The Myth of the Born Criminal: Psychopathy, Neurobiology, and the Creation of the Modern Degenerate 9781442622937

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The Myth of the Born Criminal: Psychopathy, Neurobiology, and the Creation of the Modern Degenerate
 9781442622937

Table of contents :
Contents
Introduction
Part I
1. The Moral Foundations Of Psychopathy
2. The First Golden Age: Degeneration
3. The Second Golden Age: Psychopathy
4. The Politics Of Psychopathy
5. The Adjustable Psychopathy Portfolio
6. The Culture Of Psychopathy
Part II
7. The Language Of Persuasion
8. Neurobiology And Psychopathy
9. Conclusion: The Parlour Game
Appendix A: Morality And Psychopathy
Appendix B: The Psychometrics Of Psychopathy – On Factor Structures And Heritability Coefficients
Notes
References
Index

Citation preview

THE MYTH OF THE BORN CRIMINAL Psychopathy, Neurobiology, and the Creation of the Modern Degenerate By some estimates, there are as many as twelve million psychopaths in the United States alone. Cold-blooded, remorseless, and strangely charismatic, psychopaths commit at least half of all serious and violent crimes. And by some definitions, not only serial killers but also large numbers of corporate executives are considered to be psychopaths. In the popular imagination, psychopaths are an inescapable yet fascinating threat in our midst. But is psychopathy a brain disorder, as many scientists now claim? Or is it just a reflection of modern society’s deepest fears? The Myth of the Born Criminal offers the first comprehensive critique of the concept of psychopathy, from its eighteenth-century origins to the latest studies involving neuroimaging, behavioural genetics, and statistical research. Jarkko Jalava, Stephanie Griffiths, and Michael Maraun use their expertise in neuropsychology, psychometrics, and criminology to dispel the myth that psychopathy is a biologically based condition. Deconstructing the emotive language with which both research scientists and reporters describe the psychopaths among us, the authors explain how the idea of psychopathy offers a comforting neurobiological solution to the mystery of evil. A remarkable combination of rigorous science and clear-sighted cultural analysis, The Myth of the Born Criminal is for anyone who wonders just what truth – or fiction – lurks behind the study of psychopathy. jarkko jalava is a college professor of criminology in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Okanagan College. stephanie griffiths is a college professor in the Department of Psychology at Okanagan College. michael maraun is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University.

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The Myth of the Born Criminal Psychopathy, Neurobiology, and the Creation of the Modern Degenerate

Jarkko Jalava, Stephanie Griffiths, and Michael Maraun

University of Toronto Press Toronto  Buffalo  London

©

University of Toronto Press 2015 Toronto  Buffalo  London www.utppublishing.com Printed in the U.S.A. ISBN 978-1-4426-5037-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-4426-2836-6 (paper)

Printed on acid-free, 100% post-consumer recycled paper with vegetable-based inks.



Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication



Jalava, Jarkko, 1970–, author The myth of the born criminal : psychopathy, neurobiology, and the creation of the modern degenerate / Jarkko Jalava, Stephanie Griffiths, and Michael Maraun.



Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-4426-5037-4 (bound).  ISBN 978-1-4426-2836-6 (paperback)



1. Antisocial personality disorders.  2. Psychopaths.  3. Neurobiology. I. Griffiths, Stephanie, 1975–, author  II. Maraun, Michael, 1963–, author III. Title.



RC555.J34 2015   616.85′82   C2015-902034-4



Portions of chapter 2 were first published in J. Jalava's (2006) article, “The modern degenerate: Nineteenth-century degeneration theory and modern psychopathy research,” in Theory and Psychology, 16, 416–32.



This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.



University of Toronto Press acknowledges the financial assistance to its publishing program of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.



University of Toronto Press acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for its publishing activities.

Contents

Introduction  3 Part I 1 The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy  19 Science, Religion, and the Enlightenment  24 On the Benefits of Being Unclear  28 2 The First Golden Age: Degeneration  32 The Nineteenth Century  33 Degeneracy  36 Psychopathy and Degeneration  41 The Adjustable Degeneracy Portfolio  45 3 The Second Golden Age: Psychopathy  47 The Consensus  56 Psychopathy and Law  57 4 The Politics of Psychopathy  65 Violent Crime  66 Serial Murder  66 Politics of Crime Science  71 On Scientific Fashions  71 Culture of Fear  74 5 The Adjustable Psychopathy Portfolio  79 The Corporate Psychopath  79

vi  Contents



Psychopaths, Politics, and Power  88 The Internet  90 Degenerate Society  92 The Useful Psychopath  95

6 The Culture of Psychopathy  97 Psychopathy as Cultural Critique  98 The Hipster Psychopath  98 The Postmodern Psychopath  101 The Ideological Enemy  103 Psychopathy as Identity  104 Part II 7 The Language of Persuasion  115 Medical Terminology  118 Dangerous Knowledge  121 Public Emergency  123 The Historical Psychopath  125 Concept Flexibility  127 Equivocation  130 Paradoxes and Red Herrings  132 8 Neurobiology and Psychopathy  139 Patient Zero  139 Neurobiological Theories of Psychopathy  141 Early Theories  141 The Advent of Modern Neuroimaging  144 Limitations of Neurobiological Theories  148 Cause-and-Effect Problems  148 Correlation Masquerading as Causation  150 Patient Zero Revisited  162 9 Conclusion: The Parlour Game  163 On Sex and Litigation  163 The Harm  171 The Reptilian Stare  175 On Making Too Much Sense  181



Contents  vii

Appendix A: Morality and Psychopathy  185 Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy: On Factor Structures and Heritability Coefficients  192 The Structure of Psychopathy  192 On Technique and Metaphysics  194 The Genetic Basis of Psychopathy  199 Notes  209 References  235 Index  264

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THE MYTH OF THE BORN CRIMINAL Psychopathy, Neurobiology, and the Creation of the Modern Degenerate

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Introduction

At the turn of the nineteenth century, two physicians discovered an odd subset of criminals. The famous French mental health reformer Philippe Pinel and the equally famous American psychiatrist Benjamin Rush observed, independently of one another, that some criminals seemed strangely uninhibited and violent. What is more, these criminals showed no remorse for their actions, no matter how ghastly the crime. Pinel and Rush had a hunch that the problem – which Pinel called manie sans délire, or insanity without delirium, and Rush moral derangement – was a mental illness that selectively affected the moral faculty while sparing all other cognitive functions. Rush hypothesized that the condition had a biological cause. If he was right, his and Pinel’s discovery had the potential to revolutionize our understanding of good and evil. In time, Pinel’s and Rush’s patients would come to be known as psychopaths, and as more scientists took to studying them, an increasingly subtle picture of the psychopath’s character began to emerge. The psychopath, the American sociologists William and Joan McCord wrote in 1964, was “an asocial, aggressive, highly impulsive person, who feels little or no guilt and is unable to form lasting bonds of affection with other human beings.”1 The exact cause of psychopathy, however, remained elusive until the end of the twentieth century, when newly developed neuroimaging technology allowed researchers to study psychopaths’ brains. These studies soon showed that, when measured closely enough under the right experimental conditions, psychopaths’ and non-psychopaths’ brains showed striking differences. When one researcher submitted a report of a particularly startling finding to an academic journal, the editor wrote back: “Frankly, we found some of the brain wave patterns depicted in the paper very odd. Those EEGs

4  The Myth of the Born Criminal

couldn’t have come from real people.”2 But they did come from real people, and subsequent research supported the study’s findings – psychopaths’ brains were unique in a number of ways. Pinel’s and Rush’s intuition that psychopathy was a bona fide mental illness was right all along, and the mystery of evil, it seemed, was gradually being solved. Evil had a biological cause – which probably acted in combination with environmental causes – and the most evil among us were those who were born to be criminals. By some estimates, there are as many as 12 million psychopaths in the U.S. alone. At least half of all serious and violent crimes are committed by psychopaths, and their total economic cost could be as high as $400 billion a year.3 Most serial killers are psychopaths, but surprisingly, so are large numbers of corporate executives. Psychopaths are drawn to power and excitement, and if blessed with intelligence and education, they can wield devastating political and economic influence. War, genocide, and large-scale financial mismanagement can result from mild or severe cases of psychopathy. Psychopaths’ role in world history, a leading researcher told an interviewer, is “a really big story. It’s a story that could change forever the way people see the world.”4 This story, told with minor variations by many narrators, is the foundation story of modern biological criminology. It is also myth. Although some elements of it are true – studies have shown differences between the neurobiology of psychopaths and that of non-psychopaths, and psychopaths, by definition, cause suffering – its narrative core of scientific hunches, impending threats, and empirical breakthroughs is false. Pinel and Rush simply applied the vogue science of taxonomy to describe deviations from the Judeo-Christian moral order, neurobiological data on psychopathy remain inconclusive, and the reasoning about the social harms caused by psychopaths is circular. The fundamental reason why the science of psychopathy remains inconclusive is that the psychopathy concept, more than two centuries after it was first proposed, has never managed to break free from its roots in the JudeoChristian theory of morality. The resulting mix of scientific method and moral convention has, unsurprisingly, not produced a revolution in our understanding of evil. None of this, however, has prevented psychopathy from becoming one of the great social science success stories of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, if we measure success by strictly non-scientific criteria. Psychopathy research has blossomed into an impressive international effort, complete with intense media coverage, law



Introduction  5

enforcement and defence endorsements, a scientific society, theoretical orthodoxies and controversies, awards and recognitions, and truly interdisciplinary academic research. The biological bases of criminal behaviour in general and psychopathy in particular have, by and large, become accepted wisdom. In 2011 a prominent psychopathy researcher told a reporter that “I think there’s no longer any question, scientifically, that there’s an association between the brain and criminal behaviour. We’re beyond the point of debating that.”5 Another researcher said, “I can spend the entire day going through the literature [on psychopathy] – it’s overwhelming, and unless you’re semi-brain-dead you’re stunned by it.”6 Philosophers, legal scholars, and social scientists have already moved on to debating psychopaths’ moral and legal status. Psychopathy diagnoses are increasingly entered as evidence in courts, and expert witnesses now offer neuroimaging data to argue for psychopaths’ diminished criminal responsibility. Such excitement over crime theory is not new. Another biological theory of crime caused a similar sensation in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Degeneration theory, proposed in different variations by Benedict Morel, Cesare Lombroso, and other well-respected midto late-nineteenth-century thinkers, posited that criminals, vagrants, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and other undesirables were evolutionary throwbacks whose affliction was caused by a biological, hereditary condition. What set these “degenerates” apart from the rest of humanity was their primitive physical and psychological makeup that deteriorated with each generation. In much the same way as psychopathy today, degeneration theory offered an intuitive and empirically feasible solution to a set of serious social problems. But the similarities did not end there. Both theories spread quickly from scientific tracts to popular media, and both were adroitly marketed to tap into contemporary fears. Timing was critical: Europe and North America at the turns of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were marked by rapid technological innovation, economic expansion and integration, urbanization, the relative absence of warfare, and moral panics over urban crime. By the late nineteenth century, the European revolutions of 1848 had run their course, an economic depression had begun to lift, and cultural ties between nations had steadily improved. In the late twentieth century, the disintegration of the Soviet Union had eliminated a visible threat of global warfare, and the financial exuberance of the late 1990s would carry on into the early years of the twenty-first century. Both periods, however, were also marked by real and imagined internal threats. The

6  The Myth of the Born Criminal

latter part of nineteenth century saw a series of moral panics over vagrancy, robbery, sexual offences, and murder. High-profile crimes like those of Jack the Ripper achieved global news coverage and became – rightly or wrongly – emblematic of problems in modern city life. In the early 1990s, police reported crime rates in the U.S. and Canada had reached historic peaks, and the serial killer entered popular culture. The cultural iconography of serial killers reached its creative apogee in Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho and Jonathan Demme’s film The Silence of the Lambs, and retired criminal profilers began to produce popular books on serial and sexual homicide. Not surprisingly, this gave social scientists an unprecedented beachhead in the battle for public attention. As local crime replaced foreign threats in the popular imagination, social scientists emerged as both public intellectuals and a frontline defence against new, local threats. Degenerates and psychopaths presented credible new dangers that were, however, vague and fluid enough to encourage deep contemplation and anxiety. The ambiguity inherent in the idea of the born psychopath also guaranteed that it could be called upon to explain wider social concerns. It inspired fear over personal safety but also uneasiness about the future of political systems, nations, and even humanity. Degeneration was the key to understanding such things as the declining fitness of military recruits, religious fanaticism, even unsightly art and architecture. Psychopathy regularly features in discussions about misbehaving politicians, Internet fraud, and the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008. Yet, the essence of the born criminal story was one of salvation: scientists – particularly at the turn of the twenty-first century – were at work on diagnostic tools for psychopathy, and the public could be taught techniques for detecting the afflicted. Most serious treatises on degeneration and psychopathy concluded with the assurance that science was about to win the battle against evil. That the problem of evil was scientific was beyond question. Even though most scientists conceded certain gaps in their understanding of born criminality, few seriously doubted either the gist of their theories or the ability of science to deal with an essentially moral and social problem. But the excitement over degeneration and psychopathy was not solely due to history or scientific dogma. The idea of a shape-shifting, subhuman malefactor has deep psychological and social roots. Degeneration and psychopathy tap into standard human fears, updating and legitimizing them to reflect advances in science and shifts in popular tastes. In the late 1800s, degeneration spawned a subgenre of scientific



Introduction  7

monster fiction with books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. Popular psychopathy books began to appear in the 1990s, promising to shed light on “the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us,” as one title put it. These books offered shocking case studies of serial murder, corporate swindlers, and everyday villains, followed by typologies and indexes of their behaviour. Retired criminal profilers wrote about the art and science of criminal profiling, which in turn inspired fictional accounts of psychopaths in books, film, and TV. This allowed curious readers to engage in amateur monstrology, to take a strictly scientific interest in the “criminal mind,” and to speculate about who might or might not be a psychopath. Psychopathy took on new dimensions in the middle of the twentieth century, when it began to inspire countercultural interpretations. In the 1950s, some writers – most notably Norman Mailer – had begun to suggest that far from being a problem, psychopathy presented a viable adaptation to an individualistic, competitive Western culture. Within a few decades, evolutionary psychology gave the idea its stamp of approval, and psychopathy was primed for a cultural inversion: inspired by sensational scientific press about the disorder, some people actively sought out the diagnosis for themselves. Given the already existing cultural allure of the serial murderer, it was not surprising that the idea of psychopathy – minus the baggage of criminal convictions – sounded like ultimate freedom from social constraints. As one psychologist put it, with a tinge of envy, as a psychopath “you can do anything at all.”7 In this way, psychopathy evolved from an intellectual critique of Western society to a concrete expression of true individualism. Psychopathy spread out from courtrooms and prisons to become a full-blown cultural phenomenon. It grew into a plastic and recognizable tool for identity achievement, a stock posture of postmodern rebellion, cynicism, and emptiness. But the born criminal theory has always fundamentally rested on an empirical argument. Degenerationism was popular for over half a century not only because of its flexibility in explaining social and personal ills, but because it donned the mantle of science. Lombroso made precise measurements of the criminal physique, and his theory built on the latest sciences of his time – biological evolution, physiognomy, and physical anthropology. The empirical case for degeneration was not seriously challenged until 1913, long after its major proponents were dead, and the full realization that degenerationism was wild, pseudo-

