Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian professor and researcher renowned in criminal psychology, has spent three decades studying the concept known as the psychopath. He created and used the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, Revised (PCL-R) to determine the level of “psychopathy” each psychopath he studies displays. However, as it turns out, the PCL-R has been hailed as among the most accurate instruments available for risk for violence. Hare has devoted most of his academic career to the investigation of psychopathy, its nature, assessment, and implications for mental health and criminal justice. Hare consults with law enforcement, including the FBI and the RCMP, sits on the Research Advisory Board of the new FBI Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center (CASMIRC), and is a member of the FBI Serial Murder Working Group.
When he completed his Masters Degree in Psychology in 1960 he went to work before undertaking his Ph.D. Hare’s first assignment was in British Columbia Penitentiary near Vancouver, Canada. The prisoners recognized Hare’s naivety and took advantage. His first consultation was with a prisoner named “Ray“, who walked into Hare’s office wielding a knife and assuring Hare he intended to use it on another inmate. Hare was caught at a crossroads: if he informed prison officials he wouldn’t be trusted; if he said nothing he violated prison rules. Hare chose not to report Ray and from that moment, Ray knew he had Hare trapped in one of his many “manipulations.” Astounded by the unhealthy relationship he developed with Ray over the following eight months, Hare realized that psychopathy had become his arena of study. Defining psychopathy was a challenge since there was no official recognition of this mental disorder at the time. Hare listed the characteristics in the above PCL-R chart, divided into different factors. Hare’s mission became assisting survivors of psychopathy to repair their shattered lives, and to help the general population to recognize psychopaths in their midst.
He determined that two of the most devastating effects of a psychopath are:
- callous disregard for others
- predatory and violent behaviours
Hare determined that not all killers are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are killers. For instance, a CEO who makes a profit for a large corporation and does so by exploiting people in a sweatshop is a psychopath, however s/he isn’t a killer. A killer who is a non-psychopath may be a person who explodes in a jealous rage and kills a spouse or lover. The latter hasn’t targeted or stalked a helpless victim. There was no goal until itself to kill the spouse. It happened during a moment of weakness. Nevertheless, the personality structure and unethical treatment of others is common to both criminal and non-criminal psychopaths.
In 1941, psychologist Dr. Hervey Cleckley published the text The Mask of Sanity. Up until his groundbreaking work, a psychopath was referred to as possessing insanity without delirium, moral insanity and psychopathic inferiority. He developed 16 traits that defined the psychopath and that are still significant today. They appear in the PCL-R. In 1952 the word psychopath was replaced in psychiatric nomenclatures with sociopathic personality. These terms eventually became interchangeable. In 1968, the DSM-II listed the sociopath as personality disorder, antisocial type.
After several years of research, Hare created the Psychopathy Checklist (since revised). PCL-R checklist is a scale that ranges from , 1 being the mildest, least dangerous psychopath, 20 being the most horrific. An individual’s score has important consequences for the future. There is potential for harm if the test is administered incorrectly, and thus Hare argues that the test should only be considered valid if administered by a qualified clinician under scientifically controlled and licensed conditions. The PCL-R is a clinical rating scale (rated by a psychologist or other professional trained in the field of psychology/psychiatry) of 20 items, A value of 0 is assigned if the item does not apply, 1 if it applies somewhat, and 2 if it fully applies. In addition to lifestyle and criminal behavior assesses factor 1:
- superficial charm,:
- pathological lying,
- lack of remorse,
- poor behavioral controls,
- failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.
The scores are used to predict risk for criminal re-offence and probability of rehabilitation.
