrontal impairments in psychopathic and antisocial populations could help explain the disinhibited, impulsive behavior of psychopaths and underpin the classic low arousal/fearlessness/conditioning theories of psychopathic behavior. Callosal structural abnormalities give rise to a “faulty wiring” hypothesis of psychopathy and in part account for social, autonomic, and emotional impairments observed in psychopaths. Hippocampal impairments may predispose to affect dysregulation and poor contextual fear conditioning in psychopaths, in part by disruption to prefrontal-hippocampal circuits. In this context, while research on single brain structures provides a starting point for understanding the neuroanatomical basis of psychopathy, future research needs to better understand impairments to more specific neural circuits which give rise to biobehavioral abnormalities which result in specific psychopathic symptoms. As such, the neuroanatomy of psychopathy is a research field in its infancy

“Understanding Psychopathy: The Cognitive Side”

Psychopathy has not traditionally been associated with cognitive dysfunction, at least with regard to intelligence, memory, and executive ability (e.g., Cleckley, 1982). Indeed, psychopaths are notorious for the contrast between their good explicit knowledge and their profound failures when put to the test of daily life. However, it is possible that the assumption of intact cognitive ability is based on an overly simplified model of cognitive and executive functions.

Thus, both behavioral and physiological investigations of psychopaths’ attentional functioning are largely consistent with rigid task-focused attention that is poorly modulated by secondary or contextual information. In addition, these studies suggest that psychopaths’ attentional insensitivity to secondary or contextual information may be exacerbated by left-hemisphere activation. The possible contribution of left-hemisphere activation suggests a potential refinement of psychopaths’ difficulty accommodating unattended contextual information. We return to this possibility in the discussion section.

Attempts to replicate Lykken’s (1957) finding have produced mixed results and have revealed that psychopaths’ passive avoidance deficits are context dependent. Schmauk (1970) used a modified version of Lykken’s task, and examined passive avoidance under conditions involving verbal punishment (“wrong”), tangible punishment (loss of 25 cents), or physical punishment (electric shocks). In the conditions involving verbal and physical punishment, low-anxious psychopaths displayed smaller skin conductance responses, poorer passive avoidance learning, and less awareness of the punishment contingencies than did nonincarcerated controls. However, the groups did not differ on any of these measures when the punishment contingency involved loss of money. Later studies by other researchers have found passive avoidance deficits even with loss of money (Newman & Kosson, 1986; Newman, Patterson, & Kosson, 1987; Siegel, 1978). Newman and colleagues (1990) argued that, unlike Schmauk (1970), each of the studies demonstrating poor passive avoidance under conditions of monetary loss also involved a competing reward contingency. They argued that a competing reward contingency is an important component of psychopaths’ poor passive avoidance.

..Newman and Kosson (1986) presented participants with two versions of a passive avoidance task…Psychopaths made more passive avoidance (commission) errors than controls in the version involving competing reward and punishment contingencies but performed comparably to controls in the punishment-only condition. Newman and Kosson concluded that psychopaths show poor passive avoidance only in the presence of competing reward contingencies…Arnett, Smith, and Newman (1997) provided further evidence that psychopaths show normal avoidance of explicit punishment contingencies. …As with psychopaths’ attentional and language-processing abnormalities, psychopaths’ behavioral inhibition deficits reveal evidence of difficulty using information that occurs outside the primary focus of attention. Thus, poor accommodation of secondary or incidental information appears to be a consistent feature of psychopaths’ cognitive functioning. Although psychopaths’ hemispheric processing asymmetries have not been investigated within the domain of behavioral inhibition, it is worth noting that reward-seeking behaviors may differentially activate the left hemisphere (e.g., Davidson 1995; Miller & Tomarken, 2001; Sobotka, Davidson, & Senulis, 1992). The exacerbation of psychopaths’ disinhibition in the presence of a reward-seeking response set may therefore be consistent with Kosson’s (1996, 1998) findings of attentional dysfunction under left-hemisphere activating conditions.

The literature on psychopaths’ cognitive functioning is extensive and reveals a variety of consistent and compelling deficits …It is intriguing that psychopaths’ cognitive deficits do not fit established models of cognitive dysfunction, such as executive deficits or difficulty with sustained attention. Psychopaths appear to have adequate cognitive resources and capacity but difficulty maintaining an adaptive balance between top-down and bottom-up processing…Psychopaths’ deficits also indicate that context-specific failures in the appropriate, adaptive allocation of available resources can contribute to profound failures of self-regulation, despite the absence of traditional cognitive or executive deficits.

[Irrational, or just higher valuing of rewards/lower fearing of injury?]

“The”Successful" Psychopath: Adaptive and Subclinical Manifestations of Psychopathy in the General Population", Hall & Benning, Handbook

Consistent with prior research, unsuccessful psychopaths demonstrated reduced cardiovascular reactivity during a social stressor task, relative to controls. The nonconvicted psychopaths, however, exhibited a pattern of increased cardiovascular response during the stressor, which consisted of giving a brief speech about one’s faults. Relative to both comparison groups, these psychopaths also demonstrated a higher level of executive functioning, as measured by performance on the Wisconsin Card Sort Test (WCST; Heaton, Chelune, Talley, Kay, & Kurtis, 1993). Ishikawa and colleagues speculated that heightened autonomic reactivity to stress and relatively higher levels of executive functioning might act as protective factors for “successful” psychopaths, enabling them to avoid the riskiest of criminal activities that might result in arrest, conviction, and incarceration.

…To summarize, laboratory studies of psychopaths recruited from the community have demonstrated that these individuals tend to have higher arrest rates than the norm, but a slightly reduced rate of conviction relative to incarcerated psychopaths; they are psychometrically similar to incarcerated psychopaths in terms of self-reported personality (e.g., empathy, impulsivity, socialization, and MMPI profiles); and, like incarcerated psychopaths, they tend to demonstrate poor response modulation, careless motor behavior, and abnormal affective modulation of startle. Taken together, these findings point most notably to ways in which nonincarcerated psychopaths are phenotypically (and perhaps etiologically) similar to their incarcerated counterparts. Furthermore, these data suggest that at least a subset of nonincarcerated psychopaths manifest psychopathy at a reduced or subclinical level, insofar as their continued presence in the community is indicative of reduced severity of the process underlying their antisocial deviance. …Widom (1977) also noted that psychopaths from the community tend to come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds than incarcerated psychopaths.

“Psychopathy and Aggression”, Porter & Woodworth; Handbook

For example, in the Williamson and colleagues (1987) study, the majority of violent acts by psychopaths in the sample were not instrumental. This supports the idea that poor behavioral controls or impulsivity in psychopaths contributes to their violence (also see Dempster et al., 1996). Overall, these data established that psychopaths engage in both major forms of aggression, whereas violent nonpsychopaths are unlikely to engage in instrumental violence.

…A potential moderator of the relationship between psychopathy and violence is intelligence. That is, more intelligent psychopaths may be less inclined to use aggression because they can they can use their cognitive resources to devise nonviolent means (such as conning and manipulation) to get what they want. Less intelligent psychopaths may resort to violence to compensate for their inferior abilities to manipulate others through language. Heilbrun (1982) found that past violent offending in a sample of 168 male inmates was influenced by the interaction of intellectual level and psychopathy. Less intelligent psychopaths were more likely to have a history of impulsive violence than more intelligent psychopaths (and than less intelligent nonpsychopaths). Heilbrun (1985) reported that the most dangerous offenders in a sample of 225 offenders were those with the following characteristics: psychopathic, low IQ, social withdrawal, and history of violence.

While these early studies offered some evidence for intelligence as a moderator of psychopathy and violence, little research has addressed the issue in recent years, largely due to methodological obstacles. Specifically, the most intelligent psychopaths in society may succeed in corporate or political circles and/or use violence less frequently and thus may be less likely to wind up in prison. As such, they would be less likely to be studied by psychological researchers, whereas less intelligent psychopaths are available in disproportionate numbers for research.

Another potential issue in this area is that psychopaths with higher cognitive functioning may be as likely to commit violence as other psychopaths but be much less likely to be apprehended for such acts. Ishikawa and colleagues (2001) tested a community sample of 16 “unsuccessful” and 13 “successful” psychopaths (classified based on their PCL-R scores and whether they had received criminal convictions) on measures of autonomic stress reactivity and executive functioning (referring to the capacity for initiation, planning, abstraction, decision making). The two groups had engaged in a substantial and similar amount of self-reported criminal behavior, including violence. The results indicated that the successful psychopaths exhibited greater autonomic reactivity to emotional stressors and stronger executive functioning than unsuccessful psychopaths. This suggested that psychopaths who are less likely to be caught and convicted for their violent acts have the capacity for better planning and decision making than their unsuccessful counterparts.