8  The Myth of the Born Criminal

Darwinian conjecture did not arrive until the middle of the twentieth century. The empirical case for psychopathy seems comparatively stronger. Psychopathy research now uses cutting-edge neuroimaging and psychometric technology, and the data are extensive. Most published neuroimaging studies report subtle neurobiological and behavioural differences between psychopaths and non-psychopaths. As early as 1993, a prominent researcher argued that crime was so clearly a disorder that he placed “the burden of proof on those wishing to disprove this position,”8 and psychopathy, a much more restrictive category than crime, became increasingly harder to think of in any terms other than those borrowed from medicine. The biological theory of psychopathy is all the more powerful for being commonsensical. We tend to assume that abilities with the greatest survival value in human societies, such as language and intelligence, must be encoded in the brain in one way or another. It seems intuitive to include morality in this list, because it would be difficult to imagine a functioning society without it. As Lewis Terman, one of the founders of modern intelligence testing put it in 1922, “There is nothing about an individual as important as his IQ, except possibly his morals.”9 Also, some children seem to be born bad. A 2012 New York Times Magazine article reported on cases of children with “underlying neurological deficits” who, “like adult psychopaths ... seem to lack humanity,”10 and who occasionally end up committing inexplicably cruel crimes. If some of these children – as one of the New York Times cases seemed to illustrate – are raised in normal families, what other than a biological disorder could explain this? Combine this with the finding that signs of psychopathy can be detected in very small children, and the case for born criminality seems obvious. This book has two purposes. First, it describes the forces and arguments that have made the born criminal theory both a cultural and a scientific phenomenon. Second, we will show that modern psychopathy research and theory – the modern version of the born criminal theory – is in a number of ways logically dubious and contingent on more than a few cultural, moral, and metaphysical assumptions. Degeneracy at the turn of the nineteenth, and psychopathy at the turn of the twenty-first centuries did not become popular because they were supported by data. They became popular largely despite the lack of compelling data. What made the born criminal theory scientifically compelling was the ease with which the pieces seemed, at the time, to fit together. Degenerates



Introduction  9

did appear to possess ancestral characteristics, as long as those characteristics were defined in contrast to prevailing middle-class ideals of conduct, dress, company, occupation, and physique. Psychopaths, also, seem like a unique human type, even biologically. Yet, a closer look at the neurobiological and psychometric data shows no convincing evidence that psychopathy is a biologically based disorder. The desire to see the psychopath as a distinct, abnormal human type has, again, led scientists to fit ambiguous data into pre-existing ideas of good and evil, and these ideas are once more being put forth as expressions of common sense. The resulting medico/cultural/moral narrative of scientific triumph has prevailed because it is deeply satisfying on a number of levels, but as we will see in this book, it is not in fact true to data. The historical arc of the born criminal theory shows that, as pressures built for definitive answers to growing social problems to be provided, scientific caution began at some point to give way to overinterpretation and unwarranted scientific claims. Degeneration galvanized on the issue of lower-class unrest and crowd behaviour. The ensuing moral panic allowed untested but intellectually and emotionally gratifying explanations of deviance to flourish. In the late twentieth century, the born criminal theory rode into prominence on record-high crime rates, but it also had new reasons to thrive. Modern neuroimaging and statistical methods began to produce complex and suggestive results, which many social scientists – especially those who appeared in popular media – optimistically interpreted as support for currently popular biological theories. As public spending on biological research increased at the cost of other kinds of research, the implicit question became, why look into the brain if you do not expect to find something there? Neuroimaging research in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries suffered from a few well-known problems, but these were rarely discussed in popular accounts of psychopathy. Most importantly, the impairments observed in psychopaths were not specific to psychopathy but were shared with any number of mental and physical abnormalities and adverse environmental effects. This was not unexpected, however, as psychopathy was defined so broadly that the meaning of any neurobiological correlates it yielded were by nature difficult, if not impossible, to interpret. In short, research data on psychopathy was, like most social science data, stubbornly inconclusive. It took concerted effort of interpretation to see this data as supportive of any theory. The central problem with psychopathy research, we argue in this book, is a widespread bias toward seeing signals in the noise of real-world data.

10  The Myth of the Born Criminal

The main problem with psychometric data was that none of it actually supported psychopathy as a unitary entity. Multivariate models of psychopathy’s heritability were equally inconclusive, not due to shortage of data, but because of fundamental misunderstanding of what heritability coefficients actually meant. While data interpretation evolved in neuroimaging and behavioural genetics in other areas of social science, many psychopathy researchers continued to promote simple reductionism that saw biological differences between psychopaths and nonpsychopaths as inborn characteristics that cause psychopathy. Incentives to produce definitive knowledge came from outside academia as well. Courts began to consider psychopathy diagnoses in sentencing as both mitigating and aggravating circumstances. Law enforcement agencies consulted psychopathy experts to shed light on offender profiles. Large corporations hired psychologists to screen out psychopathic employees. Finally, the entertainment industry had begun in the 1990s to feature psychopaths in increasing numbers. Mental health experts now had an expanding market for their input and analysis, and the industry received what it wanted: simplistic, memorable lines and anecdotes that combined what seemed like hard science with potboiler sensibility. The result of all of this was a positive feedback loop of scientific, legal, and public opinion, in which inconclusive data, processed through several interpreters, eventually emerged with the appearance of cutting-edge science with serious social implications. Eventually, the biological theory of psychopathy – just as degeneration theory had in its time – hardened into received wisdom. Fringe claims about the “condition” began to grow ever more fantastical. Degeneracy was diagnosed in Plato and Charles Darwin, psychopathy in Alcibiades and Winston Churchill. Degenerate art emerged, and so did psychopathic corporations. Psychopaths were spotted in passing motorists, and Jews were thought to cause degeneration. Psychopaths had reptilian eyes, and a small number of strategically placed psychopaths caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008. A core requirement for the born criminal theory’s popularity is fear, and so the theory’s acceptance as common sense tracks closely with the way we assess threats. Researchers quickly adapted rhetorical strategies most suited to this end: invisible threats and public emergencies, law enforcement and serial killer references, victim testimonials, and real and semi-fictional case vignettes. Over time, degenerates and psychopaths seemed to grow ever more threatening and numerous, and the need to intercept and understand them became more urgent. In



Introduction  11

the nineteenth century, Lombroso identified new types of criminals throughout his career, some with biological defects, others without. Psychopath subtypes also proliferated, with new types emerging as situations demanded. The fallacy of innate evil is as much a product of scientific claimmaking and marketing as it is evidence of the social acceptance of an idea. The way we think about evil is a particular type of thinking – impressionistic, wishful, and uncritical. Two historical periods had the right mix of fear, politics, and technologies to elevate born criminality into received wisdom. Although it is critical to understand the historical parallels between the late nineteenth century and the turn of the twenty-first, this book is mainly about psychopathy, and about the present. The story of degeneracy is well known, but the links between degeneracy and psychopathy are poorly if at all understood, and so it is illustrative to treat the present as a continuum of late-nineteenthcentury thought. This book is organized into two parts. Part one is about the origins of the born criminal myth as a scientific and popular idea. Chapter 1 describes the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century works of Benjamin Rush and Philippe Pinel, who amalgamated a number of vogue sciences with Christian thought, creating the prototype of today’s psychopath. Chapter 2 details the first golden age of the born criminal theory: mid- to late-nineteenth-century degenerationism, and its links to modern psychopathy research. Chapter 3 is about the second golden age in the late twentieth century. We illustrate psychopathy’s contemporary popularity through a case study of high-profile sexual homicide, and through the courts’ increasing acceptance of psychopathy as evidence in judicial decisions. In chapter 4 we examine the roots of psychopathy’s popularity in late-twentieth-century crime politics and vogue sciences. We show how increasing crime rates, serial killer fiction and non-fiction, and newly popular sciences (particularly evolutionary psychology) fed into psychopathy’s acceptance. Chapter 5 examines the ever-increasing scope of psychopathy, from psychopathic presidents and corporations to the “cyberpath” and the saintly psychopath. We show how the psychopath has become an embodiment of modern fears in liberal and conservative rhetoric alike. In chapter 6 we study how non-scientists have appropriated psychopathy for popcultural applications. These applications have brought us the hipster and postmodern psychopaths, as well as the psychopath as an object of emulation and envy.

12  The Myth of the Born Criminal

Part two is about empirical case-making. Chapter 7 describes the rhetorical techniques researchers have used to bolster psychopathy’s status as a bona fide mental disorder. Chapter 8 concerns modern neurobiological research on psychopathy. This chapter will show that the medical model of psychopathy is based not on hard data but on a series of conceptual confusions about how to interpret neuroimaging data. In chapter 9 we give concluding thoughts on how groupthink, dogma, and wishful thinking have led to the modern conception of the psychopath. Finally, appendices A and B deal with issues central to psychopathy research, but both involve technical details which, if included in the chapters, would interfere with the flow of the main argument. Appendix A concerns the relationship between a currently popular definition of psychopathy and morality. Here we show that the diagnostic features for psychopathy are not about pure, naturally occurring personality style – the subject of objective science – but about deviations from Judeo-Christian morality. Appendix B concerns psychometric research on psychopathy. Here we concentrate on two lines of research: factor analytic studies and the calculation of heritability coefficients. Our arguments are that (a) linear factor analytic results have not – nor can they even in principle – prove the existence of an entity called psychopathy and (b) despite frequent arguments to the contrary, heritability coefficients do not measure the relative contributions of genes and environment to the development of psychopathy. Appendix B shows that, logically, heritability coefficients of psychopathy are unrelated to the question of causality. Our critique of psychopathy comes with a few caveats. These are as follows: 1. We do not deny the existence of psychopaths or the suffering they cause, nor do we deny that it is worthwhile to study destructive people and to find ways to minimize their effects on the world. But saying that psychopaths – or whatever we choose to call them – exist does not mean that their existence is due to a biological abnormality; describing a set of traits and behaviours, and finding people who fit them is as common as it is ontologically inconsequential (hard-line communists, say, or Internet trolls exist and have effects on the world, but their existence is not reducible to neurobiology). What we criticize in this book are scientific claims made about psychopaths, most importantly that they are a biologically unique subspecies of humanity. We are not, however, opposed to biological explanations of crime, deviance, and personality in principle, nor do we prefer any other form of explanation. Our critique



Introduction  13

is of the following form: relative to psychopathy, certain scientific claims about certain things are unfounded. 2. Biological theories of psychopathy – the focus of this book – are the key to understanding the modern psychopathy idea. However, it is difficult today to find a researcher who believes that biology alone causes psychopathy; the current consensus is that environment and biology act together to cause it. This is in fact the current and totally uncontroversial consensus on all behaviour. But it would be a mistake to think that this interactionist account somehow undermines our critique. This is for two main reasons. First, our contention is that the supposed biological causes of psychopathy have not actually been shown in any way to be causal, whether alone or in combination with the environment. Second, our critique is not simply about the usual correlation-cause conflation. We will show that biological theories of psychopathy are fundamentally unsound, and that current data on the disorder are not even suggestive of causality. Interactionist theories, it turns out, are deceptively simple. While a biological determinist theory has only to explain how something biological can cause behaviour, an interactionist theory must explain how something biological can interact with the environment, and how they then jointly cause that behaviour. That is, a proposed interaction calls for multiple layers of explanation, which are (a) the biological cause(s), (b) the environmental cause(s), (c) the relationship between the biological and the environmental cause(s), and (d) the relationship between all this and behaviour. Since such explanations are infinitely difficult to construct and prove, an interactionist theory is the consensus choice – not because it is empirically proven, but because, demonstrably, neither of its components is. That is, when we say that an interaction is at the root of psychopathy we are both (a) probably right and (b) not saying much. 3. Three diagnostic terms – psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, and sociopathy – refer to a very similar set of traits, and considerable thought has been spent on the differences and similarities between them. Many people use the terms interchangeably, and about an equal number take exception to such usage. We will concentrate on psychopathy in this book, for a few reasons. First, even though antisocial personality disorder (APD, also ASPD) is included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – and psychopathy is not – and even though APD is the more researched disorder,11 only psychopathy has become a significant part of popular culture. Psychopaths in the popular narrative are interesting.

14  The Myth of the Born Criminal

They possess special powers of perception, persuasion, illusion, and camouflage, and there are, supposedly, psychopathic presidents, CEOs, and, at least according to one researcher, even a psychopathic saint. Antisocial personality disorder, on the other hand, has by and large stayed within the DSM. It resonates far less in popular culture than psychopathy (and gives a little more than half as many Google search results as “psychopath”), and references to APD and special powers are harder to come by. An expert on psychopathy explains why: We live in a “camouflage society,” a society in which some psychopathic traits – egocentricity, lack of concern for others, superficiality, style over substance, being “cool,” manipulativeness, and so forth – increasingly are tolerated and even valued. With respect to the topic of this article, it is easy to see how both psychopaths and those with ASPD could blend in readily with groups holding antisocial or criminal values. It is more difficult to envisage how those with ASPD could hide out among more prosocial segments of society. Yet psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of business, politics, law enforcement, government, academia and other social structures ... It is the egocentric, cold-blooded and remorseless psychopaths who blend into all aspects of society and have such devastating impacts on people around them who send chills down the spines of law enforcement officers.12

Moreover, as the same author points out, APD is merely a less serious variant of psychopathy. After reviewing an FBI report on people who had killed law enforcement officers, the author concluded, “These killers were not simply persistently antisocial individuals who met DSMIV criteria for ASPD; they were psychopaths – remorseless predators who use charm, intimidation and, if necessary, impulsive and coldblooded violence to attain their ends.”13 If one disorder were to make it into popular culture, why not the more serious one? There is another reason for psychopathy’s cultural appeal over APD. APD, in the DSM tradition, is a disorder a person has. The DSM classifies mental disorders, not people. Psychopathy, on the other hand, tends to signify identity: you have antisocial personality disorder, but you are a psychopath. The latter is a far more substantial and elementary attribution, and it is rich with folkloric themes of strangeness, fate, and evil. These themes, unsurprisingly, dominate the popular discourse on psychopathy. We have also chosen to concentrate on psychopathy because of its proportionately stronger affinity with biological theorizing than APD.