Factor 2 assesses:
- antisocial personality disorder,
- low stress
- low anxiety
- low empathy
The two factors are highly correlated and they result from a single underlying disorder. Cooke and Michie indicated a three-factor structure, with those items from factor 2 relating to antisocial behaviour:
- criminal versatility,
- juvenile delinquency,
- revocation of conditional release,
- early behavioural problems
- poor behavioural controls
|Factor 1||Factor 2||Other items|
|Facet 1 Interpersonal
Facet 2 Affective
|Facet 3 Lifestyle
Facet 4 Antisocial
The official stance of the American Psychiatric Association as presented in the DSM-IV-TR is that psychopathy and sociopathy are misnomers. The World Health Organization takes a different stance in its ICD-10, by referring to psychopathy, antisocial personality, asocial personality, and amoral personality as dissocial personality disorder. Hare states psychopathy should be considered distinct from the DSM-IV’s antisocial personality disorder construct, even though ASPD and psychopathy were intended to be equivalent in the DSM-IV. Hare states the percentage of incarcerated criminals who are ASPD is somewhere between 80 and 85 percent, whereas only 20% of these criminals would qualify for what Hare’s scale considers to be a psychopath. This twenty percent accounts for 50 percent of all the most serious crimes committed, including half of all serial and repeat rapists. watch serial killers: Anatomy of Crime
The Mind – PBS Documentary
In the documentary, Hare assessed Al, a middle-aged man who had committed 46 crimes including drugs and bank robbery. Hare tested Al on the process of language. Al admitted quite proudly to being extraordinarily good at lying; stated he wasn’t hyperactive and that he grew up in a violent area of Vancouver, B.C. He remembered incidents where he acted out in irrational rage, to emphasize his macho self-image. By 15 he was in prison with hardened inmates and he became sensitive to how others treated him. He stabbed another prisoner. Al watched words on a screen, some that had emotional associations and others that were neutral. Al’s response time was the same with both sets of words. Hare concluded that psychopaths can easily say one thing, yet do another. Emotional words do not have the same limbic activity in the brain as they do for non-psychopaths. watch the psychopath test
Psychopaths and Self-Defeat
Since psychopaths frequently cause harm through their actions, it is assumed they are not emotionally attached to the people they harm. However psychopaths are also careless in the way they treat themselves. They fail to alter their behavior so as to prevent them from future discomfort. They lack “the qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony”. They appear unable to make the distinction between their behaviour and legal and social consequences. Psychopaths must want to do something about it. But here is the crux: Psychopaths don’t feel they have psychological problems; they see no reason to change their behavior to conform with societal standards. For that reason, in spite of decades of research and attempts at rehabilitation, the psychopath remains. And so does the devastation they leave in their wake. (For an online support group on surviving the psychopath click here).
Hare offers advice on recognizing general traits in a psychopath to help avoid such a person:
- ignore props – a winning smile, glib charm…these traits provide a significant sleight-of-hand
- anyone who seems too perfect to be true, is. Psychopaths hide their dark side until the victim is deeply involved in a relationship.
- know yourself and your weak points in a relationship. Know your triggers.
- set firm ground rules so you avoid power struggles you cannot win.
- seek professional advice. Don’t doubt yourself. People often wonder if they are over-reacting to oddities in their relationships, but it’s likely they aren’t.
Children and Psychopathy – Born or Made?
Children aren’t officially diagnosed as psychopaths or sociopaths until they are adults, since their personalities are changing, sometimes radically, during their early development. With some children, a change of environment can have a very positive impact on that child’s disposition. There are many other reasons not to label children’s personalities until they are beyond their formative years, and into their late teens. Calling a child a psychopath also carries social implications that may be very damaging for that child’s future. People are frightened of the word psychopath. I am, too. If I met a child who was assessed as a psychopath I am certain I wouldn’t want that child playing with mine. It’s also well-known that most psychopaths seem to be impossible to treat or rehabilitate, hence there is a double stigma against them.
Recent studies revealed significant anatomical differences in the brains of adolescent children who scored high on the youth version of the Psychopathy Checklist — an indication that the trait may be innate. One of the challenges of working with severely disturbed children are discovering the roots of their problems. This is particularly true for callous-unemotional kids because their behavior, a mix of impulsivity, aggression, manipulativeness and defiance, often overlaps with other disorders. For example, does a child have A.D.H.D. and the rest is C.U.? Or is she fluctuating up and down and that’s bipolar disorder? If a kid isn’t paying attention does that reflect oppositional behavior or is the child depressed, and therefore not paying attention because he can’t get up the energy to do it?
