Many of the examples I use are taken from published reports, the news media, an personal communications, and I cannot be sure that the individuals in question are psychopaths, even though they may have been given the label by others. In each case, however, the documented evidence concerning some aspect of the person’s behavior is either consistent with the concept of psychopathy or illustrates a key trait or behavior that is typical of the disorder. These individuals may or may not be psychopaths. But their reported behavior provides a useful vehicle for elaborating the various traits and behaviors that define psychopathy. The reader should not assume that an individual is a psychopath simply because of the context in which he or she is port5rayed in this book. P. ix
In an ironic twist, psychopaths frequently see themselves as the real victims.
"I was made an asshole and a scapegoat. . . when I look back I see myself more as a victim than a perpetrator. So said John Wayne Gacy, a psychopathic serial killer who tortured and murdered thirty-three young men and boys and buried their bodies in the basement of his house.
While discussing these murders Gacy portrayed himself as the thirty-fourth victim. “I was the victim, I was cheated out of my childhood." He wondered to himself if "there would be someone, somewhere who would understand how badly it had hurt to be John Wayne Gacy."…
Lack of Empathy
Many of the characteristics displayed by psychopaths especially their egocentricity, lack of remorse, shallow emotions, and deceitfulness are closely associated with a profound lack of empathy (an inability to construct a mental and emotional "facsimile" of another person). They seem unable to "walk in the shoes" of others, except in a purely intellectual sense. The feelings of other people are of no concern to psychopaths.
In some respects they are like the emotionless androids depicted in science fiction, unable to imagine what real humans experience. One rapist, high on the Psychopath Checklist, commented that he found it hard to empathize with his victims. “They are frightened, right? But, you see, I don’t realy understand it. I’ve been scared myself, and it wasn’t unpleasant.”
Psychopaths view people as little more than objects to be used for their own gratification. The weak and vulnerable whom they mock, rather than pity are favorite targets…..
Because of their inability to appreciate the feelings of others, some psychopaths are capable of behavior that normal people find not only horrific but baffling. For example, they can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
However, except in movies and books, very few psychopaths commit crimes of this sort. Their callousness typically emerges in less dramatic, though still devastating ways: Parasitically bleeding other people of their possessions, savings, and dignity; aggressively doing and taking what they want; shamefully neglecting the physical and emotional welfare of their families; engaging in an unending series of casual, impersonal, and trivial sexual relationships; and so forth…..
Lying, deceiving, and manipulation are natural talents for psychopaths.
With their powers of imagination in gear and focused on themselves, psychopaths appear amazingly unfazed by the possibility or even by the certainty of being found out. When caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, they are seldom perplexed or embarrassed they simply change their stories or attempt to rework the facts so that they appear to be consistent with the lie. The results are a series of contradictory statements and a thoroughly confused listener. Much of the lying seems to have no motivation other than "duping delight."…
Psychopaths seem proud of their ability to lie……
Many observers get the impression that psychopaths sometimes are unaware that they're lying; it is as if the words take on a life of their own, unfettered by the speaker's knowledge that the observer is aware of the facts. The psychopath's indifference to being identified as a liar is truly extraordinary; it causes the listener to wonder about the speaker's sanity. More often, though, the listener is taken in. Shallow Emotions Psychopaths seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feelings. While at times they appear cold and unemotional, they are prone to dramatic, shallow, and short-lived displays of feeling. Careful observers are left with the impression that they are play-acting and that little (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.43-8)
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” cited on Myspace with more unformatted text
In the same vein, psychopaths in prison often learn to use the correctional facilities to their own advantage and to help shape a positive image of themselves for the benefit of the parole board. They take classes and degree courses, enroll in programs for drug and alcohol abuse, join religious and quisi-religious groups, and adopt whatever self-improvement fad is in favor-not to “rehabilitate” themselves but to look as if they are doing so. It is not unusual, for example, for a particularly adept manipulator to declare himself “born again” in the Christian sense-not only to convince the parole board of his sincere resolve to reform but to exploit his elaborate and well-meaning born-again community for its support,,,not to mention its material resources. And now that “cycle of abuse theories” have become widely accepted, many psychopaths are eager to attribute their faults and problems to childhood abuse. Although their claims may be difficult to verify, there is never a shortage of well-meaning people ready to take them at face value. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.50-1)
Laboratory experiment using biomedical recorders have shown that psychopaths lack the physiological responses normally associated with fear. The significance of this finding is that, for most people, the fear produced by threats of pain or punishment is an unpleasant emotion and a powerful motivator of behavior. Fear keeps us from doing some things-“Do it and you’ll be sorry.” In each case, it is emotional awareness of the consequences that impels us to take a particular course of action. Not so with psychopaths; they merrily plunge on, perhaps knowing what might happen but not really caring. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.54)
Early behavior problems
Most psychopaths begin to exhibit serious behavioral problems at an early age. These might include persistent lying, cheating, theft, arson, truancy, substance abuse, vandalism, and precocious sexuality. Because many children exhibit some of these behaviors at one time or another, especially children raised in violent neighborhoods or in disrupted or abusive families, it is important to emphasize that the psychopath’s history of such behaviors is more extensive and serious than most, even when compared with that of siblings and friends raised in similar settings…..