“Toward the Future: Translating Basic Research into Prevention and Treatment Strategies”, Seto & Quinsey:

Meta-analytic studies demonstrating relatively few or no differences in the success of various psychotherapeutic approaches have stimulated research on the nonspecific factors that affect treatment outcome. There is good evidence that aspects of the therapeutic alliance are particularly important, with a recent meta-analysis of 79 studies finding a reliable, moderate relationship between measures of therapeutic alliance and outcome (Martin, Garske, & Davis, 2000). According to Martin and colleagues, the common elements across different definitions of therapeutic alliance are the collaborative nature of the therapeutic relationship, the affective bond between therapist and client, and the therapist’s and client’s agreement on treatment goals and tasks. Developing a therapeutic alliance with psychopathic clients could be quite challenging because of their defining characteristics and because of therapists’ reaction to noncompliance; disruptive behavior; the nature of psychopaths’ offenses; and concerns about possible exploitation, manipulation, and deception. One could imagine that there is a great deal of potential for therapist mistrust, suspicion, and more confrontational or hostile interactions with psychopathic clients (these therapist behaviors are sometimes referred to as countertransference in the clinical literature). Consistent with this hypothesis, Taft, Murphy, Musser, and Remington (2004) found that self-reported psychopathic characteristics were significantly and negatively associated with therapeutic alliance in a sample of men in treatment for partner abuse. Psychopathic characteristics were also negatively associated with motivation for change, and motivation for change mediated the relationship between psychopathic characteristics and therapeutic alliance.

Furthermore, although psychopaths have been described as affectively impoverished- for example, being less responsive to distress cues than nonpsychopaths (Blair, Jones, Clark, & Smith, 1997)-they do not appear to have deficits in the recognition of emotional states in others. Book, Quinsey, Cooper, and Langford (2004) studied the relationship between psychopathy and accuracy in perceiving the emotional meaning of facial expressions and body language in a sample of 59 male prison inmates and 60 men recruited from the community. Psychopathy was measured by the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick, 1995) for all participants, and by the PCL-R for the inmates. The inmates’ PCL-R scores were not correlated with the number of errors in categorizing posed facial expressions and were positively but not significantly correlated with the inmates’ accuracy in rating emotional intensity of posed facial photographs. All participants rated the assertiveness of confederates from a brief, spontaneous videotaped social interaction between the confederate and one of the confederate’s friends. The Self-Report Psychopathy Scale was positively correlated with the accuracy of participants’ ratings of the friend’s level of assertiveness, as measured by both the confederate’s rating and the friend’s self-rating. In a companion study involving a subset of the same sample, Book, Quinsey, and Langford (2004) examined the relationship between psychopathy and the accuracy of posed facial expressions of emotion. Thirtyone inmates and 50 community volunteers agreed to be videotaped while attempting to mimic prototypical facial expressions (happy, sad, fearful, disgusted, and angry). PCL-R scores were positively associated with increased intensity of fear in the posed fearful faces, as measured by Ekman and Friesen’s (1978) Facial Action Coding System. Undergraduate students gave higher believability and intensity ratings to fearful faces posed by participants who had higher scores on the Primary Psychopathy subscale of the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale. A similar trend was observed for Factor 1 of the PCL-R. Taken together with other research showing that psychopathy is associated with deceptiveness (Seto, Khattar, Lalumière, & Quinsey, 1997), lack of response to distress cues (Blair et al., 1997), and an adequate theory of mind (Richell et al., 2003), these results indicate that psychopaths lack feelings for others but do understand their mental states; in other words, they know but they do not care. This does not seem to be much of a deficit if part of a socially manipulative and exploitative life history strategy.

…Although schizophrenia is a genetically caused brain disease, the most effective treatment discovered to date for its most severe manifestations is a rigorously implemented and very carefully planned behavioral program (Paul & Lentz, 1977). The thoroughness and integrity of implementation of this program seem to be the keys to its success. The implications for treatments of psychopathic offenders are clear (see also Harris & Rice, Chapter 28, this volume). Interventions to reduce recidivism among psychopathic offenders will need to be provided on an ongoing basis, although the intensity of service may vary over time with changing circumstances. These interventions will likely involve high staff-to-client ratios in order to provide sufficient supervision, to protect therapists from being deceived or manipulated, and to help them refrain from negative reactions to psychopaths that might interfere with intervention efficacy. Moreover, the interventions will focus on shaping behavior in desired directions, rather than more abstract concepts such as responsibility, empathy, and relapse prevention, with substantial attention devoted to program fidelity and a reliance on measures other than self-report. Given the evidence for psychopaths’ dominant response styles and differing response thresholds, increasing the salience and consistency of punishments would be important elements in these interventions. Other important intervention targets would include increasing delay of gratification and compliance with program rules and reducing aggression and associations with antisocial peers.

Comments (95)

Comment author: jsalvatier 19 December 2012 09:07:05PM 7 points [-]

As discussed in chapter 1, we have used a score of 27 on the APSD as our cut-off point for a classification of psychopathic tendencies in many of our studies.

I've noticed this elsewhere (looking into ADHD), Psychiatrists seem interested in developing a criteria which seems naturally continuous, and then using a cutoff without arguing for why that's a good idea. I can easily imagine that some conditions are discrete, but many of them must be pretty continuous. It seems like they would lose a lot of statistical power with a cutoff approach.

Is this purely a historical accident? Is it because discrete judgments seem more authoritative? Is there an actual good reason that I can't see? What's going on here? This sort of thing makes me suspicious of the quality of psychiatry research.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 19 December 2012 11:51:23PM *  3 points [-]

I think this is part of a general phenomenon that might simply be more visible in certain fields than others, and which seems to arise from the fact that natural language cannot adequately deal with continuous phenomena. Richard Dawkins discusses this briefly in the popular piece The tyranny of the discontinuous mind.

Comment author: gwern 19 December 2012 10:14:56PM 2 points [-]

I'd imagine a strong chunk of it is that it's a lot easier to work with a cutoff, and it also makes it much easier to transmit to courts etc. What is a court supposed to do when the psychiatrist reports back about the defendant that 'he scored a 27 on the APSD' or 'he scored a 15 on the Hare'? Or even a more sophisticated measure like 'he scored a 27 which is in the 94th percentile'?

Comment author: jsalvatier 20 December 2012 07:16:37PM *  2 points [-]

A lot easier to work with? Is running a linear regression that hard? Or do you have in mind something beyond that?

The courts thing makes more sense, though I'd be surprised if courts couldn't understand percentiles fairly well ("more psychopathic than 94 percent of the population").

Another theory is that, the first success stories of identifying things in psychiatry and treating them came from things which are discrete so there's a tradition of treating things that way, and the contrary evidence doesn't hit them in the face.

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 07:35:47PM 5 points [-]

A lot easier to work with? Is running a linear regression that hard?

Yep. Remember, every step of statistical sophistication is a filter. Some people who understand means will not understand correlations; some people who understand correlations will not understand standard deviations; some people who understand deviations will not understand t-tests; and everyone won't understand p-values judging by how often I see the '5% odds this was due to chance' fallacy even here on LessWrong. Linear regression is another step on top of that, etc.

The courts thing makes more sense, though I'd be surprised if courts couldn't understand percentiles fairly well ("more psychopathic than 94 percent of the population").

What does that even mean for the court, though? They aren't judging the overall population; heck, criminal defendants aren't even a sample from the overall population but are heavily biased towards particular places, races, IQs, and annual incomes etc etc.

Another theory is that, the first success stories of identifying things in psychiatry and treating them came from things which are discrete so there's a tradition of treating things that way, and the contrary evidence doesn't hit them in the face.

Psychiatrists are the first to talk about how so many things are continuous, and these days disorders as continuous phenomenon is dogma, so I doubt it's a psychiatry thing. It's not like medicine in general doesn't use tons of discrete cutoffs. (If your vitamin D blood level is below 20 or whatever, you Have A Deficiency; if it's 21, you Do Not Have A Deficiency.) It's just much much easier.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 21 December 2012 03:32:00AM 0 points [-]

Yes, but many people use both cut-offs and regressions. It is quite common to see a regression of the effect of a continuous input on the probability of crossing a cut-off. This seems indefensible to me.

Comment author: hyporational 25 December 2012 10:24:49AM 1 point [-]

I think it's mostly a historical accident but also has to do with practical issues. Natural language and continous phenomena don't go well hand in hand, and the criteria have to be applicable in the clinical setting and the guidelines. DSM is the basis for most psychiatric research, and almost all of the disorders currently described in it are categorical with clear cutoff points instead of continous. Psychiatrists acknowledge this problem, and DSM-5 is going for a more dimensional approach as opposed to categorical.

The official source is here.

Comment author: jsalvatier 25 December 2012 11:32:59AM 1 point [-]

Very interesting! Sounds like a positive development. Interesting that it's the DSM at the cutting edge, I assumed it was a book of standards.

Comment author: ChristianKl 20 December 2012 08:30:50PM 1 point [-]

I can easily imagine that some conditions are discrete, but many of them must be pretty continuous. It seems like they would lose a lot of statistical power with a cutoff approach.

Having a cutoff doesn't stop you from running your statistical test on the scores.

You need a cutoff to decide whether to accept an individual into your study. If you want to study whether psychopathy gets reduced by a treatment it makes sense restrict your study to indiduals who's score is over a certain value.

Having all studies use the same cutoff value helps you to compare different treatments.

