Psychopathy has been around for hundreds of years and with a variety of names. In the early 1800s it was considered “moral insanity” and was based on the antisocial and nonconformity of individuals in society, but not necessarily criminal (Vitacco, Neuman & Jackson, 2005). Today, the same description holds true to some extent. Merriam-Webster (2008) defines psychopathy as “a mental disorder” showing symptoms of insensitive and antisocial behavior.
In the early view this disorder was viewed as just a deficit of character, where today, psychopathy is viewed as a treatable disorder that has ties to violent and non-violent behaviors (Ross, Benning, & Adams, 2007). By the early 1940s, a set standard of 16 criteria was used to diagnose this moral insanity or psychopathy. This diagnosis tool was focused on the behavior and personality traits and actions of the person, but had not been viewed as a factor in studying criminal behavior (Vitacco, Neuman & Jackson, 2005).
This early 20th Century research in the field of psychopathy, it has blossomed and grown in to a psychological field of science all its own. In the 1980s the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) which listed the criterion from the initial research as well as new criterion for a total of 20 characteristics. The PCL was used on prisoners and criminally hospitalized people to show a correlation between psychopathy tendencies, and crime and violence. Eventually the PCL was modified a bit more to include the Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL:SV), Psychopathy: Revised (PCL:R), and the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV).
All of these checklists have one thing in common; each can be used as a prediction tool in the relation of psychopathy traits and criminal activity (Reid, & Gacono, 2000; Ross, Benning, & Adams, 2007;Schmidt, McKinnon, Chattha, & Brownlee, 2006; Vitacco, Neumann, & Jackson, 2005; Vitale, Brinkley, Hiatt, & Newman, 2007; Wormith, Olver, Stevenson, & Girard, 2007). In just about every study there are four factors that are considered basic traits of the psychopathy personality. These four factors are found as predictors in each of the PCLs used in today’s psychopathy research.
The traits include interpersonal detachment, affective disorders, non-conforming behavioral traits, and general antisocial actions (Reid, & Gacono, 2000; Ross, Benning, & Adams, 2007;Schmidt, McKinnon, Chattha, & Brownlee, 2006; Vitacco, Neumann, & Jackson, 2005; Vitale, Brinkley, Hiatt, & Newman, 2007; Wormith, Olver, Stevenson, & Girard, 2007). While most of the recent research has been used mainly on the male populations in prisons, juvenile institutions and psychiatric hospitals, the researchers who long believed the standard set did not fit with the female personality have begun to change the mindset.
Many demographic factors including gender and race are being used to determine correlations and causes of the psychopathy personality. Psychopathy and Female Gender In more recent years, there has been an insurgent amount of research based on the psychopathy tendencies and predictability of female youth and adult offenders. The initial studies using any of the PCLs and including women as participants did not show a significant correlation between the psychopathic female and criminal behavior.
However, more and more studies are showing correlations between and the prediction of criminal behavior in adult and adolescent female individuals with psychopathy personalities. One study of mixed adolescents began with the assumption of female participants having underlying factors that are not accounted for in the normal questions of the CPL:YV. This assumption was based on the ideal of the differences in the development of female and male adolescents. This study discovered some interesting information.
While it was unable to predict non-violent activities in male or female participants, the female participants had extreme values in the prediction of violent behavior. This was one of the first studies including females that proved it would be used reliable for prediction of female violence (Schmidt, McKinnon, Chattha, & Brownlee, 2006). In fact, the mean association with female prediction was 21. 8 with a standard deviation of 5. 8, while male counterparts had a mean association with prediction of 22. 1 and a standard deviation of 6. 9. This shows a correlation in the reliability of the predicting feature of this checklist in relation to female participants (Schmidt, McKinnon, Chattha, & Brownlee, 2006). There have also been studies on adult females with psychopathy traits that have found a decrease in intelligence with an increase in anxiety and psychopathic tendencies. This study allowed researchers to show the validity and reliability of the PCL:SV or PCL:R as a predicting tool in violent behavior and recidivism possibilities in both female inpatients and outpatients who participated in the study.
