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Determinants of Psychopathy: Innate or learnt?

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Natalie West

on 4 February 2014

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Transcript of Determinants of Psychopathy: Innate or learnt?

What is psychopathy?
Is psychopathy in a human being determined at birth or can cumulative environmental factors change this mentality?

“A personality disorder. defined by a distinctive cluster of behaviors and inferred personality traits, most of which society views as pejorative.” (Hare, 1993)

Summary of innate vs environmental influences?
Peer influence
Stressful experiences
Specific psychopathic genes
Mother-child relationships
40-60% genetic
Environmental factors influence genetics
Childhood abuse
Neural system disruption affects socialization abilities
Antisocial behaviour
Major determinant
Development problems
Genetic factors affected differently by environmental factors hence individuality
1) Glib and superficial charm
2) Grandiose exaggeration of self,
3) Need for stimulation,
4) Pathological lying,
5) Cunning and manipulativeness,
6) Lack of remorse or guilt,
7) Shallow affect,
8) Callousness and lack of empathy,
9) Parasitic lifestyle,
10) Poor behavioral controls
11) Sexual promiscuity,
12) Early behavior problems,
13) Lack of realistic long-term goals,
14) Impulsivity,
15) Irresponsibility,
16) Failure to accept responsibility for own actions,
17) Many short-term marital relationships,
18) Juvenile delinquency,
19) Revocation of conditional release,
20) Criminal versatility.

© Pat Flynn
Scores interpretation:
-0-20: non psychopathic.
-20-29: possible/ mild psychopathy.
-30-40: definite/serious psychopathy:
Psychopathy checklist-revised (the PCL-R)
©Stuart McCall
Dr Robert Hare, a researcher into criminal pschology for the FBI, constructed a series of criteria to diagnose cases of phycopathy called the ‘Pyschopathy checklist-revised (the PCL-R), which has been adopted for worldwide use in Law enforcement agencies.
A mark is given out of 40 based on the interview with the patient,.Variations of these 20 point criteria have been used in child, adolescent and self report assessments of psychopathy

Different types of psychopathy...
How to
diagnose psychopathy?

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[Accessed 25th January 2014]
Inside a psychopath
The causes for dysfunction initially are still unknown. There are several theories:

Disruption in the chemical messengers of the body cause the emotional memory to be affected and decreased recognition of sad facial expressions
The 'tailless' gene causes increased aggression and decreased mothering instincts in females
Substance abuse
Psychopathic behaviour arises from a lack of function and decreased size in different parts of the brain. Their behaviour to avoid social situations increases and their responses to other peoples sadness and fear differs from the norm.

Genetic influence increases from birth to adulthood
It is thought that genes can affect more than one trait e.g the same genes are involved when expressing anxiety and depression.
Such research in psychopathy indicates that genetic diagnoses of disorders often differ from traditional diagnoses of based on observable symptoms.
Thus the study of genetics is vital for diagnosing psychopaths.
Do Certain Life Events or Living Circumstances Lead to Psychopathy?
Socioeconomic Status
There is a link between lowered socioeconomic status (SES)/IQ level and aggressive behaviour (both instrumental and reactive) but not the emotional dysfunction component.

Living at lower SES increases the likelihood of expression or manifestations of the underlying causes of psychopathy

Attachment Theory
This places emphasis on the early relationship that children have with their primary caregiver, this is their first bonding experience.

Failure to develop this relationship can lead to inability to do this in adulthood. There is evidence to show this disrupts the process of the development of morality. Attachment theory is linked to many other disorders

“lack of attachment”
is also seen in the criteria of Hare’s definition of psychopathy.

It is difficult to ensure there is a causal link
Other populations that suffer from attachment difficulty – e.g. autism have an adverse reaction to distress in others which indicates that appropriate attachment is not necessary to develop this.

Psychopathy itself interferes with the attachment process. Interferences in attachments may become a threat stimulus, increasing the probability of reactive aggression.

Family variables
Abuse and Neglect
This results in:
Desensitization to pain
Impulsive coping style
Changes in self esteem
Increased likelihood of early contact with the justice system
Increased incidence of aggressive and antisocial behaviour.

-There is an additional theory to suggest that de-activation or detachment from emotions to cope with abuse occurs in neglected individuals or those that undergo negative or delusional interpersonal experiences

-It is then reinforced with recurring experiences, rewarded by the reduction of negative emotions.

-Emotional dysfunction is a key component of psychopathy.

This is controversial, however, as most psychopaths do not come from any obviously dysfunctional backgrounds and there is a concern over this “abuse excuse” for psychopathic criminals.

Environmental variables affect how the pathology is manifested and increase the likelihood of manifestation of psychopathic traits, however we cannot say that they alone would lead to psychopathy as causal links have not been identified. Some theories, such as the environmental stressor theory are actually contradictory to what we know about psychopathy and it's biology.
We will now go in to more detail as to how environmental influences can lead to the expression of the following common psychopathic traits.
Reactive aggression
occurs in response to a frustrating or irrational event which induces anger
Instrumental aggression
occurs to acheive a potential goal such as gaining possessions or increasing status. Psychopaths demonstrate both of these types of agression.
Emotional impairment
or detachment, callousness and lack of empathy are also seen in psychopathic individuals

: Say a person has £100,000 - the value of £50 is low relative to what they own so the incentive to mug another person for the money is low.