Comment author: jsalvatier 22 December 2012 02:25:48AM 0 points [-]

That's true, but at least in the ADHD research I saw this is not the way cutoffs were used, they were used to categorize people as "have ADHD" or "not have ADHD" and the "have ADHD" were compared to "not have ADHD".

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 December 2012 03:27:42PM 0 points [-]

ADHD seems to get diagnosed based on the DSM-IV. It's not binary. There are three types "ADHD, Combined Type", "ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type" and "ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type". A DSM-IV diagnosis however doesn't give you are score.

There are huge issues with the DSM IV. In it's philosophy the DSM describes symptoms. As a result it's authors don't see the necessarity to back up their diagnosis with scientific evidence that get's cited in the DSM.

Psychopathy on the other hand gets diagnosed based on a specific PCL-R test that Robert D. Hare developed. The test is result of psychometric work. It's designed to predict recidivism and violence. The DSM-IV doesn't recognize psychopathy but instead uses the category of antisocial personality disorder.

In the case of depression you also have on the one hand the DSM-IV criteria and on the other hand the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression.

Psychiatry studies that use tests that are optimized to predict something like the PCL-R should probably be trusted more than the DSM-IV. The present debate about the new DSM-V can also give you a good illustration of it's nature.

Comment author: jsalvatier 23 December 2012 08:14:46PM 0 points [-]

Sure, it's not binary but it is discrete.

The process used to design the PCL-R test does seem better.

Comment author: mwengler 20 December 2012 03:14:17PM 0 points [-]

Virtually any kind of statistical study is going to require you to classify into different groups using some thresholding definition. To fail to do so is to make any reportable results muddier and muddier.

Comment author: jsalvatier 20 December 2012 07:05:33PM 1 point [-]

I don't think so, just use the ASPD score as a predictor in a linear regression. Seems like an obvious response, so maybe I didn't understand what you said.

Comment author: MixedNuts 19 December 2012 09:47:28AM 3 points [-]

Could this have anything to do with our culture's fascination with cunning, charming, arrogant characters without much of a moral compass? (Wait, is that actually culture-specific, or are tricksters typically sympathetic?)

Given the evidence for psychopaths’ dominant response styles and differing response thresholds, increasing the salience and consistency of punishments would be important elements in these interventions.

I would say the exact opposite! Drop the punishments since those don't work well, and reward desired behaviors instead.

Holy moly, freaky theory: The old parenting style of punishing children when they misbehave and ignoring them the rest of the time produces obedient children in a population with low psychopathic traits, but children good at manipulating parents otherwise. When the population becomes more psychopathic (possibly due to this; in general I'd expect more social and reproductive success from good manipulators with little care for social norms, though impulsiveness may compensate), rewarding children for good behavior works better. Do we know where the parenting style shift came from?

Comment author: roystgnr 19 December 2012 06:53:09PM 9 points [-]

Questions for both you and Tenoke:

How do you reward/reinforce desired behaviors in cases when the desired behavior is normal rather than exceptional? If I give my child a reward every time they're not hitting their sibling, isn't this isomorphic to taking away their expected reward every time they do hit their sibling (a punishment)? Worse, if I only started this "reward basic lack of misbehavior" scheme when I noticed that a child was prone to misbehavior, isn't that just going to be perceived as "[I/my sibling] got a new nearly-continuous reward for misbehaving enough to trigger parental notice"?

Then, since it's significantly harder to apply reinforcements than punishments to badly-behaved children, wouldn't we expect to see a strong correlation between reinforcement and good results (or between punishment and bad results) regardless of how effective each was at changing behavior?

Comment author: Tenoke 20 December 2012 09:03:04AM *  1 point [-]

You don't reward the omission of bad behavior, you reward good behavior. For example you reward your child every time they are good to a sibling. Sure, it is harder to look for good behaviors and to reward that instead of simply punishing the child when they do something bad but punishment doesn't work well as mentioned earlier and for example often leads to situations where the child decreases the undesired behavior but only when it is being watched. Also whenever you can you should choose intrinsic or ever extrinsic reinforcements.

Comment author: mwengler 20 December 2012 03:24:44PM 0 points [-]

Talk about building a system that can be gamed! My big dog does not steal my little dogs food except when he can. And in between they play together pretty amusingly. I don't think I would gain anything by rewarding them playing together in terms of a lower rate at which the theft of food occurs. The problem being, my big dog (and probably my little dog) don't think its "wrong" to steal food, they just don't have that gene.

Comment author: Tenoke 20 December 2012 04:44:39PM 1 point [-]

Given that the food is usually the positive reinforcement when you are conditioning animals and that is one of their goals for which they change their behavior it is indeed quite hard to reinforce them not to eat when presented with the option.

Comment author: MixedNuts 19 December 2012 11:30:04PM 0 points [-]

You could reward at random time intervals if the behavior persists during the interval (for persistent behaviors like not hitting), or after a random number of repetitions of the behavior (for discrete behaviors). I'm not actually sure why random reinforcement works better than systematic, but I expect the effect to apply here.

The problem of what to reward is harder, but maybe you could make a list of every absolute demand and stick to that? Parents always drop some of their nice-to-haves because otherwise the kid can't do anything right so you're better off letting them draw on the wallpaper if that means they'll stop sticking forks into plugs. (Also the Chaos Legion demands that you ask "Is that actually bad?" when a kid does something unexpected but not so obviously bad you didn't think of it.)

Comment author: Nornagest 20 December 2012 03:03:58AM 6 points [-]

Wait, is that actually culture-specific, or are tricksters typically sympathetic?

I'm not sure "sympathetic" is the right word. I'm not an anthropologist, but the impression I get from reading trickster stories -- whether we're talking about Raven or Anansi or Reynard the Fox or Gregory House -- is that the main appeal comes from watching the protagonist do things to annoying people or institutions that would get you fired or incarcerated or at least get your ass kicked, do them with style and without remorse, and get away with them at least for a time. It's a schadenfreude thing, and it's fun to watch even if the character is depicted as an unrepentant jerk -- which most of them are.

Comment author: Tenoke 19 December 2012 03:15:02PM 3 points [-]

It is indeed a standard finding of behaviorism and conditioning that punishment is significantly less effective than reinforcement when trying to produce change in the behavior of an animal or a person.

Comment author: mwengler 20 December 2012 03:21:44PM 1 point [-]

How much "obedience" do you think is optimum for the individual? Even for society? If sociopaths are over-represented in leadership positions, maybe this is a feature and not a bug: the last thing you want is a principled leader when the struggle is to the death against an equally matched opponent except the opponent is less principled.

A hypothesis that could be tested is that "healthy" obedience to social norms appears as a matter of degree, that too much of it is as restrictive to what roles the individual can play in society as is too little of it, and that a society with a mix of levels of "obedience" is more effective at competing against other societies with a less varied range of obedience, either all followers or all psychopaths.

That psychopathy behaves as much like a disease as does, say, homosexuality is telling us something. Perhaps that we have similar reasons for classifying either one as a disease. (And to recap, homosexuality used to be classed as a disease albeit with few or no successful treatments and few or no comorbidities, but is no longer classified as such.)

Obviously modern society needs to protect itself against psychopaths in many micro cases, this can be done most effectively when we have a better understanding of what psychopathy is and what it is not,.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 December 2012 02:00:56AM 7 points [-]

Deviant but not necessarily diseased or dysfunctional minds can demonstrate resistance to all treatment and attempts to change their mind

Maybe they need better treatments. Has anyone asked psychopaths - "How would you convince a psychopath like you to stop doing X?" Has anyone let psychopaths try? Aren't they the master manipulators? They even have a readily available model of a psychopath to test out the theory on. How convenient! Sufficiently motivating a psychopath with rewards for changing the mind of another psychopath might be an effective treatment for the first psychopath. Did they try that treatment?

I don't mean to be pissy, but "resistance to all treatments and attempts to change their mind" strikes me as a huge claim. Ruling out the "it's something I didn't think of" theory is one of the worst cognitive biases.

Comment author: betterthanwell 20 December 2012 02:16:29PM *  9 points [-]

Maybe they need better treatments. Has anyone asked psychopaths - "How would you convince a psychopath like you to stop doing X?" Has anyone let psychopaths try? Aren't they the master manipulators? They even have a readily available model of a psychopath to test out the theory on. How convenient! Sufficiently motivating a psychopath with rewards for changing the mind of another psychopath might be an effective treatment for the first psychopath. Did they try that treatment?

Something like it was tried in Canada, in the sixties, with LSD, in a four year experiment where a group of 30 psychopaths were, at least apparently, temporarily reformed through unconventional means.

This strange and unique program was obliquely referenced in the top post:

...operated for over a decade in a maximum security psychiatric hospital and drew worldwide attention for its novelty. The program was described at length by Barker and colleagues…The results of a follow-up conducted an average of 10.5 years after completion of treatment showed that, compared to no program (in most cases, untreated offenders went to prison), treatment was associated with lower violent recidivism for non-psychopaths but higher violent recidivism for psychopaths.

The Insane Criminal as Therapist
E.T. Barker, M. H. Mason, The Canadian Journal of Corrections, Oct. 1968.