Finally the task is not more just trying to understand the why and what of the male psychopath but the female psychopathy is gaining more ground and more research is being conducted now and in the future (Vitale, Brinkley, Hiatt, & Newman, 2007) Psychopathy and Race Within many of the same studies that are looking at female psychopaths, researchers are also declaring that race may be a factor in the onset of psychopathy tendencies. Most studies unfortunately, are coming up short with little significance in any correlation between race and psychopathic traits.
In fact, the majority of the studies are showing a much higher significance in the correlation between gender and psychopathy than race and psychopathy (Reid, & Gacono, 2000; Ross, Benning, & Adams, 2007;Schmidt, McKinnon, Chattha, & Brownlee, 2006; Vitacco, Neumann, & Jackson, 2005; Vitale, Brinkley, Hiatt, & Newman, 2007; Wormith, Olver, Stevenson, & Girard, 2007). This does not mean that the researchers will stop working toward finding the cause especially if it is a demographic in nature.
Today’s researchers are working long and hard to gain a better understanding of what is the true cause of psychopathy and if there are any signs that we can focus on when the child is still young. Psychopathy Treatments At this time, there is not known, end all, treatment for psychopathy. The reason for this is due to the number of factors that can attribute to the psychopathy traits. Just being antisocial is not psychopath and just being insensitive is not psychopath.
The fact of the matter is that most psychopaths enter treatment just to quit almost immediately. The fact that the disorder is not associated with any practical or tangible pain or symptoms make this disorder easily ignored by the patient and the community. Without tangible repercussions, the treatment is meaningless and the individual returns to the actions of the past (Reid & Gacono, 2005). Another problem is that no psychiatric medications seem to work to change the inherent traits of the psychopath.
Without the use of normal types of therapy and medication treatment of this disorder is extremely hard. The only treatment that seems to work with psychopaths is the extreme treatments with rigorous and unchangeable schedules such as “wilderness programs” and such that take the individual out of normal life and into a boot camp like setting with structure and guidance. However, this rigorous lifestyle is usually abandoned as soon and the program is over (Reid & Gacono, 2005).
Recidivism of Psychopathy Personalities Recidivism is basically the chance of a person returning to a way of life that is unacceptable, be the actions criminal, or just not acceptable to the community. In either case, a person who has been diagnosed with a psychopathy disorder is more likely to return to previous actions. In fact, the CPL:R is an incredibly accurate predictor of recidivism in persons with psychopathy tendencies. Studies have shown that a higher value in psychopathy and higher value in anxiety correlates with a lower intelligence value and a better chance of acting out in a violent way.
If the violent action had been used previously, then the chance of recidivism was even more likely (Reid, & Gacono, 2000; Ross, Benning, & Adams, 2007;Schmidt, McKinnon, Chattha, & Brownlee, 2006; Vitacco, Neumann, & Jackson, 2005; Vitale, Brinkley, Hiatt, & Newman, 2007; Wormith, Olver, Stevenson, & Girard, 2007). Another study showed that many women with psychopathy tendencies also have what is called “selective attention abnormalities” that cause the women to exhibit violent and criminal actions. The action is not emotionally motivated but is an inherent deficit in the personality of the person (Vitale, Brinkley, Hiatt, & Newman, 2007).
Conclusion In reality, more studies have to be conducted on psychopathy in mixed populations as well as single demographic variables. The field may have been around for over 200 years, but it is only now that science is catching up and finally giving some results that researches can use and help to treat this disorder (Reid, & Gacono, 2000; Ross, Benning, & Adams, 2007;Schmidt, McKinnon, Chattha, & Brownlee, 2006; Vitacco, Neumann, & Jackson, 2005; Vitale, Brinkley, Hiatt, & Newman, 2007; Wormith, Olver, Stevenson, & Girard, 2007).
Psychopathy is not psychotic. There is a difference, but the violent tendencies are just below the surface, and the reason the traits are provoked is still widely unknown. The more research and the clearer the view of this disorder, the more help we can offer to those who are diagnosed in the future.