One subject, serving time for fraud, told us that as a child he would put a noose around the neck of a cat, tie the other end of the string to the top of a pole, and bat the cat around the pole with a tennis racket…..
Although not all adult psychopaths exhibited this degree of cruelty when in their youth, virtually all routinely got themselves into a wide range of difficulties; lying, theft, vandalism, promiscuity, and so forth. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.66-7)
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” Psychopath checklist at TCats
(Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.)
In a recent article for The New York Times, Daniel Goleman wrote, "Data suggest that in general about 2 to 3 percent of people are estimated to be psychopaths—with the rate twice as high among those who live in the fragmented families of the inner cities."9 However, this statement, and others proclaiming an increase of psychopathy in our society, confuses criminality and social deviance with psychopathy.
While crime—and the socially deviant behavior that helps to but doesn't completely define psychopathy—is already high among the lower class, and is rising in society as a whole, we don't know if the relative number of psychopaths among us is also on the increase. Sociobiologists take the view that behavior development is influenced by genetic factors, and they might argue that the number of psychopaths must be increasing, simply because they are very promiscuous and produce large numbers of children, some of whom may inherit a predisposition for psychopathy.
I'll examine this argument and its chilling implications in later chapters on the roots of psychopathy. Before doing so, however, it is necessary to discuss the known aspects of the enigma. The next step into the heart of the matter brings us to the role of conscience in the regulation of behavior. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.70)
Elyse met Jeffrey in the summer of 1984, and she was never to forget that day. She was at the beach with some friends when she spied him and was completely charmed by his huge, bright smile. He walked right up to her and asked for her phone number, and his effrontery somehow disarmed her—she just gave in to his smile and his utter lack of self-consciousness. He called her the next day and then somehow showed up at her job. So it began . . . with a smile.
She was working at a daycare center then. Jeffrey began meeting her at work for her coffee breaks, then for her lunch breaks, for her bus rides home; every time she walked out of the building, Jeffrey was there waiting. He told her very little about himself—said he was a cartoonist trying to get his own strip. Sometimes he carried large amounts of cash; at other times he was dead broke and used her money. He didn't live anywhere in particular, and all his clothes were "borrowed." He was funny—hilarious, Elyse thought. When it was all over, she realized that the humor had been both the draw and the distraction. The whole time he had been cannibalizing her life, she'd been laughing her head off at his jokes.
He talked nonstop, describing all his ideas, schemes, and plans, but none ever amounted to anything. Whenever she asked him about some plan he'd described, he seemed annoyed. "Oh, that! I'm onto something much bigger, much bigger now."
One day while they were at lunch, he was suddenly arrested. The next day Elyse went to visit him in jail. The police said he'd spent the night at a friend's house and the next day had sold the man's camera equipment. She didn't believe it, but the judge did. It turned out that Jeffrey was wanted by the police on a number of matters. Jeffrey went to prison.
Despite his incarceration he never lost his grip on Elyse. He wrote to her from prison at least once every day, sometimes as many as three times. He wrote of his talents, his dreams, his plans. He wrote of her and the life they would have together. He nearly drowned Elyse in words—"verbal vomit" was the phrase one writer used in describing a similar case. If only Jeffrey could find the right channel for his energies, he'd be on top of the world, he'd be able to do anything, he claimed. And he would give her the life she deserved—he loved her so much. She was so dazzled that the phrase "send money" at the end of one of his letters didn't even faze her.
In eight months Jeffrey was out. He went directly to Elyse's house and dazzled her anew, but her roommates were not impressed. Jeffrey propositioned one roommate and crawled into bed with the other while she slept. In the latter incident, he forced the young woman's shoulders down and held her fast, seeming to enjoy the fear on her face as he kept her from escaping. Needless to say, with Jeffrey in the house night and day, the communal living arrangement collapsed.
It was soon clear that he had no intention of leaving and no intention of finding a job. Still, Elyse kept trying to find work for him. The first interview he had was successful, but his first day on the job he stole all the money out of the cash register and disappeared for five days. Then a friend called to tell Elyse that Jeffrey was dealing drugs. When he showed up, light-hearted and talking a mile a minute, she confronted him. He denied all wrongdoing. And she believed him. She was on a yo-yo of believing, disbelieving, and believing again.
Elyse's parents stepped in and insisted that she consult a psychiatrist-they were fearful of her relationship with Jeffrey…
Elyse, a former student of mine, now knows a lot about psychopaths, from both personal experience and formal training. But she still finds it difficult to understand how people leke Jeffry can so easily worm their way into someone’s life and then move on. “For him,” she said, “the rules of behavior were written in pencil, and he had a big eraser.” (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.71-3)
Learning to behave according to the rules and regulation of society, called socialization, is a complex process. On a practical level it teaches children “how things are done.” In the process, socialization-through parenting, schooling, social experiences, religious training, and so forth-helps to create a system of beliefs, attitudes, and personal standards that determine how we interact with the world around us….
In most people, early childhood punishment produces lifelong links between social taboos and feelings of anxiety. The anxiety associated with potential punishment for an act helps to suppress the act. In fact, anxiety may help to suppress even the idea of the act: I considered taking the money but I quickly put it out of my mind.”