Here's an account from a recent pop-psychology book, The Psychopath Test:

In the late 1960s, a young Canadian psychiatrist believed he had the answer. His name was Elliott Barker and he had visited radical therapeutic communities around the world, including nude psychotherapy sessions occurring under the tutelage of an American psychotherapist named Paul Bindrim. Clients, mostly California free-thinkers and movie stars, would sit naked in a circle and dive headlong into a 24-hour emotional and mystical rollercoaster during which participants would scream and yell and sob and confess their innermost fears. Barker worked at a unit for psychopaths inside the Oak Ridge hospital for the criminally insane in Ontario. Although the inmates were undoubtedly insane, they seemed perfectly ordinary. This, Barker deduced, was because they were burying their insanity deep beneath a facade of normality. If the madness could only, somehow, be brought to the surface, maybe it would work itself through and they could be reborn as empathetic human beings.

And so he successfully sought permission from the Canadian government to obtain a large batch of LSD, hand-picked a group of psychopaths, led them into what he named the "total encounter capsule", a small room painted bright green, and asked them to remove their clothes. This was truly to be a radical milestone: the world's first ever marathon nude LSD-fuelled psychotherapy session for criminal psychopaths.

Barker's sessions lasted for epic 11-day stretches. There were no distractions – no television, no clothes, no clocks, no calendars, only a perpetual discussion (at least 100 hours every week) of their feelings. Much like Bindrim's sessions, the psychopaths were encouraged to go to their rawest emotional places by screaming and clawing at the walls and confessing fantasies of forbidden sexual longing for each other, even if they were, in the words of an internal Oak Ridge report of the time, "in a state of arousal while doing so".

...

Barker watched it all from behind a one-way mirror and his early reports were gloomy. The atmosphere inside the capsule was tense. Psychopaths would stare angrily at each other. Days would go by when nobody would exchange a word. But then, as the weeks turned into months, something unexpected began to happen.

The transformation was captured in an incredibly moving film. These tough young prisoners are, before our eyes, changing. They are learning to care for one another inside the capsule.

We see Barker in his office, and the look of delight on his face is quite heartbreaking. His psychopaths have become gentle. Some are even telling their parole boards not to consider them for release until after they've completed their therapy. The authorities are astonished.

Several of the 30 participants of the experiment went on to commit violent homicides some years after release.

An internal memo from the experiment: "LSD in a Coercive Milieu Therapy Program" (E.T Barker)

Intriguing.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 December 2012 07:13:41PM *  0 points [-]

Cool.

But in case it wasn't clear, I wasn't proposing that as a guaranteed cure, only as an example of a treatment they may not have tried.

The researchers concluded:

We believe there is no evidence that any treatments yet applied to psychopaths have been shown to be effective in reducing violence or crime.

It's the OP's jump from "nothing we tried works" to "resistance to all treatments don't work" that I objected to.

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 07:40:20PM 2 points [-]

I don't see why you would interpret "it's untreatable" as "gasp! how dare he claim that there is no possible treatment and never will be a treatment and they've thought of everything!"

They have demonstrated resistance to all treatment and attempts to change their mind. That is simply the case. And that's when the treatment doesn't backfire...

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 December 2012 09:34:00PM 0 points [-]

Because I find that people use "can't be treated" not as a cue to search for a treatment, but as a claim that such a search will be fruitless. "Can't be done", not "we don't know how to do it yet".

And again, they haven't "demonstrated resistance to all treatment", they've "demonstrated resistance to a very finite list of treatments".

Comment author: mwengler 20 December 2012 03:11:59PM 2 points [-]

Does it make more sense than asking a depressed person how to treat depression, an anxious person how to treat anxiety, or even a politically conservative person how to convert her to liberalism?

I wouldn't expect particular insight from any of these classes. I would expect to gain insight by talking to them extensively while I was trying various therapies, which I would view as similar to measuring blood sugar levels in people I was trying to treat for diabetes.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 December 2012 08:10:22PM 1 point [-]

Are depressed people believed to be master manipulators? Anxious people? Are either of them believed to have no problems with brain function?

I'll give another reason to believe that psychopaths might be better able to help themselves, this time from the summary conclusions:

We believe that the reason for these findings is that psychopaths are fundamentally different from other offenders and that there is nothing “wrong” with them in the manner of a deficit or impairment that therapy can “fix.” Instead, they exhibit an evolutionarily viable life strategy that involves lying, cheating, and manipulating others.

Psychopaths are different in the head. The usual appeals are crafted for the usual heads, by the usual heads.

But I'd refine the summary, noting that while psychopathy may succeed in evolutionary terms, something has not succeeded for their sample of psychopaths because they're in prison, and unlikely to wish to be there.

Has anyone tried to make them better, and more effective psychopaths, psychopaths that wouldn't end up in prison?

I would guess that there are few therapists with a willingness to do that, with the psychological and intellectual capabilities to pull it off. I find the "usual head" quite crazy myself, not very convincing, and likely largely incapable of understanding a paper clip maximizer.

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 10:50:44PM 0 points [-]

Has anyone tried to make them better, and more effective psychopaths, psychopaths that wouldn't end up in prison?

Yes, because that sounds like a great idea...

After short-term anger management and social skills training, 24-month reconviction rates for 278 treated and untreated offenders yielded an interaction between psychopathy and treatment outcome similar to that reported by Rice and colleagues (1992). Whereas the program had no demonstrable effect on non-psychopaths, treated offenders who scored high on Factor 1 of the PCL-R had significantly higher rates of recidivism than high-scoring but untreated offenders.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 December 2012 11:31:02PM 0 points [-]

I see no indication there that they were trying to make them better and more effective psychopaths, as opposed to less psychopathic.

As part of their treatment, were they told "we're going to make you the best psychopath you can be"? I doubt it. And I doubt the psychopaths perceived that either.

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 11:35:19PM 0 points [-]

How are better social skills and better anger management not making them more effective (if indeed they can be trained at all)?

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 December 2012 12:08:59AM *  0 points [-]

"Better" according to a psychopath? Or better according to the people trying to "fix" the psychopaths?

Comment author: gwern 21 December 2012 12:16:07AM 0 points [-]

They don't want to be in prison either.

Comment author: bogus 20 December 2012 11:10:17PM *  0 points [-]

That's not saying much, though. "Had no demonstrable effect on non-psychopaths" = the program was no good. Aren't "anger management" programs widely stereotyped as useless?

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 11:18:13PM 0 points [-]

"Had no demonstrable effect on non-psychopaths" = the program was no good. Aren't "anger management" programs widely stereotyped as useless?

Dunno. But how else are you going to find out whether it works but by trying it? In which case you are morally responsible for the consequences, in this case, the rather bloodless description 'significantly higher rates of recidivism'. (Many Bothans died to bring us this information...)

Comment author: ChristianKl 21 December 2012 12:09:01AM 0 points [-]

How would you convince a psychopath like you to stop doing X?" Has anyone let psychopaths try? Aren't they the master manipulators? They even have a readily available model of a psychopath to test out the theory on. How convenient!

Not every psychopath is in prison. I would expect that some of psychopaths work as psychologists and do treat other psychopaths.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 December 2012 01:40:44AM 0 points [-]

They'd probably be good at it if they had the motivation to help people, but I wouldn't expect them to have that motivation. And if they did enter the profession, it would be to fully exploit their patients. How could they resist?

Comment author: ChristianKl 21 December 2012 03:01:05PM 0 points [-]

They'd probably be good at it if they had the motivation to help people, but I wouldn't expect them to have that motivation.

Why? Having empathy with someone else isn't the only reason to be motivated to help someone. Proving to yourself that you are powerful enough to cure the patient is also a reason that motivates you to help.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 December 2012 08:50:30PM 0 points [-]

I don't think psychopaths feel the need to prove themselves. I would expect a psychopath to gravitate toward situations where their manipulation of others yielded a direct benefit.

Comment author: ChristianKl 21 December 2012 09:16:46PM 0 points [-]

What does "direct benefit" mean?

Comment author: moridinamael 20 December 2012 04:51:15AM 0 points [-]

This sounds like a wonderful idea for a novel, at least.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 December 2012 08:26:45AM 6 points [-]

the rest of you need to wise the hell up and kill us as soon as you detect us.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 19 December 2012 08:53:41AM 8 points [-]

The thing is, you are invoking the evolution demon as soon as you do that. You may end up with a more dangerous monster.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 December 2012 03:32:34PM 15 points [-]

I assume that any anti-psychopath program will end up being run by a psychopath.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 December 2012 09:00:48PM 2 points [-]

I may have been overoptimistic. What are the odds that an anti-psychopath program will start by being run by a psychopath?

Comment author: betterthanwell 21 December 2012 02:11:07PM *  1 point [-]

Almost no chance at all. Keep in mind, the most important thing, when it comes to dealing with this, this... insidious threat, is to be intensely careful in avoiding any false negatives. There must be none what so ever. And besides, who cares, really — about a few — or a few million false positives. Oh, and this condition, it's really quite heritable, and, as head of the program, you would need to... well, deal with the children, in a like manner as that of the parents. Not that this would be a problem, of course.