However if the person only has 50p, incentive is high as the reward is increased relative to what the person has already.

This increases the likelihood of displaying instrumental aggression, as seen with psychopaths, this is aggression that is used to achieve a particular goal, in this case – money
What is associated with higher Psychopathy scores (PCL-R) and social dysfunction.

Parental antisocial attitudes, inconsistent disciplinary action, physical punishment, poor performance in school, and separations

There are however conflicting ideas within this area of research and given that there is a need for retrospective recall of these past events and that the patients are usually deceitful.

There, again is
no causal link
but parental alcoholism and antisocial parents can:
Increase the amount of antisocial behaviour by providing the child with antisocial models
Increases the number opportunities for this behaviour to be exhibited
of psychopathy:
is it even possible?

" You can't turn
a cat into a mouse."
- Robert Hare
Types of Treatment - Psychotherapy and Pharmacology.
Psychodynamic - identify the perceptual distortions (formed early in life), adjust these perceptions and modify the response to become more adaptive.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - change cognitive errors based on longstanding beliefs and reformulate perceptions and behaviors.
Interpersonal therapy - presumes that problems are due to interpersonal events, which are interpreted and solutions are found so it can be overcome.
Group therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy - to develop coping skills, impulse control and stability within the individuals self.
Different time lengths and frequencies, depends on each case.
(c) Cattime
(c) Shutterstock
(c) Wikimedia
Signs a child is a psychopath
1. Hurt or bully others
2.Break major rules
3. Show no guilt when
told off
4. Callousness
5. No care for doing well
at school
6. Cold and unfeeling
7. Blame others for
their mistakes
8. Fearless
9. Punishment threats
do not bother them
10. Reward motivates
Stephen Scott, a professor of child health and behaviour in the Maudsley Hospital in South London, says: ‘Adult psychopaths are superficial and charming, but can also seem uncaring and heartless.’ He believes these characteristics can be identified in childhood.
Whether psychopathy can be diagnosed in childhood
is a controversial matter.
Can it be diagnosed?
Recent studies tracking the psychological development
of 3,000 children over 25 years have shown that
psychopaths can be diagnosed from as young as three

There are significant anatomical differences in the
brains of children who scored higher on the youth
psychopathy checklist

Psychologists such as Laurence Stienberg, a psychologist at Temple University, believes
that it is impossible to diagnose a child with
psychopathy because their brains are still developing. Furthermore diagnosis of child psychopaths is a sensitive area as psychopathic tests done on children are thought to affect the child and leave them with a stigma.

Children -
Case Studies
and Research
There was research done on the
developmental relation between adult
psychopathy and children with
hyperactivity, impulsiveness and attention
problems (HIA) and concurrent conduct
problems (CP). The results showed that the
children with HIA and CP most closely
resembled psychopathic adults than children
without HIA and CP.
Studies have shown that offenders with
psychopathic traits have an earlier onset of
offending and commit more crimes than
non psychopathic criminal youths.

It has been shown that children with
callous-unemotional traits engage in more
antisocial behaviour and are insensitive
to punishment threats

(c) WISE
Psychopathy versus Antisocial Personality Disorder
Psychopathy is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV) under Antisocial Personality Disorder, which lists those with the disorder as:
Failing to conform to social norms
Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
Irritability or aggressiveness
Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
Consistent irresponsibility
Lack of remorse

Robert Hare points out that the DSMIV has no strict criteria on personality, only behaviour.
So someone with psychopathy could be diagnosed with ASPD, but not all people with ASPD are psychopaths:
they don't have a genetic predisposition, and may have become antisocial through purely environmental factors.

Ted Bundy killed over thirty women, and was labelled a psychopath by the media, however clinicians initially diagnosed him as bipolar, with later evidence pointing towards ASPD. (Dobbert, 2007)

Kenny Bianchi, known as the Hillside Strangler, killed 12 young women with the help of his cousin. Although he initially feigned multiple personality disorder, he was eventually diagnosed as having ASPD and sexual sadism. (Orne et al, 1984)

John Wayne Gacy killed 33 boys and young men and has been immortalised in many different media as a psychopath, yet he too was diagnosed with APSD at the Psychiatric Hospital of the State University of Iowa prior to standing trial. (Sullivan & Maiken, 2000)

Emotional dysfuction is core of psychopathy
Different types of psychopathy
Use of:
mood stabilizers- help with impulsive behaviors
anti psychotics - reduce hostility, sensitivity to rejection, anxiety
antidepressants - help with ability to cope
anti convulsants - help with aggressive behaviors
Psychotherapies = aim to improve responses to social and environmental triggers and improve perception.

Pharmacotherapy - do the medicines help?
Drugs can not cure personality disorders
Treat symptoms, such as impulsive behaviour
These are the main types of therapy utilised:
© Youtube
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