But in psychopaths, the links between prohibited acts and anxiety are weak, and the threat of punishment fails to deter them. Perhaps for this reason, Jeffery’s record of arrests and convictions looked like the criminal history of an amnesiac: No punishment ever had the slightest effect in dissuading him from gratifying his impulses. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.75-6)
For many of these individuals, negative social factors- poverty, family violence, child abuse, to name but a few- were contributors to, or even the cause of, their criminality. Indeed, had these factors not been present, many of these criminals would not have turned to crime.
But some individuals commit crime simply because it pays, it’s easier than working, or it’s exciting. Not all are psychopaths, but for those who are, crime is less the result of adverse social conditions than a character structure that operates with no reference to the rules and regulations of society. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.84-5)
Earl came from a stable working-class family, the third of four children. His problems began early: In kindergarten he stabbed a teacher with a fork after she had forced him to sit in his seat; at age ten he was procuring young girls (including his twelve-year-old sister) for sexual favors for his older friends; and at age thirteen he was convicted for stealing from his parents and forging their names on checks. “Yeah, I spent a few months in juvey [a juvenile detention center], but I got away with a fucking lot more than they caught me for.”…..
…..The interviewer, fearing reprisal from Earl’s friends on the outside, left on a prolonged trip to Europe and is now working in England. Earl was recently released from prison, and my interviewer has no plans to return to Canada in the near future. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.99-101)
Grambling was able to use his charm, social skills, and family connections to gain the trust of others. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.107)
The idea that a psychopath could actually hang up a shingle as a lawyer or an investment counselor is not very comforting. But even more unsettling are the coldly calculated violations of power and trust committed by a small number of professionals-doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, counselors, childcare workers-whose very job it is to help the vulnerable. In The Mask of Sanity, for example, Hervey Cleckley vividly described a psychopathic physician and psychiatrist. He noted that the real difference between them and the psychopaths who end up in jail or in psychiatric hospitals is that they simply manage to keep up a better and more consistent appearance of normality. However, their cloak of respectability is thin and uncomfortable and easily shed, often to the dismay of their unfortunate patients. Most common are the therapists who callously use their positions to take sexual advantage of their patients, leaving them feeling bewildered and betrayed. And if the victims complain, they may be traumatized further by a system primed to believe the therapist. "My patient is clearly disturbed, hungry for affection, and prone to fantasy."
The most frightening use of trust to satisfy one's own needs involves the most vulnerable members of society. The number of children who are sexually abused by parents, other relatives, child-care workers, clergymen, and teachers is truly staggering. The most terrifying of the abusers are psychopaths, who think nothing of inflicting devastating physical and emotional damage on the children in their care. Unlike other abusers, many of whom were themselves abused as children, are psychologically disturbed, and often experience anguish about what they are doing, psychopathic abusers are unmoved--"I just take what's available," said one of our subjects, convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend's eight year old daughter.
Several months ago I received a call from a psychiatrist in a western state. She commented that more than a few private agencies contracted by the state to treat disturbed and delinquent adolescents had been charged with abusing the clients in their care. Her experience with these agencies led her to suspect that many of the offending personnel were psychopaths who willingly used their positions of power and trust to sexually mistreat their patients. She proposed that the Psychopathy Checklist be used to screen the personnel of private agencies that bid for custodial and treatment contracts. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.109-10)
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” also cited on psych forums
In a case that struck uncomfortably close to home I was invited to speak about my research on psychopaths at a conference on crime in California, and was to receive an honorarium of five hundred dollars plus expenses. Six months after the conference, I still had not been paid, so I made inquiries and learned that the organizer had been arrested at a government meeting in Washington and charged with several counts of fraud, forgery, and theft. It turns out that he had a long criminal record, had been diagnosed by several psychiatrists as a “classic psychopath,” and had forged the documents and letters of reference used to obtain his job. Needless to say, I was not the only speaker who had not been paid. To top things off, shortly after my talk he sent me a copy-complete with editorial comments-of an article on the diagnosis of psychopathy. Following his arrest, he was let out on bail and has since disappeared.