Joe Stalin, the NKVD, the Moscow Trials, and the Great Purge sort of came to mind.

Comment author: atorm 22 December 2012 04:37:24AM 0 points [-]

Godwin's Law.

Comment author: Tripitaka 19 December 2012 08:27:24PM 1 point [-]

Anybody who is interested in this thesis- law enforcement officers who are psychopaths- could turn to Larry Nivens ARM-stories, in the Ringworld-Universe. a typical sample can be found here

Comment author: gwern 19 December 2012 10:48:04PM 4 points [-]

Paranoid schizophrenia isn't psychopathy, though. (And protectors look a little like psychopaths, but not really.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 December 2012 11:15:19PM 0 points [-]

Actually, I was thinking of Slan.

Comment author: MugaSofer 23 December 2012 02:13:14PM -1 points [-]

Well, if you aren't doing regular sweeps to weed out infiltrators, then you're not competent enough to get any actual results, in my estimation. And if you are, and they work, then people will notice the boss is due for a checkup ...

Comment author: Pentashagon 19 December 2012 08:55:56PM -1 points [-]

The thing is, there's already selection pressure against psychopaths who can't conceal their true nature.

We didn't eradicate malaria or polio with kinder, gentler methods. Don't leave anything for evolution to work with.

However, psychopaths may be perfect candidates for testing post-cryogenic restoration.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 20 December 2012 08:46:01AM *  5 points [-]

And we haven't eradicated the common cold. So what? People are not germs, and detecting psychopaths is tricky. False positives means you kill innocents. False negatives means you create survivors who now have selection pressure to avoid detection.

But this is all pretty obvious. So what are you really trying to say? Are you signaling that you don't like psychopaths, or are you literally proposing setting up death camps? If we are fantasizing, why not be nicer and posit an empathy chip?

Comment author: MixedNuts 19 December 2012 11:57:27PM -1 points [-]

Don't leave anything for evolution to work with.

But we want some amount of psychopathic traits in most people, and a rather large amount in a sizable minority. Genetic recombination will necessarily pop out some psychopaths.

If you eradicate too many psychopathic traits, every manager will sprout pointy hair and there'll be no cool heist movies!

psychopaths may be perfect candidates for testing post-cryogenic restoration

We have perfectly good methods of locking up people. A bit of eugenics to kill psychopathic fetuses before they be people sounds good, but using existing people as guinea pigs for cryonics? That's cold. (rimshot)

Comment author: wedrifid 23 December 2012 02:51:08PM 3 points [-]

But we want some amount of psychopathic traits in most people, and a rather large amount in a sizable minority.

Speak for yourself or specify the particular group you speak for. I certainly don't want that.

Comment author: MixedNuts 23 December 2012 03:07:54PM 1 point [-]

Society needs people willing to make taboo tradeoffs and take risks with no hesitation and occasionally hurt or manipulate people. Big companies need silver-tongued managers with more than a dash of cleverness and ruthlessness. Armies need cannon fodder. Storytellers don't need, but would benefit from, some real examples of magnificent bastards and an audience that can empathize with such.

A world of Littlefingers would implode, but a world of Sansa Starks doesn't get very far without a few Littlefingers to pull the strings. And it's boring.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 December 2012 03:42:16PM *  2 points [-]

Society needs people willing to make taboo tradeoffs and take risks with no hesitation and occasionally hurt or manipulate people.

You don't need psychopaths to get that. And of the people actually willing to make taboo tradeoffs, take risks and hurt or manipulate people it isn't the psychopaths who are most likely to do so in a way that benefits 'society' as opposed to themselves at the expense of society.

Big companies need silver-tongued managers with more than a dash of cleverness and ruthlessness.

Society doesn't need that, I don't need that. Big companies are better for psychopaths than psychopaths are for big companies. And once again it isn't 'society' that benefits and nor is it me that benefits so I reject your 'we want people with a large amount of psychopathic traits' claim.

Armies need cannon fodder.

Psychopaths are going to volunteer? Or are we rounding them up and sending them to the front lines? (I'm all for this.)

Storytellers don't need, but would benefit from, some real examples of magnificent bastards and an audience that can empathize with such.

We need(/want) <terrible thing> because we are in the habit of telling stories about <terrible thing>. No thanks.

Comment author: MixedNuts 23 December 2012 04:58:53PM 0 points [-]

Psychopaths are going to volunteer?

The kind that's not clever/manipulative/rich can't hold most jobs or fit into society, loves risks, is violent and impulsive, desperately wants to be cool, and may have a... troubled past. Any organization that doesn't ask too many questions (think French Foreign Legion), gives them a gun and training, tells them they're elites, and sends them off to kill people, is bound to draw a good many of them.

Comment author: hyporational 25 December 2012 10:01:42AM -1 points [-]

You don't need psychopaths to get that. And of the people actually willing to make taboo tradeoffs, take risks and hurt or manipulate people it isn't the psychopaths who are most likely to do so in a way that benefits 'society' as opposed to themselves at the expense of society.

Just for the sake of argument (see "recombination" above), you might still need psychopaths for there to be a sufficient amount of favorable genes in the pool so that normal people can get nasty in the altruistic way.

Comment author: Desrtopa 23 December 2012 03:26:42PM *  2 points [-]

I'm not convinced that ruthlessness is a particularly good quality for managers of big companies to have from a societal perspective. Certainly there are ways in which it helps them compete against other companies, but not necessarily in ways that make them more wealth-productive.

I finished reading this book not too long ago, and it may be that it's primed me to be too cynical with regards to the value of ruthlessness in business, but it's certainly the case that there are a lot of ways to get ahead in the market by putting aside moral scruples that leave society as a whole worse off.

Comment author: hyporational 25 December 2012 09:57:44AM 0 points [-]

Did you sidestep the argument about recombination entirely? What do you think about it?

Comment author: Pentashagon 20 December 2012 01:01:02AM 2 points [-]

But we want some amount of psychopathic traits in most people, and a rather large amount in a sizable minority. Genetic recombination will necessarily pop out some psychopaths.

I do not want empathy-free sentient beings wandering about. Slightly-less-empathetic people are okay but surely not more desirable than otherwise similarly intelligent empathetic people. I draw the line at outright criminal acts, I think. Obviously there's a tradeoff between the diversity of brains and the number of people murdered by psychopaths but I think we should probably worry about reducing murders first and then safely explore brain diversity once we understand brains better.

We have perfectly good methods of locking up people. A bit of eugenics to kill psychopathic fetuses before they be people sounds good, but using existing people as guinea pigs for cryonics? That's cold. (rimshot)

It's not cold if they're already locked up for the rest of their lives and they volunteer for cryonics. Given the choice between certain death and cryonics on the state's dime, I know which one I'd pick (as an aside, imagine the uproar when the Blues and Greens start fighting over funding cryonics for criminals). They're probably also the best candidates for testing restorative procedures on the brain to install an empathy module post-resuscitation. I think that solution is dramatically better than the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole. Probably the definition of "life" sentences will change when we all get life extension, but most likely a lot more psychopaths will die in prison before they start getting freed for living out their multiple 99-year sentences.

Comment author: TrE 20 December 2012 03:21:02PM *  2 points [-]

I do not want empathy-free sentient beings wandering about.

I do. At least as long as they behave. If you're intelligent enough to know (on an abstract level) why altruism and cooperation is good for humans within societies and have enough self-control to live by this principle, I don't know why empathy remains important. I mean, as a terminal value.

Slightly-less-empathetic people are okay but surely not more desirable than otherwise similarly intelligent empathetic people.

Empathetic, slightly-less-intelligent people are okay but surely not more desirable than otherwise similarly empathetic intelligent people. Punishing less intelligent people just because of this appears to be just as useless and (w.r.t. my morality) immoral as punishing less empathetic people.

I draw the line at outright criminal acts, I think.

I do this for the general population.

there's a tradeoff between the diversity of brains and the number of people murdered by psychopaths but I think we should probably worry about reducing murders first and then safely explore brain diversity once we understand brains better.

If there's a better approach to reducing murders by psychopaths than decreasing the number of psychopaths (by hindering them from reproducing, killing them, or other other suchs means), I'd opt for that.

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 04:52:06PM 4 points [-]

If there's a better approach to reducing murders by psychopaths than decreasing the number of psychopaths (by hindering them from reproducing), I'd opt for that.

I feel I should point out that the harms of psychopathy are only rarely covered by murder.

(eg. Cleckley in The Mask of Sanity places great and repeated emphasis on how almost none of his patients ever engaged in violence worse than beating their wife, and I don't think he mentions any murders ever, even though the case studies are otherwise a long litany of constant crime, deceit, fraud, and destruction (including a truly astonishing amount of forgery of checks).)

Comment author: TrE 20 December 2012 05:58:09PM 1 point [-]

Of course you are correct, thanks for pointing out. I responded to the "tradeoff between brain diversity and murders" without thinking myself.

Still, I don't think psychopathic individuals should be prosecuted a priori, considering that they likely make up 1% of the general population.

