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Into The Mind of a Psychopath

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Psychopathy refers to a mental disorder in which individuals develop amoral and unethical behaviour that typically violates societal norms, values, and beliefs. Characteristics are similar to that of an individual diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder where traits such as lack of empathy, remorse, guilt, and shame, as well as heightened aggression and superficial charm, are displayed (Linden, 2019). Those with this developmental disorder display emotional deficits, which researchers find is more susceptible to criminal behaviour. In this paper, it will be argued how psychopathy is defined and its relation to criminality proposed by psychological theories and studies.


Various hypotheses and perspectives can be used to explain what causes an individual to develop a psychopathic personality disorder that influences unbalanced and deviant ways. In an attempt to explain a correlation between childhood trauma and antisocial behaviour, researchers studied a sample of male and female juveniles and their experiences of parental neglection and abuse. Researchers suggest that physical abuse in young delinquents results in more aggressive and violent behaviour, inducing the development of affective deficits such as decreased display of sympathy and lack of impulse control (Krischer & Sevecke, 2008). The sample of candidates participated in a series of questionnaires including the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and the Psychopathy Checklist-Youth Version (PCL-YV). Gender differences played a role in supporting the hypothesis that victimization is seen as a crucial factor for aggressive manners found in female deviants. Researchers found that physically abused male delinquents that had scored higher on the PCL-YV test displayed poor anger control, increased irresponsibility, and more significant criminal behaviour (Krischer & Sevecke, 2008). From the results of the study childhood trauma faced by the genders discussed plays a role in different influential factors that causes the progression of psychopathic related traits.

The procedure referred to as the Psychopathy Checklist was established in 1980, as a reliable method used to evaluate psychopathy in individuals. The twenty-item checklist of traits and behaviours including pathological lying, manipulation, and callousness was used to identify a psychopath. The checklist also scrutinizes if a specific offender may pose a potential risk to other institutionalized offenders or those in psychiatric units. Findings of the screening have been used by prosecutors to determine the length of a sentence and whether treatment or rehabilitation may be necessary. The revised checklist introduced in 1991, is comprised of two factors. According to Vitale and Newman (2006), one examines an individuals dismissal for the emotions and rights of others, whilst including the lack of empathy, guilt and remorse. The second factor evaluates one’s antisocial behaviour as well as early delinquency and criminal adaptability (2006). As criminology research expands, the checklist has been questioned of its reliability and validity in today’s society. In reviewing past data and conducting research among female samples, Vitale and Newman (2006) examine the validity and current state of the PCL-R assessment. As mentioned by researchers of the study, due to previous data focusing primarily on the behaviour of Caucasian males, it’s challenging to use findings to generalize more diverse samples. Results of the study show that the PCL-R is a reliable instrument in assessing institutionalized and noninstitutionalized female samples, although the overall simplistic picture of validity remains more unclear (Vitale & Newman, 2006). Researchers of this study suggest that the PCL-R should continue to be used as an approach to understand psychopathy until there is sufficient evidence for altering it.

Those with psychopathic diagnosis are characterized as individuals with a manifestation of antisocial tendencies, demonstrates high egocentricity, and lacks an engaging conscience. Preceding research has claimed to provide evidence showing the immunity psychopaths have to treatment, however, newer studies suggest that rehabilitation should be investigated and considered a possibility among diagnosed psychopaths. Larsen (2019) states that those who scored very high on the PCL-R has been previously interpreted as “untreatable” where outcomes are unsuccessful, which is a practice that researchers believe expresses significant clinical pessimism. Additionally, the PCL-R manual also highlights that those who have been determined to be a psychopath have shown that treatment feeds a countereffect where it makes them more antisocial and may influence recidivist behaviour (2019). Data collected by researchers explain that psychopaths fall into a complex category making them distinct from other offenders. In other words, there is nothing “wrong” with them that evaluation could correct. Despite other findings, Larsen (2019) suggests that while there is compelling evidence showing successful rehabilitation, there is little backing for the speculation that psychopaths remain insusceptible to psychiatric intervention. Instead of assuming that psychopathy directly produces a vile and callous murderer, it should be challenged to dispel myths that portray those with a psychopathic personality disorder as emotionless or inalterable. An important conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that treatment may be too optimistic, professionals should instead concentrate their studies on managing antisocial patterns found in those diagnosed with the disorder, rather than attempting to reshape underlying antisocial personality characteristics.