Ironically, I had spent quite a bit of time with this man, at a luncheon held just before my talk and later at a bar. I detected nothing unusual or suspicious about him; my antenna failed to twitch in his presence. Would I have lent him money? Possibly. I do recall insisting that I pick up the bar tab. He wasn’t wearing a bell around his neck! (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.112-3)
An article in Forbes headed SCAM CAPITAL OF THE WORLD described the Vancouver Stock Exchange as “infested with crooked promoters, sons of crooked promoters and sons of friends of crooked promoters.” Local newspapers continually report a litany of scams, swindles, phony stock promotions, and blatant hype designed to boost share prices on the Exchange. Penalties for being caught are often laughable, and they certainly do little to dampen the wild and voracious scheming. If I were unable to study psychopaths in prison, my next choice would very likely be a place like the Vancouver Stock Exchange. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.119)
THE LAWYER FOR one of the individuals (Mr. X) involved in recent insider-trading scandals traveled to Vancouver to enlist my aid in defending his client, who had been “fingered” by another player in the game (Mr. Y) The lawyer proposed that I use the Psychology Checklist to determine if the man who had named his client was a psychopath, and, saying that “money is no object,” suggested that I might want to interview Mr. Y’s friends, business associates, former classmates, and neighbors. He also said that I could be set up in a beach house near the one Mr. Y frequently used, and that all I had to do was to get to know him well enough to complete the checklist on him. When I inquired why it would be useful for him to know whether Mr. Y was a psychopath, the attorney replied that it could be crucial to his case because, as everyone knows, psychopaths are notoriously deceitful, unreliable, and eager to save their own skin at any cost. If Mr. Y could be diagnosed as a psychopath, his testimony might be discredited and the lawyer would have a better chance of working out a reasonable plea bargain with the state. Although I might have become very wealthy-“money is no object”- I declined the offer. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.121-2)
It is well known that psychopaths often convincingly malinger-fake mental illness-when it is to their advantage to do so. For example, an inmate I described earlier was able to con his way into a psychiatric unit-and back out again-by slanting his responses to the questions on a widely used psychological test. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.140)
Several years ago one of my former students, a lover of Siamese cats, put an ad in a lonely-hearts column, and several replies came from prison inmates, including a psychopath whom she had previously interviewed as part of our research on psychopathy. The prose of his letter was flowery, full of syrupy descriptions of warm sunsets, long walks in the rain, loving relationships, the beauty and mystery of Siamese cats, and so forth, all of which stood in stark contrast to his documented record of violence toward both sexes. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.147-8)
It is difficult for most of us to understand how some people can disregard the monstrous crimes committed by the killers they so admire. What is clear, however, is that these devoted admirers are often victims of their own psychological hang-ups. Some participate because of a romantic need for unrequited love, others because of the notoriety, titillation, or vicarious danger they experience, such as abolition of the death penalty, a soul to be saved, or the firm belief that the crimes were an inevitable result of physical or emotional abuse in childhood (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.150-1)
Threats of punishment petty theft from other children and parents persistent aggression, bullying, and fighting a record of unremitting truancy, p.158
The Roots of the Problem
"1 know now, so there's no sense in lying any more," said Mrs. Penmark to her daughter Rhoda. "You hit him with the shoe: that's how those half-moon marks got on his forehead and hands."
Rhoda moved off slowly, an expression of patient bafflement in her eyes; then, throwing herself on the sofa, she buried her face in a pillow and wept plaintively, peering up at her mother through her laced fingers. But the performance was not at all convincing, and Christine looked back at her child with a new, dispassionate interest, and thought, "She's an amateur so for; but she's improving day by day. She's perfecting her act. In a few years, her act won't seem corny at all. It'll be most convincing then, I'm sure."
—William March, The Bad Seed
The Scene described above is from a bestselling novel that capitalized on the unthinkable and "monstrous" idea of children simply "born bad." The novel told the story of a little girl named Rhoda Penmark, whose true nature was revealed in the book when she murdered a classmate:
There had always been something strange about the child, but [her parents] had ignored her oddities, hoping she would become more like other children in time, although this had not happened; then, when she was six and they were living in Baltimore, they entered her in a progressive school which was widely recommended; but a year later, the principal of the school asked that the child be removed. Mrs. Penmnrk called for an explanation, and the principal, her eyes fixed steadily on the decorative gold and silver sea horse her visitor wore on the lapel of her pale gray coat, said abruptly, as though both tact and patience had long since been exhausted, that Rhoda was a cold, self-sufficient, difficult child who lived by rules of her own, and not by the rules of others. She was a fluent and a most convincing liar, as they'd soon discovered. In some ways, she was far more mature than average; in others, she was hardly developed nt all. . . . But these things had only slightly affected the school's decision: the real reason for the child's expulsion was the fact that she had tunned out to be an ordinary, but quite accomplished, little thief. . . . with none of the guilts and none of the anxieties of childhood; and of course she had no capacity of affection either, being concerned only with herself, (p. 40-41]
The story told in The Bad Seed is really that of Rhoda's mother, Christine Penmark, and it is a story of guilt. Christine Penmark, after forcing herself to see her daughter clearly for the budding psychopath she was, asks herself how on earth the relatively calm, orderly, loving, and promising family life she and her attentive husband had provided resulted in nothing short of a child murderer.
Eerie as it seems, this novel is remarkably true to life. The parents of psychopaths can do little but stand by helplessly and watch their children tread a crooked path of self-absorbed gratification accompanied by a sense of omnipotence and entitlement. They frantically seek help from a succession of counselors and therapists, but nothing seems to work. Bewilderment and pain gradually replace the expected pleasures of parenting, and again and again they ask themselves, "Where did we go wrong?"
To many people the very idea of psychopathy in childhood is inconceivable. Yet, we have learned that elements of this personality disorder first become evident at a very early age. A mother who read of my work in a newspaper article wrote this note to me, clearly in desperation: "My son was always willful and difficult to get close to. At five years old he had figured out the difference between right and wrong: if he gets away with it, it's right; if he gets caught, it's wrong. From that point on, this has been his mode of operation. Punishment, family blowups, threats, pleas, counseling, even a run at what we called 'psychology camp/ haven't made the slightest difference. He is now fifteen and has been arrested seven times."