Comment author: Pentashagon 20 December 2012 05:55:03PM 2 points [-]

I do. At least as long as they behave. If you're intelligent enough to know (on an abstract level) why altruism and cooperation is good for humans within societies and have enough self-control to live by this principle, I don't know why empathy remains important. I mean, as a terminal value.

There's only an argument for altruism and cooperation if an agent is certain the other agents are running a decision theory that is as good as its own and their utility functions are similar enough to cooperate. TDT will cooperate with other TDTs, but a TDT without empathy will Win against decision theories like the ones human brains use. That's essentially the main argument for FAI. Self-control implies a terminal value with greater utility than doing whatever anti-social things one otherwise wants to do. I don't believe psychopaths have any greater-utility terminal values than getting what they want at the expense of others. That seems to be the entire problem, in fact.

Empathetic, slightly-less-intelligent people are okay but surely not more desirable than otherwise similarly empathetic intelligent people. Punishing less intelligent people just because of this appears to be just as useless and (w.r.t. my morality) immoral as punishing less empathetic people.

I'd prefer intelligent and non-psychopathic people over the others but I don't want to punish less intelligent people, I want to make them more intelligent. I don't want to punish psychopaths either. I want to make them less psychopathic. I can teach less intelligent people but apparently I can't (yet) teach empathy to psychopaths.

If there's a better approach to reducing murders by psychopaths than decreasing the number of psychopaths (by hindering them from reproducing), I'd opt for that.

Right now I don't know of any. Therapy appears to teach psychopaths better skills at manipulating people. One potential solution would be to prevent unintelligent people from being born and train everyone to recognize and counter the strategies that psychopaths use. That would put everyone on a level intellectual playing field and it's arguable that even psychopaths would recognize that fact and cooperate with everyone else.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 December 2012 03:07:27PM *  0 points [-]

train everyone to recognize and counter the strategies that psychopaths use

I like this way of thinking. By the way, there is some research about the weaknesses of psychopaths. From this article:

In this task, the participant has to decide whether to play a card. Initially, the participant’s choice to play is always reinforcing; if the participant plays the card he or she will win points or money. However, as the participant progresses through the pack of cards, the probability of reward decreases. Thus, initially ten out of ten cards are rewarded, then nine out of ten, then eight out of ten continuing on until zero out of ten cards are rewarded. The participant should stop playing the cards when playing means that more cards are associated with punishment rather than reward. That is, they should stop playing the cards when only four out of ten cards are associated with reward. Children with psychopathic tendencies and adult individuals with psychopathy have considerable difficulty with this task; they continue to play the cards even when they are being repeatedly punished and may end up losing all the points that they had gained.

Just making these weaknesses widely known, together with some simple strategies for exploiting them (something like "The Game", just about playing your boss), could change the balance on the playing field...

Comment author: John_D 24 May 2014 10:24:02PM *  0 points [-]

With the card game in mind, I have doubts that most psychopaths can function on any executive level, and am not surprised at all that they overrepresent as prisoners.

Hare says that because narcissistic, histrionic, and obsessive compulsive tendencies are elevated in executives, it must mean that psychopaths are more common in executives as well, because after all these are "psychopathic tendencies" This is akin to saying that because someone has above-average self-esteem, they also have psychopathic traits. But if anyone really wants to pore through the data, antisocial traits (or callousness), a core feature of psychopathy, is not elevated in executives. In fact, it was lower than the other groups studied. They report the data but overlook this important fact in their paper. Looks like the authors had an agenda.

http://thegrcbluebook.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Disordered-Personalities-at-Work-Belinda-Jane-BoardKatarina-Fritzon.pdf

Considering what we know about the callousness of corporations and atrocities committed by cultures throughout history, it is easy to assume that psychopathy runs rampant among leaders. (and it plays on people's envy) Of course, this relies on the assumption that "good" people are not capable of atrocities and competitive greed without the coercion of bad people. Put two perfectly normal small families in a remote island with only enough resources to feed one, and you will see how quickly morality and compassion get thrown out the window. Knowing this, it is easy to imagine this concept in larger groups, which explains the behavior we see in war or corporate competition (where letting your competitors win means losing your job). No psychopathy is needed.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 25 May 2014 06:36:41AM 0 points [-]

That makes perfect sense, thanks!

Comment author: bogus 20 December 2012 10:32:59PM 0 points [-]

a TDT without empathy will Win against decision theories like the ones human brains use.

'Winning' is not really the right word here - a rational decision procedure should Win by definition. Clearly, psychopaths have different goals compared to the rest of the population: for simplicity, let's suppose that, compared to neurotypicals, they lack a terminal goal of not inflicting direct costs on others. However, punishing people for lacking certain terminal goals is not quite kosher by modern political/ethical standards. We don't lock people up for not donating enough to developing-world charities, because we understand that the vast majority of interactions are positive sum regardless.

Whether a psychopath approximating TDT could cooperate with a neurotypical person following either TDT or some kind of informal morality - and vice versa - is an interesting question and one that probably does not have an easy answer. However, in theory, TDT-approximating psychopaths should readily cooperate with each other.

It may also be the case that psychopaths are less able to enter precommitments and abide by them due to their overall deficits, which would make them more similar to CDT agents. However, this would not make them "winners" either, in any real sense: far from it. They would stop "winning" as soon as their lack of commitment (and thus non-credibility) was perceived by other agents - which would be quite soon, especially in a more rational world with a higher sanity waterline.

Comment author: TrE 20 December 2012 06:44:00PM *  0 points [-]

There's only an argument for altruism and cooperation if an agent is certain the other agents are running a decision theory that is as good as its own and their utility functions are similar enough to cooperate.

It also works in society, with a government enforcing law and puts forth other fines and incentives. Furthermore, humans are messy. Our immediate desires, on a lower level, can be quite different from our long-term, reflected, higher goals. It's a matter of impulsiveness which of these wins how frequently.

I don't believe psychopaths have any greater-utility terminal values than getting what they want at the expense of others.

Why "at the expense of others"? That's a property of the world, not of them (which does not excuse what they do).

I don't want to punish psychopaths either. I want to make them less psychopathic.

I apopogize for misreading you. "We didn't eradicate malaria or polio with kinder, gentler methods. Don't leave anything for evolution to work with." sounds rather more... straightforward to me than you apparently meant it. I'm glad that we agree that psychopaths should be helped, whereever possible, to become productive parts of society.

Therapy appears to teach psychopaths better skills at manipulating people.

Then the current therapeutic methods are not well-suited for this task. If we want to go down the road of developing more effective means of psychopath crime prevention, therapy etc., I suggest we Hold Off On Proposing Solutions.

Comment author: MugaSofer 23 December 2012 01:53:11PM -1 points [-]

But we want some amount of psychopathic traits in most people, and a rather large amount in a sizable minority. Genetic recombination will necessarily pop out some psychopaths.

Um. Source?

Comment author: ChristianKl 20 December 2012 08:56:39PM 0 points [-]

The thing is, there's already selection pressure against psychopaths who can't conceal their true nature.

Unfortunately many psychopaths can conceal their true nature. There recent research that they might even be more attractive to the other sex: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=psychology-uncovers-sex-appeal-dark-personalities

Additionally a psychopaths might be more likely to leave a woman with a child alone to seek a new woman.

Comment author: gwern 20 December 2012 10:53:32PM *  4 points [-]

Additionally a psychopaths might be more likely to leave a woman with a child alone to seek a new woman.

I forget whether any of the studies in the Handbook dealt with it, but at least in The Mask of Sanity, it's really striking how many of the case-studies involve multiple marriages (between divorces, bigamy, and... trigamy & quadgamy, I guess the words would be), children, and desertion. One doubts there is much selection pressure on the subjects, even though they are the ones sufficiently uncontrolled as to land in psychiatric treatment.

Comment author: mwengler 20 December 2012 03:29:24PM -2 points [-]

There has been strong selection pressure against homosexuals for a long time, and i include both their likelihood of being oppressed AND their unlikelihood of engaging in sex likely to result in children.

Psychopathy in an intelligent person is probably a benefit to the individual at the expense of slightly lower benefits from group cooperation. Then put the psychopath in a position where he can influence competition against other groups, and the thing is a positive for the group being thus led.

Comment author: Pentashagon 20 December 2012 05:21:07PM -1 points [-]

Lack of consideration for human utility functions would be of benefit to an AGI. I don't want to be lead by an AGI.

Comment author: Cyan 19 December 2012 05:43:51PM 4 points [-]

How about we just figure out how to make psychopaths pro-social instead?

Comment author: bogus 19 December 2012 08:47:58PM *  2 points [-]

If we could reliaby detect sociopaths, they would probably face stronger incentives for behaving tolerably well.

This could in fact be a key reason for smarter psychopaths being less likely to commit crimes. One article in the series simply states that subjects will "us[e] cognitive resources to devise nonviolent means (such as conning and manipulation) to get what they want." However, in practice, conning and manipulation do not really work very well. The strongest effect may just be that smarter psychopaths are using their smarts to compensate for their deficits in empathy and behaving in a more pro-social way: this is consistent with social science research, which shows that smarter folks are more economically rational and more likely to respond to incentives.

