Psychopaths are the nightmares depicted in movies such as Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho and Cape Fear. Evil people who feel no empathy, no remorse and enjoy the suffering of those around them. I have always been intrigued to understand what is going on in a persons mind when they do not feel empathy. No remorse. No consciousness.

Not as a judge and neither to be getting emotionally involved. Rather to get a glimpse on how life must be felt that way.

But what makes a psychopath? Are they born, are they made? Maybe a bit of both?

Trying to understand what psychopathy is and “who” psychopaths are, what they do and how they feel, I read dozens of academic articles, listened to lectures and read books on psychopathy. I also listened to some interviews with psychopaths that I found to be intriguing. Psychopaths are always associated with monsters one could grasp from miles distance, but truth is, we have probably all met a psychopath within our life. We possibly work with (or for) one. It might even be a person within our friends circle. Maybe it is the charming, friendly one? 

What can certainly be said is that psychopaths growing up in a negative environment, being emotionally and physically abused or neglected, may commit horrendous crimes due to the very nature of not having the consciousness and empathy to care for others feelings.

However, not all psychopaths end up in prison – we find psychopaths in a variety of high power positions as well, referred to as White Collar Psychopaths. The lack of fear shows to be useful for certain job positions -and hobbies, too.

Find out more about corporate psychopath in this article.

What is psychopathy?

Psychopathy is a neuropsychiatric disorder marked by deficient emotional responses, lack of empathy and poor behavioral controls.

Not all psychopaths end up in prison, although in prison a high percentage of inmates do have psychopathic traits. This may be one of the reasons why we often associate psychopaths with the worst of the worst – abusers, offenders, serial killers. But again, the research on psychopathy is biased, because we simply do not know enough about psychopaths that do not end up in prison. So the number of psychopaths who never offend and do not end up in prison can only be estimated. 

Psychopathy is an antisocial personality disorder and diagnosed as a mental health disorder in the DSM5 (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders).

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by irresponsible and impulse behavior and lies in a spectrum that can range from mild signs to severe traits.

Signs of antisocial personality disorder include manipulation and exploitation of others, a lack of concern or regret about other people, a difficulty to sustain long-term relationships, difficulty to control ones impulses and irresponsible behavior.

If the disorder can be treated is unclear and I would argue that it can be challenging, because people with antisocial personality disorder are aware of their behavior but are often not bothered to change it, which is a reason why people would seek treatment in the first place. 

You can read more about antisocial personality disorder here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4hcKa3218Y

Psychopathy vs. Sociopathy

Psychopathy and Sociopathy are oftentimes used interchangeably, however these two are not the same.

A psychopath is born, while a sociopath is being made. I watched lots of videos and found the videos by MedCircle together with Dr. Ramani incredibly helpful to learn about the differences of psychopathy and sociopathy.

I highly recommend to listen to this video, her way of explaining the science is heads-on and will be understood also by people who have no background in psychology.

Sociopath and Psychopath – the difference

No time to listen to the complete Masterclass? Check out this short 4 Minute video:

James Fallon, the psychopathic Neuroscientist

An interesting case of a high functioning psychopath is the one of James Fallon. He analyzed different brain scans, from prisoners, psychopaths, schizophrenics and people with Alzheimers. Belong all these scans was also his – and it turned out he was a psychopath. Brain regions that are supposed to be activated show limited activity within psychopaths, just like his results did, too. 

He shares a lot about his life, how he thinks and how his thought patterns may differ from non-psychopaths. I argue that we can learn a lot from a psychopath who seems so self-reflective.

Interested to read more on psychopathy and psychopaths?

Psychopathy is just really, really interesting and fascinating. I find that non-academic books cover psychopathy from a judgmental perspective, which on the one hand makes the reading interesting, on the other hand it makes it opinionated.

“Evil, Sinister, dark triad” are words that are often used and I find that an authors interpretations of actions and behaviors are not really essential to grasp the picture. However, I see that they might be relevant to some, writers and readers alike.

Antisocial personality disorder is a serious mental illness and not just sensation seeking reading pleasure. Instead of confirming the idea of “evil”, why not look with scientific curiosity on what is called deviant behavior?

I found these books to be a great starting point to get a glimpse into the psychopathic mind. 