Introduction  15

According to our database research, about 24 per cent of psychopathy research makes some reference to neurobiology, whereas only about 16 per cent of APD research does.14 Perhaps because of the biological theory’s role in psychopathy discourse, psychopathy also appears disproportionately in discussions of law and criminal and moral responsibility. There are in fact more journal articles, books, and book articles on psychopathy and law than there are on APD and law, even though the overall number of citations for antisocial personality disorder is more than twice the number of psychopathy citations.15 This leaves us with sociopathy, which is often treated synonymously with psychopathy. The term sociopathy has several connotations, including a mid-twentieth century idea that psychopathy has a sociological cause. Some writers have also defined sociopaths as those patients who may behaviourally resemble psychopaths, but who confusingly, and unlike psychopaths, have a sense of morality. Finally, some researchers only use sociopathy in the context of “acquired sociopathy,” a condition in which brain injury has given rise to antisocial behaviour.16 Because of this conceptual looseness, sociopathy does not appear frequently in modern research literature, and it is also the reason we do not concentrate on it in this book. The definition of psychopathy is, however, not entirely settled either. There are several measures of psychopathy, and debate over the exact diagnostic criteria is ongoing.17 Nonetheless, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), developed by Robert Hare, has become the prominent tool in psychopathy research and in the assessment of psychopathy in the criminal justice system, and many of the other tests are validated against it. It has been called “the gold standard,” “state of the art,” “the measure of choice,” and “standard of practice instrument”18 for the measurement of psychopathy, and more research has been done on the PCL-R than on any other test. Research into the use of psychopathy diagnoses in the criminal justice system also mostly concerns the PCL-R. Popular discourse tends to associate the measurement of psychopathy with the PCL-R as well. We reference the PCL-R more than any other test in this book for these reasons. However, even though the modern psychopathy concept is largely indebted to the PCL-R, this book is essentially not about the PCL-R, but about the broader concept of psychopathy, of which any test is only the most obvious example. 4. For the sake of fluency, we refer to both clinical and experimental psychologists as “psychologists,” whether they are officially registered as psychologists or not.

16  The Myth of the Born Criminal

5. We do not put forth an alternative, more “correct” way of studying psychopathy. This book is a critique and a clarification of the psychopathy phenomenon, not a manual for doing proper social science. If you agree with our analyses here, correcting misconceptions in the research should not be difficult to do. The most difficult task is not data production, but explaining, coherently, two things: (a) what that data actually means and (b) how, given the data, one comes to believe in a biologically based disorder called psychopathy. 6. Finally, as we show in chapter 9, psychopathy research can be a controversial and even acrimonious business. One recent controversy, a threatened lawsuit against two critics of a psychopathy test, raised concerns about the possibility that critical research into psychopathy may be suppressed in favour of a currently dominant conceptualization of the disorder. Psychopathy’s reach – from death sentence deliberations to ad hoc diagnoses of foreign leaders – requires an animated debate about its nature and social uses. What is remarkable and troubling about modern psychopathy controversies, however, is their limited scope. For instance, the essence of the lawsuit controversy is about whether criminal rather than antisocial behaviour is a central component of the dominant, PCL-R-centric conception of psychopathy. A debate like this reinforces the psychopathy concept rather than undermines it, which is contrary to what some critics have argued. The debate assumes that the scientific merits of psychopathy are by and large settled, with only some aspects of it still to be determined, by whatever means. One goal of this book is to show that psychopathy research suffers from certain fundamental errors in logic, committed by many and for a relatively long time. Technical debates like the one above are irrelevant to this book, and we do not take sides on them. We also largely bypass the question of psychopathy subtypes and the question of the relative merits of various psychopathy tests. This book is written in the spirit of logical and historical inquiry, not in the spirit of controversy, and certainly not in order to deny a social scientist his or her opportunity to conduct research or to publish and profit from psychopathy tests. Also, it is important to point out that our main critique is not about the technical aspects of the research, particularly neurobiological research. Much of this research is methodologically sound, and many studies are very sophisticated. Our main critique is about how their results are interpreted to support the concept of psychopathy.

PART I

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1 The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy

In March 1996, the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior published an article titled “Psychopathy: A Clinical Construct Whose Time Has Come.” The paper, written by Robert Hare, a prominent psychopathy researcher and the author of a widely used psychopathy test, discussed the evolution and the importance of psychopathy as a scientific concept. Some critics had suggested that psychopathy was an imaginary disorder. Hare countered that volumes of data proved otherwise, and that his critics were simply “uncomfortable about psychiatric labels.” Hare called psychopathy a “formal clinical disorder,” and surmised that its causes would soon be discovered. He pointed out that the diagnostic test he had developed, the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCLR), was state of the art, and that it would almost certainly become an essential tool in the criminal justice system. Hare was demonstrably right about one thing – psychopathy’s time had come. By the early twenty-first century, psychopathy had become an international industry. At the time of this writing, of the more than 5,100 books and articles on psychopathy published since the midnineteenth century, almost 75 per cent have been published since 1990. When considered together, psychopathy and its close relative antisocial personality disorder have generated over 15,000 research publications to date.1 Grants for psychopathy research have also steadily increased. For instance, between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. National Institutes of Health increased its funding for psychopathy-relevant research by 67 per cent, and the number of references to psychopathy in funded research between 1990 and 2010 increased by almost 600 per cent.2 Between 1998 and 2008, the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council increased its psychopathy research funding by a fac-

20  The Myth of the Born Criminal

tor of twenty-four.3 In 2012–13, research on or related to psychopathy received over $9 million from the NIH. One leading expert on psychopathy was given a $2-million-dollar mobile MRI unit to study criminals’ brains.4 Robert Hare, himself the author of more than two hundred articles and book chapters on psychopathy, founded a research and consulting firm, assisted the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and sat on a number of research boards across the world. The Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy named its Lifetime Achievement Award after Hare, and gave him the inaugural award. In September 2011, Hare received Canada’s highest civilian order, the Order of Canada. Diagnostic tests for psychopathy became commercially available in the 1990s. The PCL-R appeared in 1991, and soon underwent revisions and generated further tests. These include the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised: 2nd Edition;5 the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL-YV);6 the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL: SV);7 and the Hare Psychopathy-SCAN Research Version (P-SCAN RV).8 Test authors began to offer workshops in the administration of the checklists throughout the world. Hare’s website lists 139 such workshops between 1993 and 2014 (with a Post-Workshop Training Program running until 2012). In 2014, training sessions were offered in Barbados and London.9 Other psychopathy tests by different authors – some free, some available for a price – soon followed. These included the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI),10 the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI),11 the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD),12 the Child Psychopathy Scale (CPS),13 the Levenson Primary and Secondary Psychopathy Scales,14 the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (SRP-III),15 and the Comprehensive Assessment of Psychopathic Personality (CAPP).16 What made all of this possible was a growing acceptance of psychopathy as a bona fide mental disorder. Although at the time of this writing neither the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) nor the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases recognized psychopathy as a mental disorder – the DSM’s antisocial personality disorder and ICD10’s dissocial personality disorder come close – many researchers and clinicians alike came to treat it as though it were one, devising and using tests for its assessment, and studying its causes and treatments. Courts also began to take it into consideration in sentencing decisions. In 1998, Hare called psychopathy “one of the best-validated clinical constructs



The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy  21

in the realm of psychopathology,”17 and noted that records of psychopathy date as far back as biblical times. Hare’s idea was that although we had only recently recognized psychopathy as a mental disorder, it had always been with us. In other words, the disorder was not mythological or socially constructed as some critics had suggested, nor simply a convenient clinical/legal label for a set of behaviours, but a naturally occurring and unique personality style, a condition, a thing that simply awaited detection. In this way psychopathy differed from the DSM’s antisocial personality disorder in a significant way: while APD was mostly about behaviour, psychopathy was about personality, a key distinction that came with a host of ontological assumptions like this one: The advantage of the concept of psychopathy is that it identifies a population who share a common etiology, a dysfunction in specific forms of emotional processing. In contrast, the DSM-IV diagnoses identify the broad category of individuals who engage in antisocial behavior. As such, they identify a highly heterogeneous population who do not share a common etiology.18

This meant that psychopathy researchers could talk about their subject in purely medical terms. Terms like “psychiatric illness,” “pathological condition,” “symptoms,” and “patient” were commonly attached to psychopathy. The “condition,” in terms borrowed from biological taxonomy, was “a genus,” “a distinct entity,” “distinct class,” or “a distinct taxon.”19 One writer described it as “a distinct phenotype of human personality, seemingly as distinct and uniform as that of a primary color.”20 Since psychopathy research was thought to follow the medical model, this also meant that psychopathy’s history could be written as a series of discoveries and gradual refinements. This is exactly the kind of history that began to dominate the literature on the subject by the middle of the twentieth century. According to these accounts, psychopathy came into being along the following lines:21 In 1801 the French physician and mental health reformer Philippe Pinel described an entirely new kind of mental disorder he had observed in his patients. Breaking with the traditional view that insanity meant, by definition, the loss of reason, Pinel argued that some of his patients were perfectly rational, yet unable to control their violent and criminal impulses. He called the disorder manie sans délire (“insanity without delirium”). In the United States, the famous physician and abolitionist Benjamin Rush came to the same conclusion, and named his diagnosis “moral derangement.”

22  The Myth of the Born Criminal

Although the essence of Rush’s and Pinel’s idea survived, the names they had chosen for the condition did not, and they were soon replaced by the more eloquent “moral insanity,” a term coined by the British physician James Prichard in 1833. A number of other names were proposed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but finally the scientific community settled on the now ubiquitous, though etymologically dubious “psychopathy,” which derives from Greek and literally means “suffering soul.” Up to the mid-1900s, the term psychopathy carried many different meanings, only some of which are consistent with the modern use of the term. In 1941, the American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley published a now-famous book, The Mask of Sanity, which gave roughly the modern definition of psychopathy by way of twenty-one characteristics. By 1976, Cleckley had whittled the number down to sixteen. These were: superficial charm and good intelligence; absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking; absence of nervousness or psychoneurotic manifestations; unreliability; untruthfulness or insincerity; lack of remorse or shame; inadequately motivated antisocial behaviour; poor judgment and failure to learn from experience; pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love; general poverty in major affective relations; specific loss of insight; unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations; fantastic and uninviting behaviour with drink and sometimes without; suicide rarely carried out; impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated sex life; and failure to follow any life plan.22 Cleckley, like many of his contemporaries, believed that the condition had a biological cause, though he entertained the possibility of other causes as well. In the 1960s, Robert Hare began to study psychopaths in the laboratory, and discovered that their physiological responses to stimuli were different from those of non-psychopaths. For example, he found that autonomic nervous systems of psychopaths were less responsive to imminent threats than those of non-psychopaths’. Hare refined Cleckley’s criteria, and developed the Psychopathy Checklist, which in 1991 became the now ubiquitous Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, now in its second edition.23 Hare proposed twenty diagnostic criteria,24 the original choice of which was informed by Cleckley’s list. The PCL-R consists of items that fall into a number of higher-order categories or factors. In one formulation, there are four such factors: interpersonal (e.g., glibness/superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth), affective (e.g., lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect), lifestyle (e.g., need for



The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy  23

stimulation/proneness to boredom, lack of realistic long-term goals), and antisocial (e.g., criminal versatility).25 The PCL-R matches individuals against these criteria on a three-point severity scale (0,1,or 2), yielding a score indicating the extent to which a person is a prototypical psychopath. The diagnostic cut-off score for designating a person a psychopath is thirty out of a possible forty points. With agreement on how to measure psychopathy, researchers could now study potential causes for it. To put it shortly, a great number of studies went on to support Hare’s initial findings by showing differences between the neurobiology of psychopaths and non-psychopaths. As data amassed, the consensus supported the idea that psychopathy had a neurological cause, possibly present at birth. This story follows the basic outlines of medical taxonomy: Someone makes an initial observation about manifest symptoms, and then others refine them. Eventually the symptoms are linked together by underlying functional and/or structural pathology and, hopefully, an ultimate cause or causes. The result is disease classification. It is legitimate to say that a disease so classified exists and afflicts, that it has a course and a prognosis, and that its sufferers are patients, all terms consistently applied to psychopathy throughout its history. The chief point is that if psychopathy is a legitimate medical disorder, then it exists independently of culture and morality. The fact that psychopaths are immoral – this is no secret to anyone – is incidental: the physiological cause has affected some basic function of the brain, such as emotion, and crime and general immorality are simply by-products of this dysfunction. The history of such a disease is a series of discoveries, refinements, and realizations. So, when a papyrus dating back to about 2500 BC described “bulging masses on [the] breast ... that ... have no granulations, contain no fluid ... [and which are] hard and cool to the touch” we know it was an early account of breast cancer.26 Although the exact causes of breast cancer remain unknown, there is no doubt that someone with breast cancer today has the same thing as someone else did four and a half millennia ago. The only real difference is that we now know more about it than we did before. By the late twentieth century, this was roughly how psychopathy was understood as well. The medical taxonomic account of psychopathy is compelling, among other things, for its simplicity. It takes a social problem and cleanses it of the messy residue – morality, law, local customs, historical moment, and so on – that made the problem social in the first place. The medical history of psychopathy can set aside deeper questions about essence

24  The Myth of the Born Criminal

by simply posing them as secondary: what psychopathy is really about hardly matters, because psychopathy is a problem, it has a solution, and the solution is biological. As Hervey Cleckley put it, Medical attention or any other practical step to help or ameliorate misfortune or pain [caused by psychopaths] must not wait for a threshing out on philosophic, metaphysical, and religious planes of the ultimate whys and wherefores, the final determining of blame or responsibility. It is possible to meet these emergencies at another point.27

But what if the “philosophic, metaphysical, and religious planes” are all that there is? What if the story of psychopathy is not about scientific revolutions, theories, and discoveries, but about social, moral, and metaphysical ideas expressed in the language of science? What, in other words, if the medical taxonomic history of psychopathy is wrong? Science, Religion, and the Enlightenment The first formal, medical account of a psychopathy-like disorder was given by Benjamin Rush. In 1786, Rush delivered a lecture titled “An Inquiry into the Influence of Physical Causes upon the Moral Faculty.” At the time of his lecture, he was already famous. America’s first professor of chemistry at age twenty-three, at thirty a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, an abolitionist and an advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill, Rush was now forty-one, and well on his way to becoming the father of American psychiatry. Rush began his 1786 lectures with a definition of the moral faculty. According to Rush, the faculty was “a capacity in the human mind of distinguishing and choosing good and evil, or, in other words, virtue and vice. It is a native principle, and though it be capable of improvement by experience and reflection, it is not derived from either of them.”28 As the title of his lecture explained, the actions of the moral faculty could be altered by physical means. These means included such things as climate, diet, alcohol, disease, idleness, excessive sleep, bodily pain, and lack of cleanliness. Rush called the total absence of the moral faculty “anomia,” and the effect of a partial or weakened faculty “micronomia,” but by 1812 he had taken to calling the condition “moral derangement” and described it as “that state of mind in which the passions act involuntarily through the instrumentality of the will, without any disease in the understanding.”29



