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The Relationship Between Psychopathy and Criminal Behavior

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Introduction

Psychopaths are involved in all forms of crime, especially violent crime (Danka). Over the past several decades lots of researchers have been devoted to the relationship between psychopathy and crime (Danka). Psychopaths engaging in criminal behaviour is an inevitable occurrence which begs the question that what about psychopathy that leads to crime. Is criminal behvaiour merely a symptom of psychopathy or is this criminal behaviour a direct consequence of the personality characteristics of psychopathy? The topic of psychopathy has been researched extensively in recent years within forensic and criminal psychology (textbook). It can be also be said that psychopathy is in itself a theory of crime and a key explanation for anti-social beahviour (Delisi). The importance of psychopathy on society and the criminal law system is a major change in recent years (Danka). It is important to research psychopathy as it is not only one of the most significant personality disorders within psychology but also a significant factor when discussing crime and its causes.

The following essay will discuss the question of whether psychopathy is a predictor of criminality. What psychopathy is and its characteristics will be outlined to begin with. Then furthermore the methods used to measure and diagnose psychopathy will be discussed followed by research and data supporting the stance of the essay. It is found from the evidence provided below that psychopathy is a predictor of crime and if diagnosed in early years can be used to predict future criminality and also recidivism.

Body

The notion of psychopathy was introduced in the nineteenth century by Koch and Kraeplin (Danka). Many psychological studies evidenced that a psychopath’s patterns of personality traits is prone to crime (Danka). It has been stated by psychologists that psychopathy is the most important clinical construct in the criminal justice system (Walters). Assessing psychopathy can go a long way towards improving the understanding of psychopathy, the ability to predict it, and managing criminal behavior (Glenn D. Walters).

Psychopathy is a clinical construct that is most commonly referred to as a personality disorder (Delisi). This disorder is defined by a collection of interpersonal, lifestyle, affect, and behavioural characteristics that lead to anti-social behavior and furthermore criminality (Delisi). When examining the interpersonal aspect of psychopathy, characteristics such as; superficial charm, narcissism, grandiose self-worth, pathological lying, and manipulation are present (Delisi). When it comes to lifestyle it has been found that psychopaths lack realistic life goas and are impulsive and irresponsible (Delisi). The affect aspect of a psychopathic personality disorder it is mostly characterised by lack of empathy, shallow emotion, callousness, failure to accept responsibility, and lack of guilt or remorse (Delisi). They are essentially selfish, self-motivated, and have only self-interest (Delisi). These characteristics when existing in the same individual is diagnosed as psychopathy. The many antisocial behaviours displayed by those who are classed as psychopaths include; poor behvaioural control, early in life behavioural problems, juvenile delinquency, criminally versatile behaviour (Delisi). Psychopathy and anti-social behaviour are internally consistent (Delisi) and psychopathy can be seen as not just a clinical construct to study criminal offenders but also all forms of antisocial behvaiour (Delisi).

Many psychological studies believe that psychopathic offenders are different from other offenders, in the particular psychological traits that are relevant for crime (Danka). The type of violence displayed by psychopaths is more dispassionate, instrumental and predatory compared to other offenders (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). This violence is remorseless and in the majority of cases motivated by greed, vengeance, anger, retribution, or money (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). Wilson and Hernstein (1996), say that antisocial behaviour is a dichotomy and divides people into two groups of psychopaths and non-psychopaths. When examining currently incarcerated individuals the psychopathic population of such is responsible for the majority of serious crimes committed yearly.

Psychopaths behave and commit crime different from non-psychopathic offenders as they have distinctive ‘criminal careers’ in relation to the type and amount of anti-social behavior they commit along with the age in which they commit them (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). the typical ‘criminal career’ of a psychopath is often short but extremely devoted during most of their adolescents and adult life to delinquent and criminal activities (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). they also typically begin anti-social behavior and criminal activities at a young age and continue to partake in these activities throughout their life (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). given this information the predictability of criminality in psychopaths is high. With the prevalence of psychopathy among the general offender population, based on individual studies, is 15-20% in the offender population (H¨ akk ¨ anen-Nyholm). The defining features that make a psychopath place them at a high risk for aggression and violence and in turn crime (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). A study conducted by Hare and McPherson (1984), concluded that evidence if psychopathy in offenders lead to the increase in the likelihood of violence and aggressive behavior (ANH VIEN) and essentially predicting the likelihood of criminality in psychopaths. According to Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990, self-control is the key reasoning behind delinquency, crime and similar imprudent behaviours like gambling and cheating. The fact that psychopaths lack the essence of self-control in theory means that they are inclined towards delinquency and criminal behaviour (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990), therefore psychopathy being a direct predictor of crime and criminality.