Another mother wrote that her family was being held hostage by the young boy they had adopted several years earlier. As he learned his way around the world and became more aware of his powers of manipulation and intimidation, this child became the chief actor in a chaotic and heartrending family drama. At the time she wrote the letter, the mother had just given birth, and she and her husband were now in fear for its well-being in the presence of their incomprehensible adopted son.1
Many people feel uncomfortable applying the term psychopath to children. They cite ethical and practical problems with pinning what amounts to a pejorative label on a youngster. But clinical experience and empirical research clearly indicate that the raw materials of the disorder can and do exist in children. Psychopathy does not suddenly spring, unannounced, into existence in adulthood. The precursors of the profile described in the preceding chapters first reveal themselves early in life.2
Clinical and anecdotal evidence indicates that most parents of children later diagnosed as psychopaths were painfully aware that something was seriously wrong even before the child started school. Although all children begin their development unrestrained by social boundaries, certain children remain stubbornly immune to socializing pressures. They are inexplicably "different" from normal children—more difficult, willful, aggressive, and deceitful; harder to "relate to" or get close to; less susceptible to influence and instruction; and always testing the limits of social tolerance. In the early school-age years certain hallmarks emphasize the divergence from normal development:
repetitive, casual, and seemingly thoughtless lying
apparent indifference to, or inability to understand, the feelings, expectations, or pain of others
defiance of parents, teachers, and rules
continually in trouble and unresponsive to reprimands and threats of punishment
petty theft from other children and parents
persistent aggression, bullying, and fighting
a record of unremitting truancy, staying out late, and absences from home
a pattern of hurting or killing animals
early experimentation with sex
vandalism and fire setting
The parents of such children are always asking themselves, "What next?" One mother, with a graduate degree in sociology, told me that at age five her daughter—whom I'll call Susan— "tried to flush her kitten down the toilet. I caught her just as she was about to try again; she seemed quite unconcerned, maybe a bit angry, about being found out. I later told my husband about the episode, and when he asked [Susan] about it she calmly denied that it had happened. . . . We were never able to get close to her, even when she was an infant, and she was always trying to have her own way, if not by being sweet then by throwing a tantrum. She lied even when she knew we were aware of the truth. . . . We had another child, a son, when [Susan] was seven, and she continually teased him in cruel ways. For example, she would take his bottle away and brush his lips with the nipple, drawing it away while he frantically tried to suck. . . . She's now thirteen, and although sometimes she puts on her sweet and contrite act we're generally tormented by her behavior. She's truant, sexually active, and always trying to steal money from my purse."
Adolescent Behavior Disorders and Psychopathy'
The American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic "bible," DSM-1V, has no category that captures the full flavor of the psychopathic personality in children and adolescents. Rather, it describes a class of Disruptive Behavior Disorders characterized by behavior that is socially disruptive and is often more distressing to others than to the people with the disorders. Three overlapping subcategories are listed:
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, characterized by de-velopmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperacrivity
conduct disorder, a persistent pattern of conduct in which the basic rights of others and major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated oppositional defiant disorder, a pattern of negative, hostile, and defiant behavior without the serious violations of the basic rights of others that are seen in conduct disorder
None of these diagnostic categories quite hits the mark with young psychopaths. Conduct disorder comes closest, but it fails to capture the emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal personality traits—egocentricity, lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse, and so forth—that are so important in the diagnosis of psychopathy. Most adult psychopaths probably met the criteria for a diagnosis of conduct disorder when they were younger, but the reverse is not true—that is, most children with conduct disorder will not become adult psychopaths. But there is a subcategory of conduct disorder—with "poor social relatedness, little anxiety, high levels of aggression, and other 'psychopathic' characteristics"— that is virtually the same as the disorder defined and diagnosed by the Psychopathy Checklist in adults.3
More direct evidence of psychopathy in children comes from a recent study conducted at two child-guidance clinics, one in Alabama and the other in California. The children, mostly males aged six to thirteen, had been referred for a variety of emotional, learning, and behavioral problems. Basing their work on the Psychopathy Checklist, the researchers, headed by Paul Frick of the University of Alabama, assessed each child for the presence of the personality traits and behaviors described in chapters 3 and 4 of this book. The research teams identified a subgroup of children with much the same pattern of emotional/ interpersonal features and socially deviant behaviors that characterizes adult psychopaths. For these researchers, and for countless numbers of bewildered and despairing parents, childhood psychopathy became a stark reality.
A Difficult Challenge: How to Respond
Most of the children who end up as adult psychopaths come to the attention of teachers and counselors at a very early age, and it is essential that these professionals understand the nature of the problem they are faced with. If intervention is to have any chance of succeeding, it will have to occur early in childhood. By adolescence, the chances of changing the behavioral patterns of the budding psychopath are slim.