The basic foundation of psychoanalytic theory developed from the research of Sigmund Freud states that personality is composed of three parts: the id, ego, and superego. Freud believed the id controls biological drives, the ego directs the impulses of the id, and the superego indicates an individual’s conscience and ability to make moral reasoning (Linden, 2019). Imbalance between these parts may result in an individual succumbing to deviant responses. To explain it more simply, Freud compared the theory to an iceberg displaying the three distinct parts that comprise a personality in correlation to meeting one’s own unconscious needs. According to Linden (2019), the tip of the iceberg is said to reflect conscious awareness where portions of the ego and superego are typically displayed. As the submerged part of the iceberg is reached, it’s theorized that it represents most people’s personalities, including the id with, is unrefined desires and impulses (2019). Practitioners believe that the theory suggests criminal behaviour arises when the ego and superego are unable to restrain the hostile, antisocial forces of the id. Juvenile misbehaviour is believed to be related to an individual’s unsuccessful development during their earliest years, commonly related to failure to identify with parental figures, leaving the superego weak or deficient. Psychoanalytic researchers have proposed that during an infants first years, a stable attachment to a mother allocates children to show affectionate and sympathetic behaviour towards others (Linden 2019). Lack of attachment generally results in the child having the inability to express affection, therefore having the capability to inflict harm on others without feelings of remorse or guilt. Linden (2019) states that it’s been well recognized that trauma and neglection experienced at a young age contributes significantly to the development of criminal and antisocial behaviour.

Hans Eysenck’s theory of personality concerning crime states that the negative conducts of behaviour is easy to evaluate. According to Linden (2019), this theory is affiliated with classical conditioning where a specific stimulus is linked to another that evokes a particular response. For example, when a child is punished, they may experience fear or pain, therefore if they contemplate the act again it will be associated with the initial distress felt when the punishment was received. It’s been suggested that those who execute criminal behaviour do not develop this conditioned response due to lack of exposure to successful conditioning routines (Linden, 2019). In attempts to further study Eysenck’s theory of criminality, two varying samples were examined to research a new approach by using cluster analysis to illustrate the assortment of personality types. Methods of concluding these results included distributing the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to a sample of inmates serving short term sentences and a group of students participating in classes at a local college. According to McGurk and McDougall (1981), results of the study showed that high scores on the extraversion and neuroticism categories distinguished in the delinquent sample supports Eysenck’s theory that antisocial conduct is found more often in these individuals. The study also supports the idea that criminals will also score highly in the psychoticism category. The overall importance of Eysenck’s theory is to establish the connection between psychological and social factors that play a role in identifying an individual’s likeliness to participate in criminal behaviour.

Using distinctly similar theoretical perspectives, psychopathy should be reviewed to determine the direct relation to crime and violence, and methods to avoid such behaviour. Empirical evidence shows that there is a significant correlation between childhood trauma and neglection that ultimately manifests into delinquent behaviour. Children who experience psychological or physical abuse tend to exhibit violent actions as a result of the inability to distinguish right from wrong. Effects can lead to the development of attributes similar to those characterized with Antisocial Personality Disorder where individuals may withdraw from societies conducts as well as acting upon aggressive and malicious instincts, due to traumatic experiences of displaced hostility. In utilizing the research found from psychoanalytic theories and Eysenck’s grand theory, researchers could evaluate the most effective methods in managing the antisocial characteristics of an individual. In doing so, this creates room for new practitioners to examine psychopathy as a personality disorder that affects the sympathetic and reasoning parts of an individual rather than viewing psychopathy as unchangeable. This can introduce new concepts and approaches to misinformed people that hold the idea that all psychopaths are considered dangerous and believe that there is no “cure” or way to successfully reform the diagnosis. Additionally, research focusing on treatment enables diagnosed persons to receive and learn the proper self-control and management skills needed to curb antisocial inclinations.


Overall psychopathy appears to be a complex and versatile condition where individuals who are psychiatrically diagnosed exhibit behaviours such as dishonesty and charm. Extensive research has been conducted in hopes to develop a deeper understanding of those diagnosed with psychopathy and its correlation to crime. It can be concluded that the emotional component of rationality, remorse, guilt, and empathy is stagnant in the mind of a psychopath, meaning an individuals ability to act ethically or morally is significantly challenged. In future examinations to take place among psychopaths, researchers will optimistically have substantial evidence to be able to identify proper management approaches and how to recognize psychopaths through valid and reliable instruments.


  • Krischer, M.K., & Sevecke, K. (2008). Early traumatization and psychopathy in female and male juvenile offenders. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 31, 253-262. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2008.04.008
  • Larsen, R.R. (2019). Psychopathy treatment and the stigma of yesterday’s research. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 29, 243-272. doi:10.1353/ken.2019.0024.
  • Linden, R. (2019). Criminology: A Canadian perspective, ninth edition. Toronto, ON: Nelson
  • McGurk, B.J., & McDougall, C. (1981). A new approach to Eysenck’s theory of criminality. Science Direct, 2, 338-340. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(81)90091
  • Moore, M. (2011). Psychological theories of crime and delinquency. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21, 226-239, doi: 10.1080/10911359.2011.564552
  • Vitale, J.E., & Newman, J.P. (2006). Using the psychopathy checklist- revised with female samples: Reliability, validity, and implication for clinical utility. Wiley Online Library, 8. doi: 10.1093/clipsy.8.1.117

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Into The Mind Of A Psychopath. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from
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