Five Myths About Psychopaths


EXCERPT: . . . The Psychopath Whisperer by Kent Kiehl (2014) very insightful. Kiehl (2014) is one of the most prominent researchers in psychopathy and pioneered much of the work that has enabled scholars to better understand the neuroscience behind this condition. There are a number of myths that pervade pop culture regarding psychopaths. Here is my take on some of the most common misunderstandings regarding this condition...

1. Psychopathy is the same thing as having an anti-social personality disorder. I will admit, I didn’t realize that technically the DSM doesn’t recognize psychopathy as a diagnosable clinical condition until I read this book. This is because the DSM diagnosis of the anti-social personality is oftentimes equated with psychopathy. While there are similarities between the two, they are actually different conditions, and psychopathy is assessed using distinct criteria that has been well-tested and legitimized—unlike the criteria for personality disorders in the DSM that have been questioned both on reliability and validity grounds. In fact, Kiehl (2014) identifies that, “Without proper training, the average clinician will likely have trouble producing valid ratings of psychopathy” (p. 47). Indeed, it is not uncommon for forensic practitioners to believe that the DSM criteria for this personality disorder also identifies psychopathy, but this is in fact not the case. The numbers suggest about one-third of patients who are diagnosed with this personality disorder also meet the criteria for psychopathy, so while there are critical overlaps, they remain distinct conditions. This distinction highlights the limitations of the DSM, one of them being that the affective features of psychopathy are not easily identified or addressed via a diagnosis of an anti-social personality disorder.

[...] 3. Mass shooters are psychopaths. Perhaps no other myth is most resonant and dangerous given the cultural context of mass violence in this moment in time. While it is tempting to claim that shooters who engage in mass violence are psychopaths, this is wildly inaccurate. While psychopaths are over-represented in the criminal population, the majority of mass shooters are not violent because of an underlying mental illness but because of other, more predictable elements of mass violence such as: access to guns, a sense of entitlement, radicalization online, etc. For instance, despite the common rhetoric corporate media transmits in the aftermath of mass violence, the research suggests that less than 4% of mass shooters meet the diagnostic criteria for any mental illness (refer to my previous post for resources). Psychopathy does predict recidivism for former inmates—in fact, inmates who score high on this measure are four to eight times more likely to recidivate than inmates with lower scores (Kiehl, 2014). However, the crimes that they engage in while oftentimes violent are not the types of mass violence that we regularly see with these mass shootings. In fact, “most individuals who commit killing sprees do not meet criteria for psychopathy” (Kiehl, 2014, p. 201). Mass shootings are a symptom of a different problem in our culture, not a demonstration of psychopathy per se. (MORE - details)
Quote:Is it possible that deficits in the psychopathic brain can be rewired with early intervention? In fact, Kiehl (2014) details a groundbreaking treatment approach pioneered by the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Wisconsin that combines intensive, one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy for youth with elevated psychopathy traits that effectively reduces not only violent crime rates among participants but even the severity of the type of crimes committed. The Center continues to treat some of the state’s most violent youth offenders and is considered successful. Unfortunately, its model for treatment of at-risk youth has not been adopted widely across the country.

That's definitely good news. It gives us hope that psychopathy is not just an inevitable life sentence.

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