Unfortunately, many of the professionals who deal with these children do not confront the problem head-on, for a variety of reasons. Some take a purely behavioral approach, preferring to treat specific behaviors—aggression, stealing, and so forth—rather than a personality disorder with its complex combination of traits and symptoms. Others feel uncomfortable with the potential long-term consequences to the child or adolescent who is diagnosed with a disorder widely believed to be untreatable. Still others find it difficult to imagine that the behaviors and symptoms they see in their young clients are not simply exaggerated forms of normal behavior, the result of inadequate parenting or poor social conditioning, and therefore treatable. All kids are egocentric, deceitful, and manipulative to a degree-a simple matter of immaturity, they argue-much to the dismay of the harried parents who daily must deal with a problem that refuses to go away and even worsens.
I agree that it is no light matter to apply psychological labels to children-or to adults. Perhaps the issue with the most pressing consequences for children is the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” whereby a child who has been labeled a troublemaker may indeed grow to fit the mold, while others,-teachers, parents, friends-reinforce the process by subtly conveying their negative expectations.
Even if the procedures meet accepted scientific standards, no diagnosis is free from error or misapplication by careless or incompetent clinicians. For example, I read of a case in which a young girl was diagnosed as schizophrenic by a psychiatrist. It was later confirmed that she was actually being starved by her parents; once she received proper care her condition improved dramatically. In hundreds of other known cases, and probably countless unknown ones, incorrect psychiatric diagnoses have had a profound impact on patients' lives. And it's not hard to imagine these consequences being compounded if a misdiagnosis means that other, treatable problems are overlooked.
On the other hand, failing to recognize that a child has many or most of the personality traits that define psychopathy may doom the parents to unending consultations with school principals, psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors in a vain attempt to discover what is wrong with their child and with themselves. It may also lead to a succession of inappropriate treatments and interventions—all at great financial and emotional cost.
If you are uncomfortable applying a formal diagnostic label to youngsters, then avoid doing so. However, do not lose sight of the problem: a distinct syndrome of personality traits and behaviors that spells long-term trouble, no matter how one refers to it. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p. 155-64)
Ken Magid and Carole McKelvey use the concept of psychopathy to account, at least in part, for the burgeoning crime statistics among the young. To illustrate the point they present a disturbing list of recent headlines from newspapers across the country; (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p. 164)
As with most controversies, the “truth” no doubt lies somewhere in between. That is, psychopathic attitudes and behaviors very likely are the result of a combination of biological factors and environmental forces.
Evidence of the genetic and biological bases of temperament, the ability of some forms of brain damage to produce psychopathiclike symptoms, and the early appearance of psychopathic behaviors in children provide frameworks for several biological theories on the origins of psychopathy.
The relatively new discipline of social biology argues that psychopathy is not so much a psychiatric disorder as an expression of a particular genetically based reproductive strategy. Simply, sociobiologists assert that one of our main roles in life is to reproduce, thereby passing on our genes to the next generation. We can do so in a number of ways. One reproductive "strategy" is to have only a few children and to nurture them carefully, thus ensuring that they have a good chance of survival. A different strategy is to have so many children that some are bound to survive, even if they are neglected or abandoned. Psychopaths supposedly adhere to an extreme version of the latter strategy: They reproduce as often as possible and waste little energy in worrying about the welfare of their offspring. In this way, they propagate their genes with little or no personal investment.
For male psychopaths, the most effective way to have lots of children is to mate with--and quickly abandon--a large number of women. Unless a psychopath is so attractive or charming that women actively pursue him, he can best accomplish his goal by deception, manipulation, cheating, and misrepresenting his status. One of our psychopathic subjects, a thirty-year-old fraud artist, has had dozens of common-law marriages, the first when he was age sixteen. He had a peripheral association with several rock stars and often passed himself off as their agent and personal confidant. He had little difficulty in convincing aspiring entertainers that he could give their careers a big boost. In eight cases that I know about, he moved in with such women, and as soon as they became pregnant he left them. Asked about his children, he said, "What's there to tell? They're kids, that's all."
Terry is twenty-one, the second of three boys born into a wealthy and highly respected family. His older brother is a doctor and his younger brother is a scholarship student in his second year of college. Terry is a first-time offender, serving two years for a series of robberies committed a year ago. He is also a psychopath…….
Sociobiologists don't argue that the sexual behavior of people is consciously directed to passing on their gene pool, only that nature has provided us with various strategies for doing so, one of which happens to be the "cheating" strategy used by psychopaths. When asked if he was promiscuous because he wanted to have lots of children and thus attain a sort of "genetic immortality," one of our psychopathic subjects laughed and said, "I just like to fuck."
The behavior of female psychopaths also reflects a cheating strategy, one in which sexual relations are had with a large number of men and the welfare of the offspring is ignored. “I can always have another,” a female psychopath coldly replied when I questioned her about an incident in which her two-year-old daughter was beaten to death by one of her many lovers. (Two older children had previously been taken into protective custody.) When asked why she would want to have another child, given her obvious lack of concern for the fate of her first three, she said, “I love children.” Like most of the female psychopaths we study, her expressed affection for children was starkly contradicted by her behavior. Female psychopaths routinely physicallt or emotionally neglect their children or simply abandon them as they move from one sexual encounter to the next. A chilling illustration is provided by Diane Downs, who abused, neglected, and eventually shot her children, all the while having a prolonged series of affairs. She also became a “professional” surrogate mother, eager to become pregnant for a fee.