Comment author: MixedNuts 20 December 2012 12:06:58AM 1 point [-]

Do you have anything written up about your experience as a psychopath? Curious minds want to... examine you as a curious novelty and ask you to speak for everyone like you, actually. Anyway, is that a thing you want to talk about on the Internet?

Comment author: RomeoStevens 20 December 2012 12:16:57AM 0 points [-]

I was being somewhat facetious.

Comment author: mwengler 20 December 2012 03:26:02PM 1 point [-]

That is, of course, what a psychopath would say. They are not above lying to protect themselves.

:)

Comment author: atorm 22 December 2012 04:39:56AM 0 points [-]

He probably wouldn't have admitted it in the first place.

Comment author: hyporational 25 December 2012 10:12:52AM 0 points [-]

I understand that you're half joking, but this kind of a policy would result in lots of dead innocent people, too.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 25 December 2012 03:19:05PM *  0 points [-]

It will also save lots of other innocent people. Plus by eliminating these genes from the gene pool we are saving countless future lives.

Comment author: gwern 02 July 2014 10:20:50PM 2 points [-]

"On the trail of the elusive successful psychopath", Francis et al 2014

...Do successful psychopaths – people who possess the core traits of psychopathic personality but who achieve marked societal success in one or more domains – really exist? Indeed, some scholars have argued that the very concept of successful psychopathy is an ‘oxymoron’ because ‘by definition, to be afflicted with a personality disorder (e.g. psychopathy) one must have pathological symptoms that cause impairment in multiple domains of one’s life’ (Kiehl & Lushing, 2014). The questions hardly end there. If successful psychopaths exist, how do they differ from psychopaths in jails and prisons? Do certain occupations and avocations serve as ‘magnets’ or niches for successful psychopaths? Are successful psychopaths also at elevated risk for criminal behaviour? How do we define successful psychopathy in the first place? Can a psychopath be considered successful if he or she achieves success in a single domain of life (e.g. occupational, financial) or multiple? Or is simply evading arrest or legal entanglement sufficient?Until recently, these questions were almost exclusively the stuff of clinical lore and speculation. But times, and attitudes, change. Despite a great deal of interest in the ‘dark side’ of leadership (Hogan et al., 1990) and interpersonal behaviour more broadly, research suggests there may also be a bright side to some ‘dark triad’ personality traits (Judge et al., 2009). Indeed, psychopathy, along with narcissism and Machiavellianism (the other two members of this triad), appear to predict both positive and negative social outcomes, including short-term occupational success (e.g. leadership: Judge & LePine, 2009).

...Often mistakenly equated with serial killers or violent criminals, psychopaths are characterised by a distinctive constellation of affective, interpersonal and behavioural features. As described by psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley (1941) in his classic book The Mask of Sanity, psychopathy comprises such characteristics as superficial charm, dishonesty, narcissism, lack of remorse, lack of empathy, unreliability and poor forethought. Although Cleckley regarded psychopaths as pathological, he noted that they exhibit at least some adaptive characteristics, such as social poise, venturesomeness and an absence of irrationality and anxiety. In fact, Cleckley wrote of a psychopathic business man who, save for the occasional extramarital affair and drinking spree, exploited his interpersonal charm and risk-taking to propel him to occupational success.

...In the case of the PPI-R (Benning et al., 2003; but see Neumann et al., 2008, for an alternative factor structure) these higher-order factors are termed Fearless Dominance and Self-Centered Impulsivity (one PPI-R subscale termed Coldheartedness does not load highly on either factor). The first of these factors consists of many of the affective and interpersonal features associated with psychopathy, such as physical fearlessness, social boldness, superficial charm and a relative immunity to anxiety. In contrast, the second of these factors consists primarily of the behavioural features associated with psychopathy, such as impulsivity, recklessness and a propensity toward antisocial acts. This two-factor structure bears important implications for the potentially successful manifestations of psychopathy. In particular, Fearless Dominance may be linked primarily to adaptive behaviour, whereas Self-Centered Impulsivity and Coldheartedness may be linked primarily to maladaptive behaviour (Fowles & Dindo, 2009).

...The pioneering work of psychologist Cathy Widom, then at Harvard University, was one of the first attempts to examine psychopathy outside of prison walls. Straying from the typical inmate sample, Widom (1977) attempted to draw potentially psychopathic participants from the Boston community, attracting them with an enticing newspaper advertisement: ‘Psychologist studying adventurous carefree people who’ve led exciting impulsive lives. If you’re the kind of person who’d do almost anything for a dare…’ and a later version read: ‘Wanted charming, aggressive, carefree people who are impulsively irresponsible but are good at handling people and at looking after number one.’ (p.675) Once recruited, participants provided biographical and psychiatric information as well as criminal history. In Widom’s study, a full 65 per cent of the sample met criteria for sociopathy, an informal term similar to psychopathy. Several of Widom’s participants held jobs of significant ranking, such as business managers and investment bankers. Nevertheless, much of the sample reported arrest records and engagement in criminal or antisocial behaviours. Ultimately, Widom’s sample was composed not of especially successful individuals but rather of troublemakers who had largely escaped the detection of the legal system.

...Building on Widom’s work, some researchers have hypothesised that features related to psychopathy, such as fearlessness, may predispose individuals to heroic behaviour. In fact, David Lykken (1995, p.29) speculated that the ‘hero and the psychopath may be twigs off the same genetic branch’...Some investigators have responded to this call by examining psychopathic traits among individuals who hold occupations that afford frequent opportunities for heroic behaviour. In one interesting study (Falkenbach & Tsoukalas, 2011), members of potentially ‘heroic’ occupations, namely, law enforcement and firefighting, scored higher on the Fearless Dominance factor of the PPI than did incarcerated offenders. Still, because these intriguing findings relied on occupation as a proxy for heroism, they are open to several interpretations. More recently, Smith et al. (2013) examined the relation between psychopathy, again assessed using the PPI, and heroism. To assess heroism, they administered a questionnaire to assesses the frequency with which individuals engage in a variety of heroic behaviours that are reasonably common in daily life, such as assisting a stranded motorist, administering CPR to a collapsed individual, and breaking up a fight in public. Participants also completed a measure of altruistic behaviour subdivided into two subscales, altruism toward charities and altruism toward strangers. Smith and colleagues reported a positive association between certain psychopathic traits, on the one hand, and heroic behaviour and altruism towards strangers, on the other. More specifically, the Fearless Dominance component of psychopathy was most related to heroism and altruism toward strangers, suggesting that predisposition towards fearlessness and a willingness to take risks may contribute to heroism. In a second part of the study, Smith et al. (2013) examined the relationship between psychopathy and a more objective indicator of heroism – war heroism among the US presidents. Drawing on personality ratings completed by expert historians, statistical algorithms were used to extract psychopathy levels for each of the US presidents. Conceptually replicating the findings in the first part of the study, the Fearless Dominance component of psychopathy was positively associated with presidential war heroism. The presidential war heroes included Theodore Roosevelt and Zachary Taylor, who also scored well above the mean on Fearless Dominance...The experts’ ratings of each president’s psychopathic traits displayed moderate to high inter-rater agreement. This methodology, although not flawless, is well-suited for rating past presidential figures, as meta-analytic evidence suggests that informant ratings are strong predictors of behaviour, often more so than are self-reports of personality (Connelly & Ones, 2010).

...Recent work indicates that psychopathy is related to the use of hard negotiation tactics (e.g. threats of punishment: Jonason et al., 2012), bullying (Boddy, 2011), counterproductive workplace behaviour (e.g. theft by employees: O’Boyle et al., 2011), and poor management skills (Babiak et al., 2010). Although these results suggest that psychopathy has a marked ‘dark side’ in the workplace, there may be more to the story. Some authors have speculated that some psychopathic traits, such as charisma and interpersonal dominance, may contribute to effective leadership and management, at least in the short term (Babiak & Hare, 2006; Boddy et al., 2010; Furnham, 2007). Nevertheless, questions remain regarding the long-term effectiveness of such traits, with some suspecting that psychopathic traits tend eventually to be destructive. Recent research tentatively supports the view that psychopathy can be a double-edged sword in business settings. For example, data using the PCL-R show that psychopathic individuals are viewed as good communicators, strategic thinkers and innovators in the workplace (Babiak et al., 2010). More recently, unpublished research from our own lab has further elucidated the potential dual implications of psychopathy for workplace behaviour and leadership. In a sample of 312 North American community members, subdimensions of psychopathy, as measured by the PPI-R, were differentially related to leadership styles and counterproductive workplace behaviour. Specifically, Fearless Dominance was positively associated with adaptive leadership styles and minimally related to counterproductive workplace behaviour and maladaptive leadership styles. In contrast, Self-Centered Impulsivity was positively related to counterproductive workplace behaviour and negatively associated with adaptive leadership styles.

Comment author: William_Quixote 19 December 2012 04:35:31AM 2 points [-]

Thanks very much, this is interesting material

Comment author: hyporational 22 December 2012 11:56:18PM 1 point [-]

Fascinating stuff. You seem well read in the subject and I'm not, so let me ask a couple of questions my psychiatry professors weren't for some reason interested in answering in the course a couple of weeks ago. So no blame on you if you can't answer.