Clinicians often use the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) to determine and diagnose psychopathy within individuals. The PCL-R is based off of interview data and a review of clincal records and is composed of 20 items (Hare, 1991). These items are; glibness and/or suoerficial charm, grandiose sense of self worth, need for stimulation and/or proneness to boredom, pathological lying, conning and/or manipulation, lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect, callous and/or lack of empathy, parasitic lifestyle, poor behavioural controls, promiscuous sexual behaviour, early behavioural 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, and criminal versatility (Robert D. Hare, PhD* and Craig S. Neumann, PhD). Each item is rated on a 3-point scale, yielding a total score between 0 and 40. A 30+ cut-point on this checklist is set and this way those scoring above a 30 (with the maximum PCL-R score being 40) are viewed as psychopathic and those that score below not (Hare, 1991, 2003). It is a very useful tool to predict risk and recidivism (ANH VIEN). This PCL-R measure can be used to diagnose psychopathy and in turn predict criminality (ANH VIEN). Individuals that score above 30 not only will commit more violent and serious crime but are also at higher levels of risk of recidivism (ANH VIEN).

Psychologists define psychopathy mainly by characteristics of an individual that becomes the foundation of such behaviour and is evident in early years (Danka). They say that by design a psychopath is naturally inclined to committing criminal acts leading to the belief that crime is a logical outcome of psychopathy Robert Hare (1993,p.83). Psychopathy is a significant predictor of general deleinquency and violent delinquency (Delisi). Juvenile delinquency in young psychopaths is an issue within many countries (Danka). It was found that one fifth of the worst criminal offences are committed by youth offenders with most of them being psychopaths (Danka). Psychopathy has the potential power to be the explanation for cause of violent conduct and due to this clinciians and researchers are increasingly using psychopathy as a marker for identifying children and adolescents most likely to engage in violent crime (Weir). Mostly only applied to adults, psychopathy is being used more and more to research anti social behaviours and personality traits in adolescents and children (Delisi). It has been found that there are overlaps between psychopathy in adults and children in regards to behavioural, cognitive, emotional, and psychological aspects (Delisi). According to Forth, Hart, and Hare (1990), adolescents and children diagnosed with psychopathy had much more criminal histories including violent offences and institutional violence. Compared with their peers’ psychopathic youths displayed higher signs of aggression, greater violent and nonviolent delinquency and onset on antisocial behaviours. Given this premise is can be concluded that psychopathy is a predictor of crime and criminality in that if diagnosed early on psychopathic children can predict whether they will commit crime in the future or not.

In a study conducted by Radulovic (2008a), a sample of 322 serious criminal offenders (with subsample of 209 psychopaths), found that the psychopathic offenders displayed more aggression, dissociate behaviour, amoral and hysteric beliefs, and a lower level of perceptive and verbal abilities compared to the non-psychopath offenders. This personality pattern found is serious and dangerous in that it makes them more inclined to chronic violent crime (Radulovic, 2008a). Extensive research has revealed that psychopathy is the most powerful predictors of criminal recidivism (H¨ akk ¨ anen-Nyholm). According to Hemphill, Templemann, Wong, and Hare (1998), the rate of violent recidivism for psychopathic offenders is greater than 80% during a five-year period which allows for the conclusion that psychopaths are at higher levels of risk for future violence or future recidivism (ANH VIEN). Psychopathy as a risk factor for recidivism is extremely significant (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). in a meta-analytic review Salekin, Rogers, and Sewell (1996), said that the use of the PCL-R to predict violence was significant. With the PCL-R predicting recidivism rates in a 5 year follow up study strengthening the argument that psychopathy can be a predictor of crime and equally recidivism (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D). Another study conducted with the purpose of providing a quantavtive overview of psychopathy and criminal recidivism for male and female adolescent offenders (Weir). The results of the study examined what is known and also what is yet unknown about the relationship between psychopathy and future criminality among youths involved in the justice system (Weir). Similarly to the data seen in studies with adult offenders it was found that the relationship between psychopathy and general and violent recidivism is statistically significant (Weir). This leads towards the assumption that psychopathy can be a predictor of not only recidivism but criminality as a whole.

Conclusion

A psychopath is an individual with a personality disorder in which the are essentially self-centered and self-motivated to a degree in which they are insensitive to social demands and constructs. The above discussed the issue of psychopathy, crime and criminality. It focused on and set out to deem whether psychopathy is a predictor of crime. The evidence collected and Judging from the analysis of research in relation to psychopathy and crime it was found that psychopathy was indeed a predictor of crime and also recidivism among offenders.

References:

  • Hare, 1991, 2003) – delisi
  • (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) – deslisi
  • Forth, Hart, and Hare (1990) – delisi
  • Robert Hare (1993,p.83) – danka
  • Radulovic (2008a) – (Danka).
  • Wilson and Hernstein, 1996, – walters
  • Hemphill, Templemann, Wong, and Hare (1998) – (ANH VIEN).
  • Hare and McPherson (1984), – (ANH VIEN).
  • Salekin, Rogers, and Sewell (1996) – (Robert D. Hare, Ph.D).
  • Robert D. Hare, PhD* and Craig S. Neumann, PhD

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