Of course, people who make a practice of lying and cheating usually get caught. Their effectiveness then is greatly reduced, so they quickly move on to other partners, groups, neighborhoods, or cities. Their mobile, nomadic lifestyle, and the ease with which they adapt to new social environments, can be seen as part of a constant need for fresh breeding grounds.
One other point. Cheating skills may have adaptive value in some segments of a competitive society such as ours. In other words, far from landing at the bottom of the heap, psychopaths might be helped up some success ladders by their distinctive personality traits.
The sociobiological theory has strong intuitive appeal for some people, but it is difficult to test scientifically; most of the supportive evidence is circumstantial and anecdotal.
A biological theory that has been around for a long time is that, for reasons unknown, some of the psychopath’s brain structures mature at an abnormally slow rate. The basis for this theory is twofold: similarities between the EEGs (recorded brain waves) of adult psychopaths and those of normal adolescents; and similarities between some of the psychopath’s characteristics- including egocentricity, impulsivity, selfishness, and unwillingness to delay gratification-and those of children. To some investigators, this suggests that psychopathy reflects little more than a developmental delay. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p. 166-9)
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” also cited in Antisocial Personality Disorder
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” also cited on alcoholics board
Tess and her brother Benjamin had been adopted by a loving couple who were appalled and frightened by Tess’s behavior. In attempting to understand, they researched Tess’s case and learned that as babies in their biological family both children, but particularly Tess, had suffered unimaginable sexual abuse and psychological and physical neglect. Magid presented Tess as a vivid-indeed, an unforgettable-example of what can happen to children who fail to “attach” or “bond” to their parents or primary caregivers during early life. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.171-2)
While some assert that psychopathy is the result of attachment difficulties in infancy, I turn the argument around: in some children the very failure to bond is a symptom of psychopathy. It is likely that these children lack the capacity to bond readily, and that their lack of attachment is largely the result, not the cause, of psychopathy.
This possibility is conveniently overlooked by those who assert that a poor environment or improper parenting is everything. The parents of a young psychopath who has turned their lives upside down, in spite of their frantic attempts to understand and nurture him or her, will find it doubly difficult to bear when society unfairly blames them for the problem. Their psychological guilt trip to find out where they went wrong is not likely to be fruitful.
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” Roland Paulson review
An Interactive Model:
Nature and Nurture
The position I favor is that psychopathy emerges from a complex - and poorly understood - interplay between biological factors and social forces. It is based on evidence that genetic factors contribute to the biological bases of brain function and to the basic personality structure, which in turn influence the way the individual responds to, and interacts with life experiences and the social environment. In effect, the elements needed for the development of psychopathy - including a profound inability to experience empathy and the complete range of emotions, including fear - are provided in part by nature and possibly by some unknown biological influences on the developing fetus and neonate. As a result, the capacity for developing internal controls and conscience and for making emotional “connections” with others is greatly reduced.
This doesn’t mean that psychopaths are destined to develop along a fixed track, born to play a socially deviant role in life. But it does mean that their biological endowment - the raw materiel that environmental, social, and learning experiences fashion into a unique individual - provides a poor basis for socialization and conscience formation. To use a simple analogy, the potter is instrumental in molding pottery from clay (nurture), but the characteristics of the pottery also depend on the sort of clay available (nature).
Although psychopathy is not primarily the result of poor parenting or adverse childhood experiences, I think they play an important role in shaping what nature has provided. Social factors and parenting practices influence the way the disorder develops and is expressed in behavior.
Thus, an individual with a mix of psychopathic personality traits who grows up in a stable family and has access to positive social and educational resources might become a con artist or white-collar criminal, or perhaps a somewhat shady entrepreneur, politician, or professional. Another individual, with much the same personality traits but from a deprived and disturbed background, might become a drifter, a mercenary, or violent criminal.
“In each case, social factors and parenting practices help to shape the behavioral expression of the disorder, but have less effect on the individual’s inability to feel empathy or to develop a conscience. No amount of social conditioning will by itself generate a capacity for caring about others or a powerful sense of right and wrong. To extend my earlier analogy, psychopathic “clay” is much less malleable than is the clay society’s potters usually have to work with.
One implication of this view for the criminal justice system is that the quality of family life has much less influence on the antisocial behaviors of psychopaths than it does on the behavior of most people….. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p. 173-4)
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” also cited in psych forums
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” also cited on Political Ponerology
The destructive potential of diagnostic labels in court takes on awesome reality in the figure of Dr. James Grigson, a Texas psychiatrist known in both the popular and psychological literature as “Dr. Death.” The most serious category of murder in Texas carries only two possible sentences: life imprisonment or death. Following conviction of such a crime, a separate court proceeding is conducted before the jury to determine the sentence. To decide for the death penalty in such a sentencing hearing, the jurors must agree unanimously on three “Special Issues”:
1. That the murderer “deliberately” sought the death of his victim
2. That there is a “probability that the defendant will commit criminal acts of violence” in the future
3. That there was no reasonable “provocation” for the defendant’s murderous conduct.
It is special Issue No. 2-the question of dangerousness-that usually poses the greatest problem. In an article about Grigson, 2Ron Rosenbaum wrote:
This is where the Doctor comes in. He’ll take the stand, listen to a recitation of facts about the killing and the killer and then-usually without examining the defendant, without ever setting eyes on him until the day of the trial-tell the jury that, as a matter of medical science, he can assure them the defendant will pose a continuing danger to society as defined by special Issue No. 2. That’s all it takes. [p. 143]
In one of life’s more satisfying coincidences I received a call from CBS asking me to comment on a possible link between psychopathy and the personality of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein…..
