Friday, August 19, 2005

The Nonviolent Psychopath, with links.

Last year in my ethics course, in the section on empathy, I emphasized that not all psychopaths are violent. The textbook I was using defined psychopaths as people who were completely lacking in empathy, and further described their identifying marks, such as a lack of emotional depth, grandiose self-image, endless deciet and manipulation, etc. The type is familiar from movie killers, but in the real world the remorseless rarely need to use violence to achieve their ends. About 1% of the population is entirely lacking in empathy. During your life, you will have to deal with someone who is not violent, but clearly psycho. Lord knows I have. (The "nonviolent" in nonviolent psychopath isn't a reference to Gandhian ahimsa, merely a description of a lack of Hollywood style brutality.)

In this discussion I was inspired in part by people I had met, and in part by articles like this one about the work of Robert Hare (via /.). Hare developed a checklist (the PCL-R) used by police to identify psychopaths. Recently, though, Hare has turned his expertise on corporate executives, and has lent some scientific credibility to the bit of folk wisdom that these fuckers are all a bunch of heartless bastards.

I want to do more with this in my ethics classes, because I think students will recognize the nonviolent psychopath as an other that they will want to distance themselves from, leading them to cultivate their own empathy, ability to feel remorse, etc. (Look, you can make people more ethical without having endless discussions of ethical relativism!)

With that in mind, some links for future reference:

Here is Hare's homepage.

Here is where he warns you not to try to PCL-R at home, because of the risk of randomly accusing people of being psychopaths. (Damn! I love using psychological checklists as party games.)

Here is an abstract for an article by two British psychologists who used the MMPI and the DSMII-DP to find higher levels of psychopathy among corporate types.

ok, that's all for now.

Update: The link to the article by the British psychologists is broken. Here is the full citation: Board, Belinda Jane, and Katarina Fritzon. 2005. Disordered personalities at work. Psychology, Crime and Law 11 (1):17 - 32. DOI: 10.1080/10683160310001634304


Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm actually writing a paper on evolution of man. I talk about Psychopaths as highly evolved, saying they have virtually no weakness in society. and if isolated would be the leader in every industry on the planet.

I was wondering if you had a distribution rates on psychopaths, such as sex, race or anything else

send any info you have to me at

Ryan Shields said...

The non violent psychopath has a favorite game to play. It is known as "organized stalking". It is the non violent psychopaths favorite thing in the whole world.