The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy  25

This was the first known theory of psychopathy: an aberration in the inborn, reflexive human ability to recognize right from wrong. This raises an important point about the meaning of disease Rush is invoking here. In Rush’s formulation, anomia and micronomia were not merely diseases of a particular mental faculty. They also implied how things should be; they implied the existence of a normative set of moral precepts that are anchored in the human brain. When an otherwise rational agent chronically violated these precepts, the agent’s mind and body were, according Rush, in an unnatural state. But how did Rush infer what the natural state was? He gave a hint very early on in the lecture, when he traced the history of the moral faculty idea to Cicero and St. Paul. In Romans 2:14–15, Rush found the following encapsulation of the idea: “For when the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves [emphasis original]; which show the works of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also, bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing, another.”30 In other words, the moral faculty was the part of the human constitution that essentially agreed with Cicero’s philosophy or Pauline Christianity (these are not as different as might at first seem, since Cicero was declared a “virtuous pagan” by the early Christian Church). Later in life, Rush made the link between the moral faculty and Christian theology even more obvious by arguing that the moral faculty was actually three faculties: the moral faculty proper, conscience, and a sense of deity.31 It is not difficult to see how Rush came to his idea. Aside from being a trained physician, he was also a devout Christian (though in the context of the late eighteenth century, Rush’s ideas did not set him apart as being unusually Christian; his central dedication remained to republican political theory). He saw no categorical distinction between reason and religion, writing that “the truths of philosophy and Christianity dwell alike in the mind of the Deity, and reason and religion are equally the offspring of his goodness. They must, therefore, stand and fall together.”32 For Rush, the sense of deity was a universal human quality, whose purpose it was to produce “the highest degree of order and happiness”33 in the human being. Rush’s marriage of science to Christianity was ultimately compelling because it involved a branch of science that had recently come into vogue – taxonomy (also known as nosology). The pioneering work on plant and animal classification, Carl Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae, had

26  The Myth of the Born Criminal

appeared in 1735, and medical classifications had followed closely behind. One of the most influential medical taxonomists of the mideighteenth century was the Scottish physician William Cullen. Cullen believed that most diseases originated in a disordered nervous system, but could be triggered by external influences, such as climate, food, and humidity. Thus, according to Cullen, specific combinations of environment and nervous system function and structure would bring about specific diseases. As a young medical student in Edinburgh, Rush studied under Cullen, and on his return to America put his education to use by embarking on a program of disease classification that accorded with Cullen’s framework, with the focus on mental disorders. In short, Rush’s idea of an inborn moral faculty coupled with the idea that it could also be shaped by external forces was thus strictly in line with Cullen’s general theory. Rush was not the first to link morality with biology. In the decade prior to his lecture, a Protestant minister from Zürich, Johann Caspar Lavater, had developed a system of classifying character based on facial features. Although the idea that a person’s face revealed his or her character – Lavater called the idea “physiognomy” – was ancient, Lavater was the first to systematize it in a scientific way. He provided detailed drawings of faces, indicating key features and their correspondence to character. He paid special attention to eyes, nose, teeth, and chin. For instance, of a male with a bony, flat face and an underbite he wrote, “With a face like this, no one will ever achieve a bold and hazardous enterprise: he will have domestic virtues, he will faithfully discharge the duties of his station; but he is incapable of attaining any portion of the Warrior’s valour, or the Poet’s genius.”34 The theoretical basis for Lavater’s classification came from Genesis. Lavater knew that humans were created in the image of God. However, he postulated that since our expulsion from Eden only the faithful could maintain their deity-inspired good looks, while the rest would be both ugly and wicked, the relationship between their “corporeal and moral deformity”35 thus predetermined at birth. Lavater’s work was continued in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by two German physicians, Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim. Gall and Spurzheim accepted Lavater’s basic idea that the body was a physical signifier of the mind, but instead of looking at the face, Gall and Spurzheim looked to the brain. They believed that the brain was divided into twenty-seven different organs, each with a specific function. The strength of each organ could be de-



The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy  27

termined by examining the contours of the skull. Combining their interests in anatomy and religion – both men had begun their studies in theology – Gall and Spurzheim located the moral faculty at the top of the head, the place they believed to be closest to God. They named their new science “phrenology.” In short order, phrenology became extremely popular throughout Europe and North America, Gall and Spurzheim’s followers setting up institutes, societies, parlours, and even a publishing house. All the while, Spurzheim travelled widely, lecturing to large audiences in Europe and North America. The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal called Spurzheim’s death in 1832 “a calamity to mankind.”36 Although there is no evidence that Rush was aware of phrenology in 1786, he later discussed it at length, noting that in general the theory was probably right. The main point here, though, is not whether or not Rush was influenced by Lavater, Gall, and Spurzheim, but the fact that three similar theories arose at about the same time in a similar cultural context. The context favoured both the fusion of religion with biology and efforts to explain crime and deviance – mounting problems in the rapidly urbanizing West – with relatively simple formulas. As the popularity of Lavater’s, Gall’s, Spurzheim’s, and Rush’s physio-spiritual accounts of character show, the Enlightenment, despite its typical connotations with reason and progress, was still deeply receptive to theological explanations of human behaviour. Nor did explicitly religious allusions to the moral faculty end with Rush. A prominent asylum superintendent and one of the founders of forensic psychiatry, Isaac Ray, continued Rush’s work into the late nineteenth century. (The American Psychiatric Association hands out the Isaac Ray Award for Outstanding Contributions to Forensic Psychiatry and Psychiatric Jurisprudence, an award Robert Hare received in 2001.) In his 1863 book, Mental Hygiene, Ray wrote about what had by then come to be known as moral insanity. In moral insanity, Ray wrote, “those moral checks and balances which the Creator has placed in the human soul, for the proper ordering of the life and the attainment of life’s great ends, are disarranged and perverted by the intrusion of a foreign element.”37 From this it is obvious that the standard story of psychopathy’s birth is wrong in a few different ways. Pinel was not the originator of the idea, nor did Pinel and Rush “discover” or “recognize” the disorder. It was born as an amalgamation of Christian theology and science of taxonomy in vogue in the eighteenth century. In fact, the choice of Pinel as the father of psychopathy, and Rush as a minor figure, is telling.

28  The Myth of the Born Criminal

Most modern accounts of psychopathy hold Rush’s religiosity out as an aberration, a blemish soon to be corrected by more serious scientists like Pinel. In contrast, Pinel, though a devout Roman Catholic himself, mostly kept religion out of his scientific writings, which made him a natural fit with psychopathy’s scientific creation myth. But the creation myth brings up another, more serious problem: Rush’s explicit Christianity was not an anomaly in an otherwise scientific pursuit, but merely the most obvious manifestation of what psychopathy was really about. On the Benefits of Being Unclear In 1964, the sociologists William and Joan McCord wrote about the difficulty of defining psychopathy. To prove their point they quoted a psychiatrist who, speaking of the matter, had said, “I know an elephant when I see one, but damned if I can define one!”38 This is a puzzling statement on a number of levels. Why should the psychiatrist have trouble defining psychopathy, especially since he was apparently able to recognize a psychopath on sight? Logically, some criteria must exist in order for us to recognize anything as that thing. What heuristic allowed the psychiatrist to recognize a psychopath in the first place, and why could he or she not verbalize it? Describing his reasons for developing the PCL, Robert Hare once said “I, like most other researchers and clinicians, was very frustrated by the fact that we didn’t have some sort of standardized measure of this particular construct. People intuitively knew what they were talking about ... but how do you communicate that to somebody else?”39 The gap between intuition and communication surfaced again in the BBC documentary Are You Good or Evil?, in which Hare described his first encounter with psychopaths as follows: When I was first starting out I had no idea at all of the sorts of people with whom I was dealing. They were people, and some of them would actually be very difficult to deal with; you could see that there was something strange about them, even predatory; I hate to use the term “evil” [emphasis added] but there is something pretty scary about them.40

What did Hare and other researchers know intuitively about psychopathy, and why would he hate to use the term “evil,” especially since he also discussed Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer in the same interview?



The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy  29

Are psychopaths not obviously evil, and if they are not, why should we be so concerned about them? Confusing things further, the psychologist and former Harvard professor Martha Stout wrote that psychopathy “would seem [emphasis added] to have a moral aspect.”41 Why such uncertainty? What obstacles prevent Stout from determining whether or not psychopathy is about morality? Perhaps psychopathy is so conceptually complex a disorder that no one can really say what it is about. This argument is easy to dismiss by simply looking at some of the diagnostic features of psychopathy in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, which we have done in appendix A. Our analysis in appendix A shows that the logic of psychopathy, at least in the PCL-R formulation, largely derives from mainstream JudeoChristian thought, with each item representing, unambiguously, various aspects of moral failure. But what would prevent social scientists from seeing the obvious connection between morality and psychopathy? The answer may have to do with maintaining an implicit separation between science and morality. The standard medical-taxonomy history of psychopathy is predicated on moral neutrality, as psychopathy is difficult to conceive of as being simultaneously about morality and a legitimate object of science. In order to qualify as a genuine mental disorder, psychopathy must exist at all times and in all cultures; other­wise it becomes a mere social construct. This puts the social scientist in a difficult situation. If we are to think of psychopathy as a problem worth funding and reading about, it has to be pitched so as to generate a certain level of moral outrage. Yet, the cause of that moral outrage – psychopathy – cannot itself be about morality, for if it were, it would not count as a scientific concept. Better then to address the concept of evil indirectly and hypothetically, to be tackled, if at all, by others. Whether this prevarication is calculated or not, it effectively increases psychopathy’s appeal to a larger audience. It associates psychopathy with morality, yet with plausible deniability built into the equation. The marketing of popular psychopathy literature is both subtle and obvious. For example, cover illustrations for books on psychopathy are rife with Christian imagery; the two most common images are snakes and human eyes. In the Christian canon, the snake is an identifier of Satan and of evil in general, and is also responsible for the fall of man as told in Genesis. According to Classical and Christian accounts, eyes are the window or mirror of the soul. Even exceptions prove the rule: the cover of the 2005 book The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain by James Blair,

30  The Myth of the Born Criminal

Derek Mitchell, and Karina Blair features neither eyes nor snakes, but a Rubens painting titled Cain Slaying Abel. In other words, judging by their cover, books on psychopathy are about evil and about the soul, or at least that is what the book publishers wish to communicate. Written accounts of psychopathy also reference evil. Consider the following sample of quotes from mainstream psychopathy literature: “Mendacious psychopaths who cheat and betray, relying on their charm and acting skill to ‘con’ and exploit others, may be said ... to inhabit the realm of evil”; “Indeed, it is hard to resist the impression that the true psychopath is a personification of the demonic”; “Psycho­pathy ... can be argued to overlap with cruelty, sefishness, or even ‘evil’”; “Many of you will find an uneasy resemblance between the individuals [psychopaths] in these examples and people who have made you think you were living in hell”; “The heart of darkness of the psychopath is well known in both the world literature and real life”; and “We cannot escape the possibility that at some time in the future, a particularly virulent psychopath may become evil incarnate and leave all of humankind for dead.”42 The truly remarkable thing about these quotes is not their obvious moral overtone, but how gingerly and provisionally they approach morality. Psychopaths “may be said” to be evil, “it is hard to resist the impression” that they are evil, psychopathy “can be argued” to be about evil, there is “an uneasy resemblance” to evil, and so on. What is left unsaid is that if psychopathy is “sort of” about evil, what criterion of morality is being used here? Is it mere coincidence that diagnostic features of psychopathy in essence articulate Judeo-Christian theology? Or does psychopathy reflect some natural source of morality, and JudeoChristian theology simply happens to tap into that source? The likelier answer is more prosaic: instead of putting forth an involved analytical argument (which in this case would be an argument from natural law), in choosing diagnostic features, researchers simply – knowingly or unknowingly – follow the moral convention of their time and place, just as Rush and Pinel did. In other words, social scientists are human and are thus just as thoroughly embedded in the moral language and emotion of their time and place as the rest of society. This is why Hervey Cleckley thought it illustrative to include in The Mask of Sanity a clinical vignette of an “intelligent and in some respects distinguished young man,” who despite the local influence of the Ku Klux Klan, picked up “four negro men,” and showed “no compunction about taking from the field these unwashed laborers” for oral sex.43 Elsewhere in the book, he



The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy  31

railed against “the rapt predilections of small but influential cults of intellectuals and esthetes [emphasis original] for what is generally regarded as perverse, dispirited, and distastefully unintelligible.”44 People, Cleckley explained, like André Gide and James Joyce. The realization that prejudices like Cleckley’s are determined by his time and place is also the principal threat to the medical view on psychopathy: in a different time and place, there might be no psychopathy. Rush understood the problem of culture-dependent diagnoses well. Aside from anomia, micronomia, and a host of other disorders, Rush also jokingly proposed rum-phobia, doctor-phobia, negro-mania, landmania, horse-mania, liberty-mania, monarchical-mania, republicanmania, military-mania, hunting-mania, gaming-mania, humane-mania, rambling-mania, national-mania, love-mania, pride-mania, dress-mania, pleasure-mania, rouge-mania, musical-mania, poetical-mania, and mathematical-mania. The question about psychopathy is whether it will in time be clumped together with monarchical-mania, musical-mania, homosexuality, and Beatle-mania or with schizophrenia and clinical depression. The implications of this question may explain why the role of morality in psychopathy diagnoses is expressed so ambiguously. Whereas Rush was candid and elegant about the Judeo-Christian roots of anomia and micronomia, and had essentially nothing to lose by it, today’s social scientists have no such luxury. Times have changed. The implicit foundation of modern mainstream social science is its separation from religion, an idea Stephen Jay Gould called “non-overlapping magisteria” (i.e., that science deals with empirical questions and religion with questions of meaning and morality). Rush’s marginalization from – and Pinel’s elevation to – the psychopathy canon flows from this idea. In this view, any overlap between Judeo-Christian morality and science is by design detrimental for each domain. Not surprisingly, the most accurate and vivid name for the condition – moral insanity – is now a historical curiosity.