I declined the invitation…. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.184-5)
The writer went on to recount his harrowing travels with Grigson, who testified in three capital sentencing trials in two days-and whose testimony resulted in a jury decision to execute in all three cases. His deception of the doctor on the stand is undoubtedly very worrisome to any conscientious researcher or clinician. Substituting for a detailed examination of the defendant is what’s known in legal parlance as a “hypothetical.” The prosecutor verbally paints a detailed hypothetical picture of an offender drawn from the defendant’s criminal record and other files. Then he asks the doctor, based on that description, “Do you have an opinion within reasonable medical probability as to whether the defendant… will commit criminal acts of violence that will constitute a continuing threat to society?” (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.186-7)
More than twenty years ago, in a book directed at psychologists and psychiatrists, I wrote this:
(With] few exceptions, the traditional forms of psychotherapy, including psychoanalysis, group therapy, client-centered therapy, and psychodrama, have proved ineffective in the treatment of psychopathy. Nor have the biological therapies, including psychosurgery, electroshock therapy, and the use of various drugs, fared much better.1
At this writing, in early 1993, the situation with regard to treatment remains essentially the same as it has always been. Indeed, many writers on the subject have commented that the shortest chapter in any book on psychopathy should be the one on treatment. A one-sentence conclusion such as, "No effective treatment has been found," or, "Nothing works," is the common wrap-up to scholarly reviews of the literature.
However, with our social institutions threatened by soaring crime rates and our legal, mental health, and criminal justice systems overburdened to the point of paralysis, it is essential that we continue the quest for methods to reduce the enormous impact that psychopaths have on society. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.193-4)
They are also a rich source of facile excuses for the psychopath's behavior: "I was an abused child," or, "I never learned to get in touch with my feelings." After-the-fact insights of this sort explain very little, but they sound good to those primed to hear them. I am constantly amazed at how willing some professionals are to take such statements at face value.
Group therapy and therapeutic community programs are not the only source of new tactics psychopaths use to convince others that they have changed. They frequently make use of prison programs designed to upgrade their education; courses in psychology, sociology, and criminology are ver popular [with psychopaths] These programs , like those devoted to therapy, may supply psychopaths with little more than superficial insights and knowledge of terms and concepts -buzzwords - having to do with interpersonal and emotional processes, but they allow psychopaths to convince the gullible that they have been rehabilitated or 'born again'.
Logically, our best chance of reducing the impact of adult psychopathy on society is to attack the problem early...... (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.199-200)
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” extended excerpts on “Revealing the truth for child and family justice” blogspot
Don’t blame yourself. Whatever the reasons for your involvement with a psychopath, it is important that you not accept blame for his or her attitudes and behavior. Psychopaths play by the same rules-their rules-with everyone. Of course, your own personality and behavior will have something to do with the specific nature of the interactions that occur. For example, a woman who stands up for her rights may be physically abused, whereas a more submissive woman may spend her life wondering about the whereabouts of her philandering husband. A third woman might walk out at the first sign of trouble and never look back. In each case, the basic problem is having a psychopathic husband in the first place.
Similarly, parents of a psychopathic son or daughter continually agonize over their own role in the development of the disorder. It is very difficult to convince these parents that the chances are they did nothing wrong. Again, they may have ameliorated or exacerbated the situation, but there is no evidence that parental behavior causes psychopathy.
Be aware of who the victim is. Psychopaths often give the impression that it is they who are suffering and that it is the victims who are to blame for their misery. But they are suffering a lot less than you are, and for different reasons. Don’t waste your sympathy on them; their problems are not in the same league as yours. Theirs stem primarily from not getting what they want, whereas yours result from a physical, emotional, or financial pounding. (Robert Hare “Without Conscience” p.214-5)
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” excerpts on Larouche planet
Robert Hare the Charming Psychopath
The idea that criminal behavior is primarily a product of poor environments has much less power today, in part because Hare's work seemed to teach us that crime resides inside the person. Inborn personality traits, like empathy, can influence whether people participate in crime.
When you think about criminals this way — as people who are almost genetically predisposed to crime — you are much less likely to invest in their rehabilitation than if you saw their acts as the product of unfortunate environmental circumstances.
This is why it's so important to figure out if bias and bad training are affecting Hare's test to the point that it is potentially mislabeling people.
After all, once someone is labeled as a psychopath, what can you do with him?
Nothing but lock him away. Robert Hare “Without Conscience” NPR article on controversy
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” news on Hare lawsuit from Straight.com
Robert Hare “Without Conscience” psylinks review of Hare lawsuit to stifle criticism
(Robert Hare “Without Conscience” http://cassiopaea.org/forum/index.php?action=printpage;topic=2730.0
(Robert Hare “Without Conscience” http://fitegirl.net/Download.html
(Robert Hare “Without Conscience” ponerology.com