Miguel and Anne – Case Study – “Firstborn Syndrome”
Michael was Miguel and Anne’s firstborn son. Anne described him as “bratty” until the age of 3 when his brother, Allan, was born. Michael became extremely irrational and uncontrollable, having temper tantrums that lasted for hours. By the time he turned 5, Michael had an uncanny ability to switch from full-blown anger to moments of pure rationality or charm. By the age of 8, Michael screamed and punched holes in the wall if he was told to put on his shoes. When he was unwatched, he pulled out his hair or cut up his trousers.
During a homework assignment, Michael shrieked and wept as Anne tried to reason with him. Anne pleaded, ‘Michael, remember the brainstorming we did yesterday? All you have to do is take your thoughts from that and turn them into sentences, and you’re done! I thought we brainstormed so we could avoid all this drama today.’ Michael stopped dead in the middle of screaming, turned to his mother and said in a flat, adult voice, ‘Well, you didn’t think that through very clearly then, did you?’ ” It wasn’t as though Michael’s parents were unaware of treatment methods for their son: Anne was a former elementary-school teacher with a degree in child psychology.
Anne and Miguel were finally referred to Dan Waschbusch, a researcher at Florida International University. Anne and Miguel were presented with another possible diagnosis: their son Michael might be a psychopath. Waschbusch used a combination of psychological exams and teacher- and family-rating scales, including the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits, the Child Psychopathy Scale and a modified version of the Antisocial Process Screening Device — all tools designed to measure the cold, predatory conduct associated with adult psychopathy. Michael was almost two standard deviations outside the normal range for callous-unemotional behavior, which placed him on the severe end of the spectrum. When a child psychologist paid Anne and Miguel a home visit, Michael remarked crisply, “As you can see, I don’t really like Allan.” When asked if that was really true, he said: “Yes. It’s true,” then added tonelessly, “I hate him.”
As the night progressed, Michael’s behavior grew more violent. Allan unpaused a video Michael had been watching and seeing the video playing, Michael gave a keening scream, then his gaze settled on Allan. Grabbing a wooden chair, he hoisted it overhead as though to do violence but paused for several seconds, giving Miguel a chance to yank it away. Shrieking, Michael ran to the bathroom and began slamming the toilet seat down repeatedly. Dragged out and ordered to bed, he sobbed pitifully. “Daddy! Daddy! Why are you doing this to me?” he begged. “No, Daddy! I have a greater bond with you than I do with Mommy!” Allan had some fault with Michael, at one point taunting him for crying. “He loves to poke at him when he can,” Miguel said. Michael called out: “He knows the consequences, so I don’t know why he does it. I will hurt him.” Miguel: “No you won’t.” Michael: “I’m coming for you, Allan.”
A growing number of psychologists believe that psychopathy, like autism, is a neurological condition that can be identified in children as young as 5. Crucial to this diagnosis are callous-unemotional traits, which researchers believe distinguish “fledgling psychopaths” from children with ordinary conduct disorder, who are also impulsive and hard to control and exhibit hostile or violent behavior. A 9-year-old boy named Jeffrey Bailey pushed a toddler into the deep end of a swimming pool in Florida. As the boy struggled and sank to the bottom, Bailey pulled up a chair to watch. Bailey explained that he was curious to see someone drown. He was untroubled by the prospect of jail but was pleased to be the center of attention.
There are valid reasons to avoid and try to pretend psychopaths do not exist in the numbers they currently do. Unfortunately, this doesn’t deter their behaviours and in turn, does nothing to protect the rest of us. read the depressive and the psychopath
For the Handbook of Adolescent and Child Psychopathy click here.
To link to Robert Hare’s website click here www.hare.org
to watch Killers without Conscience click here