2 The First Golden Age: Degeneration

Despite its intuitive appeal, not everyone was convinced by the crimeas-mental-illness idea in the nineteenth century. Even those who did generally side with Rush and Pinel could not agree on such basic things as what to call the disorder. It and its sufferers were named, among countless other things, moral insanity, moral imbecility, moral idiocy, moral lunacy, moral defectives, constitutional defectives, defective delinquents, constitutional immorality, and impulsive homicidal mania. This terminological disagreement reflected more than simple aesthetic preferences; different writers understood the condition and its supposed causes differently. In 1888, the German psychiatrist Julius Ludwig August Koch named the condition “psychopathic inferiority,” thus introducing the word “psychopath.” Yet, even though the name stuck – mostly – the idea it connoted was hardly common sense. Psychiatrists and legal experts did not agree on whether the moral faculty could act separately from the intellectual faculties, and whether crime could even in principle have a physiological cause. Some claimed to have located the moral faculty in the brain, but others thought the very search was metaphysical fancy. In 1873, John Ordronaux, a professor of medical jurisprudence at Columbia University, made the point by challenging Pinel’s celebrated scientific objectivity. He wrote, The idea that moral insanity is the offspring of a kind-hearted physician (Pinel) who, living amid the terrors of the French Revolution and witnessing the undertow of blood which accompanied this age of reason, supposed he had received a new revelation to man’s mental nature as separated from his moral responsibility. He thought that this national efflorescence of immorality proved the possibility of an entire loss of man’s



The First Golden Age: Degeneration  33 moral nature and responsibility, while still enjoying an undimmed intellect. In the same breath he certified that it exhibited no mental obscuration. It is no wonder that he, whose life was one of exceptional quiet and purity, should have charitably explained depravity in his words as disease.1

At least three things stood in the way of a popular psychopathy master narrative in the first half of the nineteenth century. First, without precise measurement tools, it was difficult to empirically prove constitutional theories. This essentially meant that biological theories of psychopathy were nothing more than unproven hypotheses. Second, while the idea of the inborn moral faculty was culturally and theologically appealing, the exact causes proposed to unhinge the faculty (diet, environment, disease, etc.) were too vague and numerous to inspire a coherent cultural crime script. Third, crime itself lacked a master narrative. Realistic crime journalism and fiction had not yet developed to a point where they could influence public opinion about crime and deviance. But all this began to change in the second half of the nineteenth century. Developments in biological measurement, evolutionary theory, and print media caused biological criminology to coalesce around a single idea with immense popular appeal: the born criminal. The Nineteenth Century Most historians see the nineteenth century, particularly in Central Europe and North America, as an age of progress. The period saw innovations in areas such as transportation (especially the railway), medicine (for example, vaccinations), power (electricity in homes, and the internal combustion engine), communications (the telephone and the telegraph), and finance (in the form of the joint stock investment bank). The very idea of progress itself became increasingly popular. Progress in the manufacture of goods, the economy, political freedom, equality, and state sovereignty did not seem merely desirable, but historically necessary. Theorists like August Comte, Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, and Herbert Spencer tried to show that all history was a continuous, gradual ascent towards a given end. An 1875 dictionary entry defined progress in this way: “Humanity is perfectible and it moves incessantly from less good to better, from ignorance to science, from barbarism to civilization ... the idea that humanity becomes day by day better and happier is particularly dear to our century. Faith in the law of progress is the true faith of our century.”2 The idea of progress was at once social,

34  The Myth of the Born Criminal

political, and scientific. For many writers, Darwin’s The Origin of Species gave the scientific foundation for understanding social and political progress. As biological organisms evolve from simple to complex life forms, so must societies evolve. Of course, at the pinnacle of this social evolution stood modern capitalist democracies. The rapid industrial, political, and economic progress, however, came with an increasing concern over social ills such as crime, insanity, vagrancy, and prostitution, all of which seemed to be on the rise. Also, upper- and middle-class citizens began to express concern over the “dangerous classes” who had been empowered by the mid-century democratic movements throughout Europe, and whose fertility rates seemed to outpace those of the upper classes. The greatest fear of the professional classes was the vaguely defined “crowds” or “masses” in which the dangerous classes most naturally expressed themselves. In his best-selling 1895 book The Crowd, French social psychologist Gustave le Bon described crowd behaviour as “far more under the influence of the spinal cord than the brain.” In the crowd, according to le Bon, “a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization.”3 The masses seemed unmanageable in part because they were increasingly heterogeneous. Brought together by rapid industrialization and urbanization, ethnically, culturally, religiously, and linguistically diverse groups found themselves in the densely inhabited cities of Central Europe. In the U.S., the situation was no less urgent. In the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s words, New York had become “a scrofulous bastard city” and its immigrant communities “a degenerate gelatinous fermentation.”4 Social unrest and anonymity, the twin existential threats to the upper and middle classes’ sense of identity, seemed to undo the industrial, economic, and democratic gains of the nineteenth century. Yet, wars between nation states were on the decline, and most national economies were improving. Fears of economic or military collapse were slowly replaced by fears of internal and local conflict and uncertainty. One of the most obvious symptoms of these developments was a growing interest in all things criminal. This was fuelled by an increasing emphasis on journalistic realism that began in the 1830s. Accounts of social injustice and working-class hardship had been appearing frequently in local papers for some time, but it was not until the emergence of truly free presses in the last quarter of the nineteenth century that these stories became widely available.5 Victorians were treated to broadsides and pamphlets that described recent crimes, especially murders, in dramatic detail. True crime memoirs, detective fiction,



The First Golden Age: Degeneration  35

theatrical crime melodramas, murder tourism, autopsies and funerals of criminals, and crime-scene photography became popular pastimes. Jack the Ripper’s 1888 Whitechapel murders were an international sensation. As W. Scott Poole argues in his 2011 book Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting, Darwin’s work had given rise to a set of deeply philosophical questions about the human body. These included the nature, causes, and the prevention of monstrous deviations from the natural order. These monstrosities included everything from birth defects to apparently unclassifiable animal hybrids. Darwin himself was fascinated with nature’s monsters and wrote about them extensively in his private notebooks. He did so, however, with modern detachment from moral evaluation. Darwin’s interest in species transmutation was strictly scientific, and he considered the genesis of monstrous animals to follow certain natural laws. The objects of Darwin-inspired bodily horror were not only of scientific interest, but were also displayed and exploited in travelling freak shows that had become circus and carnival staples in the nineteenth century. The most famous of these were travelling shows by the man who called himself “The Prince of Humbug”: P.T. Barnum. Among Barnum’s most popular displays was the What Is It? exhibit, which displayed “non-descripts,” liminal creatures like William Henry Johnson – marketed as “Zip the Pinhead” – an African-American man who may have suffered from microcephaly. Barnum claimed to have captured Johnson in Africa, and employed evolutionary theory to sell him as a missing link between the human and the monkey – a scientifically significant monster, in other words. As the philosopher Stephen T. Asma has argued, shows like this functioned on a number of psychological levels. They allowed audiences to confirm and project their racial and political ideologies, to feed their scientific curiosity, and to feel grateful for their own, always comparatively elevated, stations in life.6 Professional classes were not above any of this. It was physicians who performed the public autopsies on criminals, phrenologists who competed for the criminals’ skulls, anthropologists who observed and dissected nature’s non-descripts, and social scientists who sounded the warnings about the dangerous classes. But it was in particular evolutionary scientists and criminal anthropologists who set the tone for the nineteenth-century discussion on the causes and cures of social unrest, and the apparent paradox of social progress and regress. Their unifying theory was degeneration.

36  The Myth of the Born Criminal

Degeneracy According to degenerationists, a host of individual and social pathologies were linked in a fine and infinite network of diseases, disorders, and moral habits. The cause of degeneracy was biological, and its primary symptoms were weakening in the vital forces and will power. More proximate symptoms included crime, violence, religious fanaticism, mysticism, insanity, absence of shame, impulsiveness, masturbation, vagrancy, alcoholism, prostitution, suicide, inertia, apathy, egotism, gambling, tattooing, and pornography.7 Degeneration theory was predicated on the theory of evolution. The forces of degeneration opposed those of evolution, and the afflicted represented a return to an earlier evolutionary stage. The most famous proponent of the theory, the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso wrote: The criminal is an atavistic being, a relic of a vanished race. This is by no means an uncommon occurrence in nature. Atavism, the reversion to a former state, is the first feeble indication of the reaction opposed by nature to the perturbing causes which seek to alter her delicate mechanism. Under certain unfavourable conditions, cold and poor soil, the common oak will develop characteristics of the oak of the Quaternary period. The dog left to run wild in the forest will in a few generations revert to the type of his original wolf-like progenitor ... This tendency to alter under special conditions is common to human beings, in whom hunger, syphilis, trauma, and still more frequently, morbid conditions inherited from insane, criminal or diseased progenitors, or the abuse of nerve poisons, such as alcohol, tobacco, or morphine, cause various alterations, of which criminality – that is, a return to the characteristics peculiar to primitive savages – is in reality the least serious, because it represents a less advanced stage than other forms of cerebral alteration.8

According to some theorists, degeneration was both genetically transmitted and progressive (Lombroso himself, however, did not emphasize genetic causes). There were two theories of genetic transmission. According to the first, lineage was direct: an alcoholic would beget an alcoholic, a violent criminal a violent criminal. According to the second, the lineage was indirect. Benedict Morel’s theory posited an indirect lineage like this: First Generation: Nervous temperament; moral depravity; excesses.



The First Golden Age: Degeneration  37

Second Generation: Tendency to apoplexy and severe neuroses; alcoholism. Third Generation: Mental derangements; suicide; intellectual incapacity. Fourth Generation: Hereditary imbecility; deformities; arrested development. With this last generation the race comes to an end by sterility.9 Degeneration theory made criminology into a popular and legitimate branch of social science. From the Enlightenment until the late nineteenth century, the prevailing Classical School criminological theory considered crime to be a result of the criminal’s rational calculation. In 1876 Lombroso published his L’Uomo Delinquente (The criminal man), in which he challenged the notion of universal criminal free will and rationality. Lombroso argued that roughly one third of all offenders were of a “born-criminal type”: atavistic, biologically determined life forms whose mental and physiological characteristics resembled those of children, apes, and primitive people. Lombroso describes his discovery of the type in a famous paragraph: This was not merely an idea, but a revelation. At the sight of that skull, I seemed to see all of a sudden, lighted up as a vast plain under a flaming sky, the problem of the nature of the criminal – an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals. Thus were explained anatomically the enormous jaws, high cheek bones, prominent superciliary arches, solitary lines in the palms, extreme size of the orbits, handle-shaped ears found in criminals, savages and apes, insensibility to pain, extremely acute sight, tattooing, excessive idleness, love of orgies, and the irresponsible craving of evil for its own sake, the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim, but to mutilate the corpse, tear its flesh and drink its blood.10

Lombroso could identify the born criminal type by certain physical, psychological, and moral signs. These included abnormalities in the head, the brain, the face, the limbs, as well as in high pain tolerance, and slangy, archaic language. Aberrations in the moral sense, as indicated by lack of remorse, treachery, vanity, and impulsiveness, were also unique to the born criminal. The ordinary criminal and the born criminal type’s overt behaviour could be identical, but the various signs would set the two types apart. What made Lombroso’s ideas appealing to both professional and lay

38  The Myth of the Born Criminal

audiences was the fact that the theory seemed to unfold in the way a proper science should. First, it was rooted in legitimate scientific theories and fields of study, most importantly natural selection (though in fact Darwin believed that traits harmful to an organism would not be selected, making degeneration logically incompatible with evolutionary theory), and anthropology. Many European cities built anthropological museums in the second half of the nineteenth century, and it became fashionable to consider human cultures in evolutionary terms. Darwin himself tied human sex differences to cultural evolution. He wrote in The Descent of Man that traits like intuition, perception, and imitation are stronger in women than in men, but that “some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization.”11 Lombroso’s attempt to fit individuals into this scheme was therefore not a radical departure from accepted ideas. Second, Lombroso generated vast amounts of data. He took physical measures of soldiers, asylum inmates, prison inmates, youth in and out of reformatories, women, and dead bodies. He studied, among other things, physiognomy, craniometry, tattoos, pain sensitivity, sight, strength, blushing, armpit temperature, urine, drawings, and handwriting. At the 1885 International Congress of Criminal Anthropology he displayed seventy skulls of Italian criminals, thirty skulls of epileptics, and the entire skeleton of a thief ... plaster molds of two criminals’ heads, three hundred photos of epileptics, another three hundred photos of German criminals, twenty-four life-size drawings of criminals, and samples of criminal handwriting and those of preserved skin with tattoos.12

Lombroso also made use of the latest scientific instruments, such as the algometer for measuring general sensitivity, the auricular goniometer for facial angles, the Zwaardemaker olfactometer for smell, the Nothnagel thermesthesiometer for thermal sensitivity, and the Eulenberg baristesiometer for pressure discrimination.13 These measurements were also a natural extension of work already underway in Europe. Some have estimated that as many as 20 million people – mostly school children and military recruits – were subjected to anthropological measurements at the end of the nineteenth century.14 One of the most attractive aspects of Lombroso’s theory for the general audience was that it was at once serious science and common sense. Repulsion toward the born criminal physique was, according to Lom-



The First Golden Age: Degeneration  39

broso, instinctual. Common people, including children, could describe such bodies in poems and drawings, and recognize criminals on sight. Lombroso tried to prove this empirically. As his daughter recalls, Lombroso “once placed before forty children twenty portraits of thieves and twenty representing great men, and 80 per cent recognized in the first the portraits of bad and deceitful people.”15 The more Lombroso’s theory expanded, the more it took hold in the public imagination. As Lombroso’s thought matured, the more obvious it became to him that born criminals were not simply people who commited crimes; they were types of individuals with certain dispositions and biological markers, and the exact behavioural outcome of their atavism could be affected by circumstances. This meant that degeneration could afflict non-criminals as well. “He may not be a legal criminal,” Lombroso once remarked, “but he is a criminal anthropologically.”16 In his 1888 book, The Man of Genius, Lombroso went so far as to argue that degeneration was more common in geniuses than in the insane. His degenerate-geniuses included Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Erasmus, Spinoza, Mozart, Beethoven, Rembrandt, Balzac, Schopenhauer, Dostoyevsky, and even Charles Darwin himself. Other degenerationists agreed, observing that degeneration could afflict not only the career criminal, but scientists, lawyers, administrators, mathematicians, and artists alike. Degeneration was popular well into the early decades of twentieth century, though its heyday was the late nineteenth century. Accounts appeared in medical and evolutionary literature as well as in popular fiction, newspaper articles, and political treatises. Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) all dealt with the horrible possibility of human physical and mental descent. Some aspects of degeneracy were explicitly racist. The German physician-anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach believed that Adam and Eve had been Caucasian, and that other races were the result of degeneration. Demographic and international power shifts were also a common target, specifics depending on the country. Degeneracy was blamed for military decline in France and for the rising number of poor in England. Germans feared that the influx of Jews would result in degeneration and racial impurity. The social critic Max Nordau attacked modernist art – everything from overly aesthetic English literature to Impressionist painting – as symptomatic of degeneration.

