How To Identify A Psychopath

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Hare Psychopathy Checklist

Definition

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is a diagnostic tool used to rate a person’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies. People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit, violence or other methods that allow them to get with they want. The symptoms of psychopathy include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of victimizing others.

Originally designed to assess people accused or convicted of crimes, the PCL-R consists of a 20-item symptom rating scale that allows qualified examiners to compare a subject’s degree of psychopathy with that of a prototypical psychopath. It is accepted by many in the field as the best method for determining the presence and extent of psychopathy in a person.

The Hare checklist is still used to diagnose members of the original population for which it was developed— adult males in prisons, criminal psychiatric hospitals, and awaiting psychiatric evaluations or trial in other correctional and detention facilities. Recent experience suggests that the PCL-R may also be used effectively to diagnose sex offenders as well as female and adolescent offenders.

Purpose

The PCL-R is used for diagnosing psychopathy in individuals for clinical, legal or research purposes. Developed in the early 1990s, the test was originally designed to identify the degree of a person’s psychopathic tendencies. Because psychopaths, however, are often repeat offenders who commit sexual assaults or other violent crimes again and again, the PCL-R is now finding use in the courtroom and in institutions as an indicator of the potential risk posed by subjects or prisoners. The results of the examination have been used in forensic settings as a factor in deciding the length and type of prison sentences and the treatment subjects should or should not receive.

Precautions

Obviously, diagnosing someone as a psychopath is a very serious step. It has important implications for a person and for his or her associates in family, clinical and forensic settings. Therefore, the test must be administered by professionals who have been specifically trained in its use and who have a wide-ranging and up-to-date familiarity with studies of psychopathy.

Professionals who administer the diagnostic examination should have advanced degrees (M.D., Ph.D., or D.Ed.) in a medical, behavioral or social science field; and registered with a reputable organization that oversees psychiatric or psychological testing and diagnostic procedures. Other recommendations include experience working with convicted or accused criminals or several years of some other related on-the-job training. Because the results are used so often in legal cases, those who administer it should be qualified to serve as expert witnesses in the courtroom. It is also a good idea, if possible, for two experts to test a subject independently with the PCL-R. The final rating would then be determined by averaging their scores.

Many studies conducted in North America and Europe attest to the value of the PCL-R for evaluating a person’s degree of psychopathic traits and, in many cases, for predicting the likelihood of future violent behavior. Some critics, however, are more skeptical about its value.

Description

The Hare PCL-R contains two parts, a semi-structured interview and a review of the subject’s file records and history. During the evaluation, the clinician scores 20 items that measure central elements of the psychopathic character. The items cover the nature of the subject’s interpersonal relationships; his or her affective or emotional involvement; responses to other people and to situations; evidence of social deviance; and lifestyle. The material thus covers two key aspects that help define the psychopath: selfish and unfeeling victimization of other people, and an unstable and antisocial lifestyle.

The twenty traits assessed by the PCL-R score are:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

The interview portion of the evaluation covers the subject’s background, including such items as work and educational history; marital and family status; and criminal background. Because psychopaths lie frequently and easily, the information they provide must be confirmed by a review of the documents in the subject’s case history.

Results

When properly completed by a qualified professional, the PCL-R provides a total score that indicates how closely the test subject matches the “perfect” score that a classic or prototypical psychopath would rate. Each of the twenty items is given a score of 0, 1, or 2 based on how well it applies to the subject being tested. A prototypical psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40, while someone with absolutely no psychopathic traits or tendencies would receive a score of zero. A score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy. People with no criminal backgrounds normally score around 5. Many non-psychopathic criminal offenders score around 22.

See also Antisocial personality disorder ; Sexual sadism

Resources

BOOKS

Black, Donald W., and C. Lindon Larson. Bad Boys, Bad Men, Confronting Antisocial Personality Disorder. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Hare, Robert D. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 1993.

PERIODICALS

Freedman, M. David. “False prediction of future dangerousness: Error rates and Psychopathy Checklist-Revised.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law 29, no. 1 (March, 2001): 89-95.

Grann, M., N. Langström, A. Tengström and G. Kullgren. “Psychopathy (PCL-R) predicts violent recidivism among criminal offenders with personality disorders in Sweden.” Law and Human Behavior 23, no. 2 (April, 1999): 205-217.

OTHER

Hare, Robert D. Dr. Robert Hare’s Page for the Study of Psychopaths. January 29, 2002 (cited April 5, 2002.) <http://www.hare.org/> .

Dean Haycock, Ph.D.

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http://www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Hare-Psychopathy-Checklist.html