Encyclopedia > Psychopathy

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Theoretically, psychopathy is a three-faceted disorder involving interpersonal, affective and behavioral characteristics.

Interpersonally, psychopaths are manipulative, grandiose,egocentric and forceful. Affectively, they are shallow and non-empathetic; they do not experience empathy, guilt or remorse. Behaviorally, they are impulsive, irresponsible and sensation seeking.

In contemporary research and clinical practice, psychopathy is most commonly assessed with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist­ Revised (PCL-R), which is a clinical rating scale with 20 items. Each of the items in the PCL-R is scored on a three-point scale according to specific criteria through file information and a semi-structured interview. Score 0 if the trait is absent, 1 if it is possibly or partially present and 2 if it is present. The item scores are summed to yield a total score ranging from 0 to 40 which is then considered to reflect the degree to which they resemble the prototypical psychopath. A score > 30 supports a disgnosis of psychopathy.

The items are as follows:

Interpersonal dimension

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Conning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Affective dimension

  • Need for stimulation/-proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Early behavioral problems
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release

Behavioral dimension

  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

A note of caution - the test must be administered by a trained mental health practitioner under controlled conditions for it to have any validity.

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