40  The Myth of the Born Criminal

Despite its ubiquity, the acceptance of degeneration theory as serious science began to decline at the end of the nineteenth century. In its attempt to explain everything, it had become too ambitious, vague, and easy to critique. By 1884, Lombroso himself had noted the drift. Even though he still held on to his own general theory of born criminality – and indeed added new types of criminals and causes of criminality throughout his career – Lombroso now wrote, “In an era in which the goal of science is careful analysis, the concept of degeneration has become too broad, being used to explain pathologies from cretinism to genius, from deaf-mutism to cancer.”17 Moreover, the theory’s key assumption – the different physical and psychological makeup of degenerates and non-degenerates – was never systematically studied in the nineteenth century. When the British criminologist Charles Goring published his study The English Convict: A Statistical Study in 1913, the results were disappointing: the criminal’s constitution was not significantly different from anybody else’s. The ultimate end of degenerationism, however, did not come until after the Second World War. A number of prominent fascists throughout Europe had raised degenerationist fears of social, moral, physical, and racial decline. Hans Frank, a Third Reich minister of justice and the Governor General of occupied Poland – later to be executed for his role in the Holocaust – told an audience in 1938, National Socialism regards degeneracy as an immensely important source of criminal activity ... in an individual, degeneracy signifies exclusion from the normal “genus” of the decent nation. This state of being degenerate or egenerate, this different or alien quality, tends to be rooted in miscegenation between a decent representative of his race and an individual of inferior racial stock. To us National Socialists, criminal biology, or the theory of congenital criminality, connotes a link between racial decadence and criminal manifestations.18

The Reich’s justification of the genocide of Jews, Slavs, and other unwanted elements on the basis of degeneracy made it henceforth impossible to entertain the theory with good conscience. In sum, many variations of degeneracy were put forth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The majority of them, however, shared basic tenets, which are as follows: 1. Different types of disorder and deviance are interconnected. 2. These connections are caused by a biological defect.



The First Golden Age: Degeneration  41

3. This biological defect is heritable. 4. Individuals afflicted with degeneration are evolutionary throwbacks. 5. The degenerate may be identified by physical and psychological signs, which are often subtle. Psychopathy and Degeneration In the late nineteenth century, psychopathy (under several different names and iterations) was briefly proposed as a symptom of degeneration. One psychiatrist wanted to rename psychopathy “degenerative insanity of the moral type.”19 Another characterized the degenerate in effect as the modern psychopath: In still other degenerates we find a well-developed action of the intellect combined with an almost total absence of feeling. The moral sense, sympathy, pity, love, etc., are conditions utterly strange to such people. They act from cold calculation. Selfishness and heartlessness mark all their acts. Those curmudgeons whose sole satisfaction is the heaping up of wealth, to whose life all ideal features are foreign, who stick at no legal means of attaining their selfish ends, who are not only without feeling for the sufferings of their fellow-men, but are even cold and indifferent to their nearest family, belong to this category of mental degeneration.20

Emil Kraepelin, the man many consider to be the founder of modern scientific psychiatry, wrote in the 1903–4 edition of his Psychiatry: A Textbook of “psychopathic personalities” as being “those peculiar morbid forms of personality development which we have grounds for regarding as degenerative.”21 In the third edition of his Criminal Man, published in 1884, Lombroso himself noted similarities between moral insanity and born criminality. The similarities included skull shape, physiognomy, the inability to feel pain, tattooing, sexuality, vengefulness, and excessive vanity. But the most important proof of the conditions’ resemblance, Lombroso argued, was the fact that both developed in childhood. “The hereditary nature of moral insanity,” he wrote, “fits with our findings on the criminal tendencies in children. The physiological state of many children resembles moral insanity and will persist into adulthood if not reined in by environmental factors. Even if a child has no specific criminal tendencies, his pathological state may become habitual.”22 In the first decades of the twentieth century, the link between psychopathy and degeneration was less and less frequently acknowledged,

42  The Myth of the Born Criminal

until, in the period after the Second World War, the link was all but sublimated. But the association did not disappear; within a generation it simply mutated into an unacknowledged debt. When psychopathy emerged as a major diagnostic category later in the century, it began, seamlessly and quietly, to borrow ideas from degeneration theory. Here are the five basic tenets of degeneracy again, and their correspondence to modern thought on psychopathy: 1. Different types of disorder and deviance are interconnected. Degeneration theory argued that psychological, physical, moral, and social ills exist as a network of logically interconnected ills. The same idea is reflected in the diagnostic criteria for both psychopathy and psychopathic comorbidity. First, psychopathy contains a wide variety of moral and social deviations, many of which were also symptoms of degeneration. The general symptom categories include psychological problems (such as “need for stimulation/proneness to boredom,” “poor behavior controls,” and “impulsivity”), criminality (“juvenile delinquency,” “criminal versatility,” and “revocation of conditional release”), and implicit and explicit moral transgressions (essentially all twenty PCL-R items; see appendix A). Second, psychopathy researchers have, in the tradition of standard clinical research, conducted comorbidity studies. Although several technical definitions of comorbidity exist, the gist of the notion is the coexistence of two or more disorders in a given individual. Comorbidity studies have attempted to link not only mental and physical disorders with psychopathy, but a variety of other social and moral problems as well. These studies have managed to capture the bulk of degeneracy symptoms with surprising accuracy. Here is a list of conditions and behaviours that have been studied as potentially comorbid with psychopathy: schizophrenia, somatization disorder, mood disorders, suicide attempts and suicide, alcoholism, narcotic addiction, paedophilia, pornography, job troubles, negligence towards children, illegal activities, marital relationships and promiscuity, physical violence, vagrancy, lying, the use of aliases, traffic offences, pimping, tattooing, bodybuilding, body piercing, and steroid use.23 A 2009 study even found that students with psychopathic traits were more likely than non-psychopathic students to own a vicious dog.24 Furthermore, recall that Lombroso’s born criminals showed abnormal language and high pain tolerance. Two standard causal



The First Golden Age: Degeneration  43

theories of psychopathy involve abnormal language processing and deficient fear conditioning to painful stimuli. 2. These connections are caused by a biological defect. Most contemporary researchers believe that psychopathy is caused by an interaction between biological and environmental factors. Also, comorbidity studies of psychopathy typically make the assumption that symptom overlaps are not necessarily random or spontaneous but may be due to some underlying biological defect. On this, one researcher writes, Comorbidity can have several causes ... Two disorders can be comorbid simply by chance, since they occur completely independently of each other. They can have a common core liability that takes on different expressions [emphasis added]. They can both be a part of a spectrum of related disorders. One disorder can predispose a person to or make the person vulnerable to the other, and one disorder can be a complication of the other. For psychopathy, all these causes of comorbidity are found.25

3. This biological defect is heritable. A number of recent studies have examined the heritability of psychopathy – see appendix B. Most genetic theories implicitly suggest a direct causality (psychopathic parent passes on a risk gene or genes), though some researchers make the case for indirect heritability. In terms strikingly similar to Morel’s generational theory of degeneration, one modern researcher writes about antisocial personality disorder, a close cousin to psychopathy: Most genetic and developmental research seems to support a developmental process model, starting with APD [antisocial personality disorder] or hyperaggression in the biological parents, and leading to hyperaggression, oppositional defiant disorder, CD [conduct disorder], adult APD, and eventually substance misuse in the offspring.26

4. Individuals afflicted with degeneration are evolutionary throwbacks. Officially, atavism is an example of a dead idea. If it is discussed at all, it is discussed as an example of junk science, and no rational researcher would explicitly support it. Yet, some researchers and clinicians portray psychopaths as either throwbacks to an earlier stage of human development (whether childlike or primitive) or as

44  The Myth of the Born Criminal

evolutionarily less developed species. It is useful to examine these in detail. Here is a sample of statements taken from mainstream psychopathy literature written between 1944 and 2002: The fact that the behavior of the psychopath appears to be a type of reaction that expresses itself through primitive responses awakens suspicion of malfunctioning in the higher cortical regions which are presumed to exercise restraint and control over those lower “centers” through which basic drives and motives are mediated. It is not too farfetched to suggest that since these higher centers are phylogenetically more recent, a specific anlage of psychopathy may be a structurally defective brain.27 Most human beings pass beyond the “opportunistic stage.” They develop a “proprium” ... Here the psychopath falters ... he does not pass beyond the animally conditioned stage of learning.28 The frequent finding that the brain-wave activity of some psychopaths bears a certain resemblance to that generally found in children has led some investigators to propose that psychopathic behavior reflects cortical immaturity. The simplicity of this maturational retardation hypothesis is quite appealing, particularly when it is recognized that some of the psychopath’s characteristics – egocentricity, impulsivity, inability to delay gratification – are also found to a certain extent in children.29 Within each of us lies a hard, reptilian core of need. Neurophysiology places that core of primal needs in our brainstem and limbic system; evolution and our individual development bury those needs under many layers of inhibition, of learned responses, of conditioned stimuli taking the place of primary stimuli. This process of conditioning, of restraining that primitive core breaks down in the psychopath.30 Although there is absolutely no neuroanatomical or neurophysiological research to support a correlation between a psychopathic behavior and the functional prevalence of the reptilian cerebrotype, the conceptual parallels are striking. I would hypothesize that the term reptilian state describes the functional psychobiology of certain primary, psychopathic characters.31

Mental health experts marginal to the psychopathy research pro-



The First Golden Age: Degeneration  45

gram can be even more explicit about this. The Argosy University psychologist Alisa Robinson writes on her blog that “in some ways, these individual’s [psychopaths’] brains are more like that of a reptile than a human.”32 In the degenerationist ethos, the degenerate was above all a strange creature. The same holds for psychopaths. It is not unusual to read comments like these in mainstream psychopathy literature: “True psychopaths, with their consistently antisocial behavior, present the average observer with a phenomenon so spectacularly alien that it seems almost incredible that such people exist”; “The true psychopath is lost to humanity”; “To say that there is something unusual about people like him [a psychopath] is an understatement”; and “In time, after developing inner controls, the normal baby acquires ‘human nature.’ Why do a few children (the psychopaths) never make this transition into ‘humanness’?”33 5. The degenerate may be identified by physical and psychological signs, which are often subtle. Both the degenerate and the psychopath are seen as types, whose distinguishing characteristics may be difficult to detect without the use of certain specialized techniques, such as Lombroso’s physical examinations and various tests for psychopathy. Also, just as degeneration could afflict anyone from Charles Darwin to the prostitute and the murderer, we now have “white-collar,” “corporate,” or “subclinical” psychopaths, who according to Robert Hare can be “lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, academics, mercenaries, police officers, cult leaders, military personnel, businesspeople, writers, artists, entertainers, and so forth.”34 (For a more thorough discussion of white-collar psychopaths, see chapter 3.) Psychopathy researchers also have updated Lombroso’s list of famous degenerates. The proposed lists of psychopaths in mainstream psychopathy literature include Alcibiades, Winston Churchill, Lyndon Johnson, Oskar Schindler, Sir Richard Burton, Chuck Yeager, Julius Caesar, Lawrence of Arabia, Rousseau, Shelley, Nietzsche, Flaubert, Carlyle, Schiller, and Rimbaud.35 The Adjustable Degeneracy Portfolio In the late nineteenth century, degenerates could be whoever you wanted them to be. This was the theory’s strength and its eventual weak-

46  The Myth of the Born Criminal

ness. The theory was remarkably popular for a long time despite lack of empirical proof, and within a few decades of its death it came to life again as psychopathy. Theories like degeneration endure because they not only provide simple rules for understanding and identifying the deviant but also are flexible. As the Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking argues, degeneracy accommodated whatever deviance was considered problematic in a given time and place. In the late 1880s, for example, vagrancy became a pressing social issue, and was immediately incorporated into the theory. Degeneracy is built on a few hard-core assumptions around which a number of auxiliary hypotheses – terms used by another philosopher of science, Imre Lakatos – about symptoms, patient groups, and so on can be added. Also, any non-performing auxiliary hypothesis can be deleted without damage to the theory’s hard core. Hacking calls this the “adjustable degeneracy portfolio.”36 Each generation updates this portfolio. Whether or not degeneration theory or one of its offshoots – such as the biological theory of psychopathy – is correct, the portfolio above all functions as an index of generational fears. The portfolio expanded to include serial murder in the 1980s and corporate mismanagement in the early 2000s. The sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008 was an unexpected lifeline. These types of events mobilize and legitimize the theory’s hard core. When cultural concerns arise, scientists are employed, the best are celebrated, and papers and books are published. But scientists wedded to the theory see it in reverse: the degenerate is a human type who precedes culture, and who simply materializes to prey in culture-specific ways. These scientists would posit that new social arrangements of their time – democracy, cars, free markets, TV, the Internet, etc. – have created a degeneratefriendly world. To make sense of and to combat degeneracy, such scientists are compelled to update their theory and tools. In the process, books and articles get written, honours are bestowed, and the media and law enforcement get involved. When conditions are right, the degeneracy program enters a golden age.

3 The Second Golden Age: Psychopathy

In 2007, a thief began to raid homes in southeastern Ontario, taking women’s and girls’ lingerie, home movies, family photos, and sex toys. Sometimes he left taunting notes. One read: “Go ahead and call the police. I want to show the judge your really big dildos.” Another said “Merci.” Then in September 2009, in the small municipality of Tweed, a masked man entered a woman’s house and bound, raped, and photographed her. Soon it happened to another Tweed woman. In November of the same year, thirty-eight-year-old Marie-France Comeau was raped and murdered in her home in the nearby town of Brighton. Two months later, twenty-seven-year-old Jessica Lloyd disappeared from her home in Belleville. Ontario Provincial Police had few leads and little reason to connect the burglaries, the rapes, the murder, and the disappearance. Finally, a clue emerged in front of the missing woman’s house – a distinctive tire track. The police set up a road block, and began to look for matching tire treads. The search soon produced a match to a Nissan Pathfinder driven by forty-six-year-old Russell Williams. Williams was placed under surveillance and called in for questioning a few days later. In addition to the tire tracks, the police had matched Williams’s boots to prints found at the crime scene. Confronted with the evidence, Williams confessed and led the investigators to Jessica Lloyd’s body. Williams had raped and strangled her, dumping her in a forest a short drive from his home. He also confessed to the burglaries and rapes, and to Marie-France Comeau’s murder. Police found a carefully indexed inventory of each offence at Williams’s home, including video of the murders, police reports, hundreds of pieces of stolen lingerie, and pictures of Williams posing in them.