Like anything, it may be read with a critical mind – do we want to understand or do we want to judge? I choose the latter one, because my intention is not to form an opinion, but to gain insight. Just to be clear here: It is not about feeling empathy, pity, or anything alike, but about having enough distance to not be emotionally involved, may it be positively or negatively.

Robert D. Hare – Without Conscience

Robert Hare is a forensic psychologist and the founder of the Psychopathy checklist (Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised) and one of the experts within this field. There is no way to skip this book.

You can find an excerpt of the book in this article by Psychology Today.

He also wrote Snakes in Suits, which describes the above mentioned office psychopaths. 

As the titles already suggest the books include the authors interpretation on psychopathic minds.ย 

Anna Salter – Predators

This was an extremely interesting and revealing book to me. When we think of predators, we think of the weird stranger looking from afar. But truth is, it is the people around us we trust the most. Those that offer us their help. That dine with us. Are we willing to observe them closely?

The book is dedicating much of its content to pedophiles and I’d suggest all parents to read it. The book does not include any presumptions within the field of psychology and can, and in fact should be, read by anyone.

Lydia Beneke – Psychopathinnen

This is a german book and I have not yet found an english book equivalent to this one. Lydia Beneke is just great – I read all of her books and watched many of the documentaries and talkshows that hosted her. Her way of explaining deviant behavior is not colored by her personal interpretation – she offers a glimpse into offenders mind from a differentiated perspective. 

The book Psychopathinnen focuses on female offenders. This is particularly interesting, as many of the literature on psychopaths is based on male psychopathic offenders. Which, in return, has its roots in the fact that most offenders are male.

Beneke analyzes the female psychopathic mind – a must read!

Stanton Samenow – The Criminal Mind 

It sounds more opinionated than it actually is. Are criminals born or are they made? Read this article by the American Psychological Association to understand how criminals may share certain traits and the biological risk factors contributing to criminal activity.

Samenow is an expert on criminal behavior and shares his insight into the mind of a criminal.

Understanding Psychopathy – The biopsychosocial perspective – Nicolas D. Thomson

This is an academic reading explaining the interdependence of biology, psychology and social surrounding in shaping psychopathic (offensive) behavior. This book has gotten my full attention after it introduced a female psychopathic spree killer -something that is very rare, female spree killers make up for less than 2 % of all spree killers.

It is a highly interesting read for anyone who is interested in how psychopathy and deviant behavior are not only biomedical (meaning that ones brain structure or inheritance of psychopathic traits are to blame), but how psychopathy, and deviant personality, is more complex and should be observed from different angles and perspectives.

Fascinating!

Check this book out on Perlego, where you will get a 3 month free trial when you enter my name Laila Regalado. I am not getting paid for this referral, I am just so convinced you will love this app as much as I do that I am sharing the friends-referral link. Enjoy!

Understanding psychopathy – it is more than “evil”

Psychopathy falls within the antisocial personality disorders and a psychopath can be described as a callous, manipulative charmer lacking impulse control. Psychopaths are, despite the lack of empathy they feel, not necessarily sadistic. Psychopathy is an interesting disorder because certain brain functions show limited neural activity, which makes psychopaths feel less overall emotion. Due to the limited neural activity, they are described as shallow – which is why they tend to seek out extreme situations, to allow for at least some sensation.

If one wants to understand psychopathy on a biomedical level, I highly recommend this course on Coursera: Understanding the Brain by the University of Chicago 

And also, one of my new favorite Apps is the App Wondrium. They have a huge selection of courses, ranging from psychology to astronomy, biology and theology, to spark curiosity with top teachers from all areas, highly recommended! If you ever listened to one of the Great Courses (on Audible, for example) and enjoyed listening to it, Wondrium is just the right app for you.

More books on Psychpathy?

Other books on Psychopathy I like to mention are:

  • Evil Genes
  • Psychopathic Disorders
  • Psychopathy and Criminal Behavior
  • Psychopathy and Human Evil
  • Psychopathy: Guilty Mind or Guilty Brain?
  • Professionalizing Offender Profiling

I enjoy reading Paperbacks, however I came to really appreciate the benefits of electronic books. I use my Kindle and also would not want to miss my Boox e-reader, the best invention to read with all my Apps, from Perlego to Scribd and unlimited magazines with Readly.

I would not want to miss the chance of having all of my readings with me at all times. It is so practical for bookworms and cosmopolitans!

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