Why is psychopathy not even mentioned in the DSM? How does this affect the research and is it taken seriously in mainstream psychiatry? I understand ASPD is in the DSM, but it's not even nearly the same construct and has comorbidities atypical for psychopathy.

Psychopaths are supposed to be expert liars. How does this affect assessing comorbidities, ie depression and anxiety, that can be seen as weaknesses and are usually evaluated based on self report?

I was once told by a professor (medical biochemistry) about studies on empathy of health care professionals that used supposedly shocking pictures and some kind of autonomous response measurement. They had similarly suppressed responses as psychopaths. Have you come across such studies? I haven't checked whether this is bs but my own experience fits. The more I've seen nasty stuff in my med school education and job as a doctor the easier it becomes to block the associated negative emotions. This doesn't mean I lack empathy, just that I've become better at controlling it. Is psychopathy truly a deficit in the initial hard wiring, or is there such a thing as secondary psychopath?

Comment author: gwern 23 December 2012 03:02:51AM 1 point [-]

Why is psychopathy not even mentioned in the DSM? How does this affect the research and is it taken seriously in mainstream psychiatry? I understand ASPD is in the DSM, but it's not even nearly the same construct and has comorbidities atypical for psychopathy.

I don't know. It may be that it's felt to be redundant with ASPD; they're not nearly the same construct, yes, but there's still overlap and I seem to recall there being a paper in the Handbook largely concerned with factor analysis and that issue.

I was once told by a professor (medical biochemistry) about studies on empathy of health care professionals that used supposedly shocking pictures and some kind of autonomous response measurement. They had similarly suppressed responses as psychopaths. Have you come across such studies?

Not that one, no. The studies I recall being cited tended to be things like (failing to) match up words with emotional connotations in which the psychopaths did poorly.

Comment author: gwern 26 June 2013 05:33:00PM 0 points [-]

"What can we learn about emotion by studying psychopathy?", Marsh 2013:

Psychopathy affects both children and adults. Markers of psychopathy may emerge early in childhood (Glenn et al., 2007; Wang et al., 2012), are moderately reliable predictors of adult psychopathy (Lynam et al., 2008), and the core affective features of psychopathy appear to be highly heritable (Larsson et al., 2006). The heritability coefficient of the core callous and unemotional features has been estimated to be at least 0.43 (Larsson et al., 2006) and as high as 0.71 (Viding et al., 2005, 2008). An individual's risk for engaging in antisocial behavior during childhood or adulthood can be increased by any number of life history events, including trauma exposure, low socioeconomic status, or delinquent peer groups (Lynam et al., 2008), but these factors do not seem to precipitate the emergence of psychopathic traits in children (often termed callous-unemotional traits). In fact, callous-unemotional traits may paradoxically serve as a protective factor against parental maltreatment: among children with callous-unemotional traits, there is little correspondence between the quality of parenting that children receive and the severity of their antisocial behavior problems (Wootton et al., 1997). Instead it appears that life stressors that result in heightened stress responding represent a distinct etiological route toward antisocial behavior (Blair, 2001). Among children without high levels of callous-unemotional traits, parental maltreatment is associated with increased antisocial behavior (Wootton et al., 1997). In addition, antisocial behavior in the absence of callous-unemotional traits does not appear to be highly heritable, supporting the role of environmental stressors in leading to antisocial behavior in the absence of callous-unemotional traits (Viding et al., 2005, 2008).

...Although Cleckley's descriptions of psychopathy reflect a psychodynamic orientation, his observations are consistent with more recent experimental data assessing fear responding in psychopathy. A focus on fear responding emerged from the observation that psychopathic offenders are particularly likely to re-offend, suggesting that the threat of future punishments is not sufficiently motivating for them (Corrado et al., 2004; Hare, 2006). Fear is, in essence, the state that accompanies the anticipation of an aversive outcome (i.e., punishment) and promotes avoidance and escape behaviors (Stein and Jewett, 1986; Panksepp, 1998; LeDoux, 2000). Fear being the emotion that promotes avoidance of behaviors that result in punishment (LeDoux, 2003), it is ostensibly is the mechanism by which punishing criminal behavior serves to deter it. Early hypotheses proposed that dysfunctional fear responding renders psychopaths less likely to avoid engaging in criminal behaviors that result in punishments like imprisonment, and were supported by laboratory findings that psychopaths are less likely to modulate their behavior in response to anticipated punishments ranging from electrical shock to loss of points in a computer game (Lykken, 1957; Hare, 1966; Newman and Kosson, 1986; Blair et al., 2004).

Abundant psychophysiological research supports the notion that psychopaths' responses to the threat of an aversive outcome are muted. Psychopathy impairs anticipatory skin-conductance responses (Lykken, 1957; Aniskiewicz, 1979; Herpertz et al., 2001; Birbaumer et al., 2005; Rothemund et al., 2012), fear-potentiated startle responses (Patrick et al., 1993; Levenston et al., 2000; Herpertz et al., 2001; Rothemund et al., 2012), and contraction of the corrugator muscle underlying the brows (Herpertz et al., 2001; Rothemund et al., 2012) during threat anticipation. Psychopathy also impairs aversive classical conditioning (Flor et al., 2002) as well as other fear-relevant responses such as the recognition of fear from the face, body, and voice (Marsh and Blair, 2008; Dawel et al., 2012). These differences are particularly evident for psychopathic offenders characterized as “primary” psychopaths who exhibit the core callous and unemotional personality features of the disorder (Lykken, 1957; Aniskiewicz, 1979; Dawel et al., 2012). This is in contrast to “secondary” psychopaths, in whom antisocial behavior may primarily reflect social disadvantage or maltreatment and who may present with increased anxiety (Newman et al., 2005; Kimonis et al., 2012). Finally, both anecdotal reports and empirical evidence indicate that subjective experiences of fear are reduced in psychopathy
...There is very little evidence available that describes other types of emotional reactions in psychopathy, although what evidence exists suggests that disgust responding remains intact, and there is little evidence for consistent impairments in happiness or surprise (Marsh and Blair, 2008; Marsh et al., 2011; Dawel et al., 2012). One emotion for which the present literature is genuinely ambiguous is sadness, with meta-analytic findings generally showing some deficits in recognizing sadness expressions in psychopathy, albeit less consistently and with generally smaller effect sizes than for fear. Very little literature explores sadness responses in psychopathy in other contexts, and results from these studies are equivocal (e.g., Blair et al., 1995; Brook and Kosson, 2013) In general, the neurobiological basis of sadness is not as well understood as that of fear, and further development of the neurocognitive basis of sadness may be required to develop targeted tasks assessing it in psychopaths.

...From a societal perspective, understanding empathic deficits for others' fear may be the most important question of all that the study of psychopathy helps to answer. Although amygdala lesion cases can illuminate the amygdala's role in fear, because these lesions usually occur in late adolescence or adulthood, their effects on the development of other brain regions and behavior is more limited. This may be why amygdala lesions in adulthood are not associated with heightened aggression, whereas the case of psychopathy suggests a strong relationship between developmental deficits in fear and aggression. Fear plays an important role in preventing or ending aggression during social encounters (Blair, 1995, 2005b), and fearful emotional facial expressions elicit empathic concern and the desire to help from people who perceive them, even subliminally (Marsh and Ambady, 2007). The rationale for much research on psychopathy is that individuals with this disorder are responsible for a disproportionate amount of suffering, as they engage in a variety of antisocial, criminal, and violent behaviors that cause others distress and fear (Hare, 1993; Rutter, 2012). There is limited evidence that failure to exhibit empathic responses to others' pain is related to lower self-reported empathic concern or aggressive or antisocial behavior (Singer et al., 2004, 2006). In contrast, the evidence linking the failure to exhibit empathic responses to others' fear, both on a neural and a behavior level, is abundant. Psychopaths, in whom the failure to recognize others' fear or to generate empathic activation in the amygdala and autonomic nervous system is a hallmark feature, exhibit profound impairments in empathic concern for others and notoriously commit antisocial acts. Thus, as important as the study of psychopathy is for answering fundamental psychological and neuroscientific questions about the nature of emotion and empathy, an improved understanding of emotion and empathy as they pertain to psychopathy may be critical to developing improved means of ameliorating psychopaths' harmful effects on others.

Comment author: gyokuro 22 December 2012 09:41:37PM *  0 points [-]

Huh, I always assumed I was a psychopath, but now that seems like giving myself way too much credit for being mildly odd. Is there any test online to check?

Comment author: gwern 22 December 2012 11:41:16PM *  1 point [-]

Test? Not really. You could just use the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hare_Psychopathy_Checklist of which summaries like http://www.daniweb.com/community-center/geeks-lounge/threads/78319/hare-psychopathy-checklist are floating around and are in Hare's own books (on libgen). Remember not to be too admiring of your manipulative skills, or if you are, read Hare's books or Cleckley's Mask of Sanity to see what kind of manipulation the real psychopaths can do.