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Canadian and international media reported Williams’s arrest, confession, and subsequent life sentence. What made the case particularly unusual was the offender himself; Williams was a decorated commander of the Canadian Forces base in Trenton, Ontario, a man who had regularly piloted planes for high-ranking politicians and even the Queen of England. He was well-connected, competent, and married. None of the usual explanations for violent crime – revenge, poverty, abuse, alienation, or mental illness – seemed to apply. Williams’s childhood and youth were unremarkable. His parents had divorced when he was seven, and in adulthood he had few intimate relationships with women. That was all.1 A number of mental health and law enforcement experts commented on the case for the media. Since the experts tended to know little beyond news coverage about Williams, most of the commentary was either repetitive or obvious. The New York Times interviewed three experts, one of whom explained that “it almost has the quality of a breakdown”; the second noted that Williams maintained a responsible public image and the third that his public image was exactly what “[made] it so startling.”2 All emphasized just how strange the case was; “This man is from another planet,” said one clinical psychologist.3 Most interviewees commented on Williams’s rapid escalation from theft to murder, and described him as a sexual sadist with a paraphilia. Some thought that his behaviour was probably caused by an interaction between his genes and his environment, while others speculated about a triggering event in his life. The former director of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s criminal profiling unit said that “we all have stressors that put pressure on us and we all have different ways of relieving it. Some people go for a run, others have a glass of wine, and sexual predators go out and rape.”4 A year after the case broke, Dateline NBC brought in a retired FBI profiler to discuss the case. He had this to say on the first murder: “What was clear that somebody had raped her, and somebody had killed her, and somebody had spent time in the home ... which suggests reconnaissance activity.” On Williams’s state of mind during the offences he concluded that it was “probably quite exhilarating for him.” Williams’s habit of stealing and posing in lingerie meant that “in essence, Russell Williams was creating his own pornography collection in which he was the star.”5 But some experts proposed a more definitive explanation. Since Williams had no discernible motive, they reasoned, he must be a psychopath or a sociopath. This seemed a simple and elegant solution to the



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mystery of Williams’s motives: he was evil by nature, and no further explanation was necessary (save for an explanation of what caused psychopathy). The label seemed a good fit. Williams appeared cunning, cruel and emotionally detached, and he was able to kill without compunction. Afterwards, he discussed the killings dispassionately. The diagnosis both deepened and simplified Williams’s identity by, in essence, giving him two identities – a respectable and false social persona (a “dream” or “spirit,” as one psychologist put it, describing psychopaths in general), 6 and a deeper, more central self of unmitigated evil. In other words, the answer to how Williams managed to fool the world about his real identity was already built into the diagnosis. Williams’s interrogating officer was among the first to suggest psychopathy. After confronting Williams with bootprint evidence at the Lloyd residence, the officer pressed him to confess: “What are you going to do Russell? You know there’s only one option…” “What’s the option?” “Well, I don’t think you want the cold-blooded psychopath option. I might be wrong … ’cause I’ve met guys who actually kind of like the notoriety … got off on having that label, [Paul] Bernardo being one of them. I don’t see that in you.”7

The officer expertly pitted the supposed two selves of the psychopath against each other in order to extract a confession. By explaining the reasons for the murders – which would amount to the same thing as a confession – Williams could at least in theory hold on to his public persona. Without a comprehensible motive he would by default be a psychopath, and this would in turn expose his public persona as a lie. Williams confessed. Shortly after Williams’s guilty plea, media began to seriously consider psychopathy as an explanation. Canada’s leading national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, ran an article titled “Anatomy of Evil: How a Psychopath Is Made.” The article brought up the psychopathic dualidentity by quoting Hervey Cleckley, one of the forefathers of the modern psychopathy concept: In 1941, American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley published a seminal book about psychopaths called The Mask of Sanity, in which he described an intelligent and cunning person skilled at manipulating others and in-

50  The Myth of the Born Criminal different to their pain. A man like this, Dr. Cleckley explained, finds no real meaning in love or horror or humour, as if “colour blind” to human feelings. Succeeding on his superficial charm and purity of focus, he walks the paces of a normal person, yet carries “disaster lightly in each hand.” A man like this can wear the uniform of social responsibility, even pilot planes for the Queen of England, and be quite a different beast inside [emphasis added]. These traits come remarkably close to describing the horror of Russell Williams.8

Two days later the paper set up an online question and answer session titled “The Psychology of a Psychopath” with a forensic psychologist. The psychologist confirmed that “there is nothing that I am aware of at this time that would contradict the textbook definition [of psychopathy as applied to Williams].”9 Mental health experts and journalists soon weighed in on the diagnosis. Eric Hickey, the prominent criminologist and author of Serial Murderers and Their Victims, told Maclean’s magazine that “primary psychopathy” would best explain Williams’s ability to blend in with mainstream society.10 Another commentator, a forensic psychologist, described him as “antisocial,” “psychopathic,” “sadistic,” “schizoidal,” and “a malignant narcissist.”11 One psychiatrist observed that Williams “likely is suffering at least from some traits of being a psychopath ... but I wouldn’t actually call him a psychopath.”12 Elliott Leyton, the author of Hunting Humans, pronounced Williams a sociopath. Timothy Appleby, the author of A New Kind of Monster: The Secret Life and Chilling Crimes of Colonel Russell Williams, disagreed. Williams was, after all, loyal to his wife and to the military, and showed emotions in other contexts. David Gibb interviewed a number of experts about psychopathy for his book Camouflaged Killer: The Shocking Double Life of Colonel Russell Williams, and concluded that Williams was only partly psychopathic. One forensic psychologist gave his thoughts after watching a TV documentary on the case, saying “It turns out this guy liked to steal women’s underwear and take pictures in them. That was kind of his thing. That’s sort of what rocked his world I guess you could say, right? Now, that doesn’t make you a psychopath.”13 Much of the public commentary following Williams’s confession hinged on whether or not he was a psychopath. Since his crimes seemed obviously psychopathic – calculated, sane, and brutal – any suggestion that he was not a psychopath or a sociopath drew controversy. A demand for a diagnosis was a demand for a comprehensible moral uni-



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verse that neatly and scientifically set evil apart from good. Ambiguity or absence of a diagnosis, on the other hand, dredged up the question no one was prepared to answer: how does a basically decent individual turn evil? Yet, logically, the debate over Williams’s psychopathy diagnosis was meaningless. Psychopathy is a descriptive term, which means that it no more explained Williams’s behaviour than kindness explains good deeds. Crime is a feature of psychopathy, not its effect. In other words, psychopathy – if Williams indeed was a psychopath – would simply be a summary statement about what he was like, and what he was like was already a matter of public record; the diagnosis would add nothing beyond the record. But the debate was meaningful in another way. It showed that psychopathy had metastasized into something far more philosophically complex and culturally loaded than a psychiatric diagnosis. For one, it had become a positive feedback loop, with each go at a diagnosis tacitly reinforcing the label’s significance. The more the diagnosis came up, even as something Williams was not, the more central it became to the case. More subtly, it showed that psychopathy was wrapped up in a number of implicit assumptions. First, despite being a psychiatric diagnosis, psychopathy was also unmistakeably about morality. Williams’s diagnosis gave us licence to treat him simultaneously as an object of science and of moral condemnation, as both mad and bad. A different diagnosis – say, schizophrenia – would almost automatically exclude the latter, thus making the murders less a popular narrative than a medical one. Second, psychopathy invoked determinism. Williams’s actions, the assumption seemed to be, were the result of his psychopathy and not of something else, such as free will (one psychologist interviewed on TV did in fact bring up the possibility of free will, but to no avail – the interviewer quickly dropped that line of questioning).14 One retired FBI profiler summarized the point like this: “Williams escalated and continued his crimes because it was who he was and he couldn’t do anything about it.”15 Third, the idea that psychopathy, to whatever degree, was Williams’s central identity and the rest of his life a mere illusion was so powerful as to become practically an article of faith. The legendary FBI sex crime profiler Roy Hazelwood reinforced the notion by summarily detaching Williams’s true self from his pre–crime spree behaviour, declaring that “Williams was always a sexual sadist, he just hadn’t arrived there behaviorally yet.”16 That is, Williams was always fundamentally a sadist,

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and his behaviour – the typical source of diagnostic information – was simply a confirmation of this deeper psychological truth. Another retired FBI agent, who also had never met Williams, knew that Williams’s sexual fantasies “without question began at an early age.”17 The profilers’ claim to absolute knowledge about Williams was predicated on the total separation of mental illness – or at least this mental illness – from mental health. Williams was above all mentally ill, and what he did was either a direct cause of his illness or a desperate – and to the trained eye, a transparent – attempt to hide it. The line of reasoning here went something like this: Williams was knowable because (a) he was mentally ill and (b) he was nothing beyond his mental illness. Williams was an object, and science had caught up to him. The remarkable thing about the early public commentary on Williams was just how completely it derived from the natural sciences (at least when not being tautological). The pre-arrest Williams, a man presumably with an interior life, intentions, depth and complexity, abruptly became a psychologically flat mechanism, a known entity whom experts could swiftly recognize and understand. His diagnosis now substituted for motives. But the new frame of reference came with a built-in problem: since psychopathy was supposedly a stable trait that could, at least according to some, be identified early in life, Williams’s entire life would now have to be re-evaluated. Predictably, the new frame could not account for everything. If Williams’s pre-crime self – his friendships, career, reputation, marriage, and so on – made sense as a series of choices and aspirations, his new psychopathic self no longer quite did; it accounted for what was ruthless, odious, and wrong about him, not for what was private and benign. But the opposite also held true: the crimes hardly made sense as rational means–ends thinking. How could a sane person choose to cause so much suffering and risk so much simply to further sexual ends? The question of whether Williams’s behaviour was the function of causes or reasons and motives embodies a central problem in psychology’s self-definition. Since becoming an academic discipline in the nineteenth century, psychology has struggled to decide whether it is a natural or a social science, a science whose subject – the person – is either reducible to mechanistic natural laws or not. If it is so reducible, human behaviour can at least in principle be explained; if not, the goal of psychology is to understand. One logical dividing line between the two approaches is free will. If humans have free will, the role of social science is to look for the reasons for how we exercise free will.



The Second Golden Age: Psychopathy  53

Reasons tend to be heavily contextual; they flow from beliefs, cultural norms, dispositions, experiences, interpretations, and so on, and cannot be reduced to any single event. Causes on the other hand are universal, and therefore operate in the same way in different contexts. The German historian Wilhelm Dilthey called the two, equally valid, forms of science Naturwissenschaft (“natural science”) and Geisteswissenschaft (“spiritual” or “human science”), and prescribed what they should be modelled after: Naturwissenschaft after physics, and Geisteswissenschaft after history. The common experience of free will, combined with the humanistic impulse to endow human life with dignity, clashed early on with the Darwinian idea that humans existed in an evolutionary continuum (the evolutionary argument was bolstered by mid- to late-nineteenthcentury advances in functional brain localization). The conflict was explicit in the work of founding psychologists like Wilhelm Wundt and William James. Wundt was a pioneering physiological psychologist and the founder of the first psychological laboratory. Yet, he was also adamant that one could not understand a human being without also understanding his or her culture. He put it like this: When we have taken account of every one of the external reasons that go to determine action, we still find the will undetermined. We must therefore term these external conditions not causes, but motives [emphasis original], of volition. And between a cause and a motive there is a very great difference. A cause necessarily produces its effect: not so a motive ... (S)ince all the immediate causes of voluntary action proceed from personality, we must look for the origin of volition in the inmost nature of personality – in character [emphasis original]. Character is the sole immediate cause [emphasis original] of voluntary actions.18

For Wundt, “character” meant, in Daniel Robinson’s words, “the complex creation of biological organization, cultural influences, hereditary predispositions, and that matrix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and feelings that give a person a unique identity.”19 Since to understand the entirety of any individual required understanding his or her character, psychology had to involve analysis of culture as well. To this end, Wundt divided his work into two major projects: experimental laboratory psychology on the one hand and study of cultural products – myth, religion, art, language, and customs – on the other, the latter of which he called Völkerpsychologie. Whatever Wundt’s first project discovered

54  The Myth of the Born Criminal

about the human mind would by necessity be incomplete without help from the second. The twentieth century failed to produce a unifying psychological theory, and so the debate over psychology’s status continued. Behaviourists and cognitive psychologists fought for ground with humanist and psychoanalysts throughout much of the century (psychoanalysis’ influence on psychiatry in the decades following the Second World War was profound, especially in America). By the late twentieth century, however, the natural science frame had won out. And so, by the time it came to understanding Russell Williams, the commentators almost reflexively reached for a natural science explanation. Confident that Williams’s behaviour followed some as-yet-discovered natural laws of psychopathology, the experts had few apparent qualms about dissecting him without laying eyes on him. Williams was ill, and his behaviour was the function of his illness, and anyone with the same illness would behave similarly. Understanding his character, in Wundt’s terms, would be superfluous. The resulting story was best summarized in a Globe and Mail article about Williams soon after his confession. “The brains of psychopaths,” the article explained, seem to be stunted in the machinery involved in humanity’s ability to feel empathy and kindness, even love. In adult psychopaths, the almondshaped structure called the amygdala that generates emotions like fear and is also involved in learning, is significantly smaller. They appear to have weaknesses in the inner recesses of the brain that make up the paralimbic system, which involves emotions and self-control ... There also appear to be differences in the corpus callosum, which joins the right and left hemispheres of the brain and has been linked to their impressive ability to lie and cheat and manipulate people.20

In other words, Williams’s central identity was psychopathy, he was predetermined to kill, and he could put on a false front because he probably had a defective paralimbic system and corpus callosum. What is more, as one researcher explained to the reporters, the defect was genetic and possibly curable. This was not speculation, the article not-so subtly implied, but an emerging consensus, a set of well-documented empirical facts which were just now coming to light and which would eventually explain the likes of Russell Williams.



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But however elegant this biological account was, it simply illustrated why psychology had trouble defining itself in the first place. Even if there was such a thing as a psychopathic brain, and even if Williams had one, did he not also have free will and motives? What evidence suggests that he did not have free will and motives? (A 2013 study, for instance, suggests that psychopaths have the ability to turn their empathetic responses on and off.)21 In reducing Williams’s essence to psychopathy and neurobiology, something essential was left out. The most obvious missing ingredient was Williams’s psychology – the nexus of motives, intentions, beliefs, choices, internal conflicts, social contexts, regrets, meaningful coincidences, and so on: the stuff, in other words, of any well-written biography. One of the central differences between the psychological and biological – or social and natural science – accounts is that the former is dynamic whereas the latter is static. Save for the possibility that Williams had certain proximal triggers (stress, say, right before his crime spree), the biological account was fundamentally retrospective and essentialist: Williams’s behaviour was determined by his personality, and his personality by his biology (or some combination of biology and environment). The account was essentialist in endorsing an implicit hierarchy of essential and inessential selves. William’s normal, social self was a “mask of sanity,” a fake persona that hid his essential psychopathic self. But of course nothing compels this conclusion. It may be morally justifiable to divide Williams’s selves in this way – it is easy to argue that the moral significance of his crimes outweighed the rest of his accomplishments, and to argue the opposite would be to minimize his crimes – but there is nothing scientific about doing so. Why should we believe that Williams’s evil side was a truer self than his not-so-evil side? Could the two sides not coexist, or gradually develop into one composite, and more complex, but equally true self, one that comes into being and for a moment thrives in early twenty-first-century southeastern Ontario, a thing Wundt would call character? Williams’s presumed lack of empathy might have made it easier for him to rape and murder, but it does not ultimately explain why he did so. Is Williams’s double life, furthermore, really a mystery, or have we simply not studied him enough? This raises a few obvious questions, such as: Why exactly is a double life a mystery, and how do we know that its solution lies in abnormal psychology? Is a double life not a rational choice for a person committing crimes and not wanting to get caught?

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The Consensus The Globe and Mail article on the psychopathic brain was certainly right about one thing: the biological theory of psychopathy had become immensely popular in the last ten years. Spurred by developments in neuroimaging technology in the 1990s, social scientists began to amass an impressive body of data on psychopathic brains. More often than not, the data showed structural and functional differences between psychopaths’ and non-psychopaths’ brains, a finding that researchers tended to interpret as proof that the disorder was biological. Although physiological studies of psychopathy were well under way by 1970, they did not become the dominant paradigm until the 1990s, and their ascendancy accelerated rapidly in the 2000s. More than 75 per cent of the published studies, books, or book chapters on psychopathy and neurobiology published to date have appeared since 2000.22 In 2011–12, the National Institutes of Health funded thirty psychopathy-related research projects, of which twenty-four studied neurobiological correlates and only two social or environmental correlates. In 2013–14, the institute funded fourteen studies on the neurobiology of psychopathy, while only two studies looked at both the environment and neurobiology.23 Media began to take serious interest in the biological studies in the early 2000s, and a few leading researchers repeatedly appeared in print, radio, and documentary films to reiterate the biological story of psychopathy. Headlines like “What If a Brain Scan Could Catch a Murderer?,” “Brains of Psychopaths are Different, British Researchers Find,” and “Brain Imbalance ‘Causes’ Psychopaths,”24 became commonplace in mainstream media, and social scientists made public statements that grew bolder with time. James Blair, the chief of the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health, told an interviewer in 2002 that “it’s definitely a biologically based condition in the sense that the amygdala is functioning poorly.”25 University textbooks on psychology and criminology followed suit, dedicating increasing space to biological studies at the cost of those examining environmental causes. Many introductory psychology texts, for example, now discuss only biological theories of psychopathy. A few popular science writers and public intellectuals took up the cause in the early 2000s, cementing the biological theory’s status as common sense in the popular imagination. Jonah Lehrer, the now-disgraced journalist and best-selling author of books on neuroscience and



The Second Golden Age: Psychopathy  57

psychology, blogged in 2010 at length about psychopaths’ neurological defects, stating it as fact that “the emotional parts of their [psychopaths’] brains are damaged, and this is what makes them dangerous.”26 The Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer lent his support to the idea of testing all children for biological markers of psychopathy, granted that the tests were sufficiently accurate. In 2011, the Richard Dawkins Foundation promoted a BBC article on the neurobiology of psychopaths on its website. 27 Unsurprisingly, lay debates on psychopathy and its causes (on the Internet, mostly) tended to feature a simple dichotomy between those who believed in the biological theory and those who feared and rejected its potential implications for criminal responsibility. The neuroscience, it seemed, was largely settled in the public mind; what remained were simply questions about its relevance to criminal justice. Psychopathy and Law Fears about psychopathy’s implications for moral and legal responsibility were, in fact, realistic. For much of its history, born criminality has been intimately linked with jurisprudence, a self-evident connection since the central point of born criminality was the power of biology to override free will. And so, within half a century of Benjamin Rush’s physical theory of anomia and micronomia, the medical and legal communities began to seriously debate the legal status of the morally insane. If Rush was correct, and the moral faculties operated independently of reason, a rational criminal could in principle be found legally insane. Although this flew in the face of legal common sense, Rush’s theory nonetheless created the possibility of a revolution in jurisprudence. One of the most ardent proponents of such a revolution was Isaac Ray, the author of the influential medico-legal text A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity.28 “That the insane mind,” Ray wrote in 1838, “on many subjects is perfectly rational and displays the exercise of a sound and well-balanced mind is one of those facts now so well established that to question it would only betray the height of ignorance and presumption.”29 Ray argued that the morally insane should be treated by the courts as mentally ill. Ray lashed out at judges who did not agree with him on this point, writing in 1835 that “for our courts we hope better things than that blind submission to authority, which prefers the dicta of fallible men to the established truths of science.”30

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But others, like John Gray, a prominent asylum superintendent, disagreed. According to Gray, the mind could not be rational and insane at the same time, and so moral insanity could not excuse a criminal act. Reason, according to Gray, was the sole criterion of moral and legal responsibility. “Moral insanity,” he scoffed in an address to the Medical Society of the State of New York in 1868, “is the last remnant of the metaphysical school.”31 In an effort to clarify the issue, the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane brought it up for discussion in an 1863 meeting. The results were anything but conclusive. Of the thirteen superintendents who expressed an opinion, five supported Ray’s position and eight sided with Gray. In the ensuing century and a half, the question of moral insanity/ psychopathy and criminal responsibility remained unresolved. The issue was disputed in courtrooms and medico-legal treatises, with expert support for both sides. By and large, common law rejected psychopathy as a defence. The original Ray-Gray-inspired debates began to lose momentum by the end of the nineteenth century, only to be revived a century later with the Gray side now increasingly on the defensive. Beginning in the early 1990s, psychopathy began to appear in several court cases. One study showed that between 1991 and 2004, the use of psychopathy – as measured by the PCL-R – as evidence in U.S. courts rose steadily from zero to thirty cases per year, with a total of eighty-seven uses for the period. A follow-up study for the years 2005 to 2011 recorded a total of 348 PCL-R uses, with similarly steady yearly increases.32 (These numbers include only written opinions, and so most likely reflect only a fraction of actual cases. The Simon Fraser University psychologist Stephen Hart estimates that between 60,000 and 80,000 PCL-R forensic evaluations are carried out every year.)33 The studies also show that the test has been used for an increasingly wide range of purposes. The most common uses were for determining whether an offender was a sexually violent predator, providing insight at parole hearings, assessing his or her mental state during the offense, and determining the appropriate sentence, including capital punishment.34 A Canadian study showed similar increases in juvenile cases between 1970 and 2008.35 In sentencing decisions, however, courts did not apply the diagnosis consistently, some judges taking psychopathy as a mitigating and others as an aggravating circumstance. A team of University of Utah scholars investigated how psychopathy, and in particular the biological theory of psychopathy, might affect



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judges’ sentencing decisions. The researchers gave 181 U.S. state trial court judges a hypothetical case of a violent robbery by a psychopathic offender.36 The study measured, among other things, the judges’ sentencing decisions based on whether or not they received expert testimony about the biomechanism of psychopathy. Although overall the judges rated the defendant’s psychopathy as an aggravating factor, the biological explanation significantly reduced hypothetical sentence length (from 13.93 years without the explanation to 12.83 with it). The study also revealed that the judges’ decisions in the case bore at least some relation to real-life sentencing decisions. One judge justified the decision to consider the biological information as a mitigating circumstance thus: “The evidence that psychopaths do not have the necessary neural connections to feel empathy is significant. It makes possible an argument that psychopaths are, in a sense, morally ‘disabled’ just as other people are physically disabled. I have received and considered such evidence in past trials [emphasis added].”37 In other words, at least some judges had joined the emerging consensus in seeing the biological evidence as an explanation of criminal behaviour. That psychopathy explains crime is, of course, the prerequisite logic for raising the question of criminal responsibility. Since several neuroimaging studies had suggested that psychopathy was a bona fide mental disorder, the natural question became whether psychopathic offenders were fully in control of their actions, and whether they should therefore be held legally culpable. While the original Ray–Gray types of arguments tended to be coloured by religion and moral-legal theories, the new debates became increasingly science based. Some researchers began to argue that psychopaths were impaired in a number of legally and morally relevant ways, including in their ability to learn from punishment, resist impulses, and experience the level of empathy necessary for moral behaviour. Consequently, the researchers argued, the moral culpability of psychopaths should be reduced, if not eliminated. A team of University of Pennsylvania researchers wrote, Given increasing psychological and neuroscientific evidence that brain regions critical in moral decision-making are impaired in psychopaths, here we argue that highly psychopathic individuals, with emotional deficits that impair moral behavior, should not be held criminally responsible for their antisocial actions. In the absence of appropriate emotional responding, psychopaths lack motivation to behave morally; their social knowledge is rhetorical and has little influence on behavior.38

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One of the best-known contemporary psychopathy researchers, University of New Mexico psychologist Kent Kiehl, agreed. To him, psychopaths’ emotional understanding of morality is too undeveloped to warrant full criminal responsibility. He put it this way: “Everyone understands if you have a child with low IQ they aren’t as responsible and don’t make the same choices. What about a child that has an emotional IQ in the same low range?” 39 In 2009, Kiehl put his ideas into action when he appeared as an expert witness in the sentencing hearing of Brian Dugan. Dugan had raped and murdered a ten-year-old Chicago girl in 1983. Kiehl had diagnosed Dugan as a psychopath, and scanned his brain. The results led Kiehl to argue that Dugan suffered from reduced mental capacity that characterized psychopathy. Kiehl argued that Dugan should therefore be spared the death sentence. Even though the jury ultimately rejected his argument (a moot decision it turned out, since Illinois repealed its death penalty in April 2011, thus commuting Dugan’s sentence to life in prison), Kiehl considered it a temporary setback. In an interview with NPR he predicted that “neuroscience and neuroimaging is going to change the whole philosophy about how we punish and how we decide who to incapacitate and how we decide how to deal with people.”40 Nor was Kiehl’s testimony the first of its kind. As early as 2000, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Adrian Raine had given expert witness testimony for the defence in the trial of Donta Page, a man who stood accused of murdering and raping a twenty-four-year-old woman in Denver. Raine’s argument was similar to Kiehl’s: Page’s brain showed a defect common in murderers and psychopaths – lower-than-normal prefrontal cortex activation – which Raine took to mean that the “emergency brake on behaviour is just not there in this individual.”41 This time, a three-judge panel agreed with the argument, and sentenced Page to life in prison rather than imposing the death sentence. The most surprising source of support for the Kiehl-Raine position was academic philosophy. Rather than attacking the biological theory at its weak points (problems with biological determinism, the obvious metaphysical and Judeo-Christian bases of the entire psychopathy discourse, etc.), modern philosophers tended to take the empirical literature at face value, and frequently concluded that psychopaths should not be held criminally or morally responsible for their behaviour. University of Arizona philosopher Jeffrie Murphy set the tone in 1972 by arguing that psychopaths should, morally speaking, be understood as animals. “The only possible argument for regarding the psychopath as



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having natural rights,” he wrote, “would have to be based upon his dignity or worth as a person. But this is just what he does not have! Indeed ... he is more profitably pictured – from the moral point of view – as an animal.”42 Murphy’s volley did not come under much criticism in the scientific community, and the argument was occasionally cited as a hypothesis worth considering. It took another two and a half decades for philosophical arguments to become a legitimate subgenre of psychopathy literature, but when they finally did, the relationship between scientific research and moral philosophy quickly grew symbiotic. Since psychopaths were cognitively impaired, a number of ethicists argued, the law should treat psychopaths as morally impaired as well and excuse them from moral, or even criminal, responsibility. Although this conclusion seemed counter-intuitive, for many philosophers it was, upon lengthy jurisprudential and moral-philosophic reflection, self-evident. It also further legitimized the scientific research, which after all was more or less predicated on psychopathy being a serious mental disorder. Now even the philosophers agreed. Cordelia Fine and Jeanette Kennett at Monash University basically echoed Isaac Ray when they wrote that “to ignore the substantial evidence that psychopathic offenders are not criminally responsible is itself a dangerous threat to criminal justice.”43 Oxford philosopher Neil Levy wrote that psychopaths should not be held responsible for their behaviour because “for them [psychopaths] it is not easy to grasp core moral norms; it is, I suspect, impossible [emphasis original].”44 Antony Duff at the University of Sterling knew that psychopaths had a “radical deficiency in rational capacities,” which meant that they “cannot understand what it is to love someone, or to be angered by injustice, or to be moved by compassion.” At best, Duff argued, a psychopath could imitate emotional words and gestures, but never take part in the world of values and moral emotions, and therefore “cannot but be an outsider.”45 Duff also concluded that psychopaths should not be held morally or criminally responsible. Duff’s categorical separation of psychopaths from the rest of humanity, his view of moral insiders and outsiders and of the centrality of moral emotions in separating the two, brought psychopathy back exactly to where Rush had found it in the first place – in the moral faculty. In an even more Rushian vein, the bioethicist Grant Gillett, after detailing the standard correlational data on psychopaths (which, he claimed, proved “biological and/or learning defects”), observed that psychopaths were “distanced from true relatedness and the implicit care, openness, re-

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sponsivity, and vulnerability that is part of the human life-world.” The psychopath, according to Gillett, “probably lacks the sense of nobler or greater things that many of us attach to ‘the starry skies above.’”46 The basic formula for the philosophers here was to review modern experimental47 and neuroimaging data; to interpret it to mean that psychopaths had an insurmountable affective, rational, or volitional defect; to link that defect with moral theory and/or legal tenets; and to declare the psychopath free of moral and legal culpability. 48 The conclusion, a number of philosophers argued, was startling yet ultimately fair, humane, and enlightened. One significant dissenter, however, emerged: Robert Hare. Although Hare clearly believed that psychopathy caused crime – he once wrote “even those opposed to the very idea of psychopathy cannot ignore its potent explanatory [emphasis original] and predictive power”49 –, he continued to argue for psychopaths’ criminal responsibility. “Unlike psychotic individuals,” he wrote, “psychopaths are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised.”50 Elsewhere, he continued: In most jurisdictions, psychopathy is considered to be an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor in determining criminal responsibility. This is the way it should be, in my view. However, I’ve been asked whether research evidence of the sort described above – affective deficit, thought disorder, brain dysfunction – might lead some to view psychopathy as a mitigating factor in a criminal case. As one psychiatrist put it, perhaps psychopathy will become “the kiss of life rather than the kiss of death” in first-degree murder cases. This would be disturbing, given that psychopaths are calculating predators whose behavior must be judged by the rules of the society in which they live.51

But if it was true, as Hare maintained, that psychopaths suffered from impairments which in turn caused criminal behaviour, then how could their behaviour also be the result of free will? If the law did not account for a bona fide neurological dysfunction, could the law still be considered fair? Some writers, like the Louisiana State University law professor Ken Levy, got around this problem by distinguishing between moral and legal responsibility.52 Psychopaths, he argues, may be “victims of neurological abnormalities,” but they do understand the requirements of law, and should thus be held criminally if not morally responsible. Levy writes,



The Second Golden Age: Psychopathy  63 The reason why just criminal punishment does not require moral responsibility is because criminal law is a fail-safe, last-ditch option to use against those who, for whatever reason, are not sufficiently motivated by morality and respect for the law to comply with the law. And one reason for insufficient reason may just be inability [emphasis original] to be sufficiently motivated. But even if certain people are unable to be sufficiently motivated by morality and respect for the law, they are still criminally responsible, and therefore criminally punishable, for breaking the law as long as they knew they were breaking the law and that breaking the law would likely mean getting punished if they were caught.53

Superficially, the both-impaired-and-responsible argument adheres to Gould’s idea of non-overlapping magisteria: scientists study the causes of things, while society – guided by moral considerations – decides on how to view and deal with the social effects of those things. The problem with this, of course, is that the magisteria had already overlapped in the selection of psychopathy’s symptoms; the “thing” itself consisted of little more than a series of moral transgressions (see appendix A). Despite a growing number of arguments rejecting the moral and legal culpability of pyschopaths, common law continued to see them as fully responsible. In 1981, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected, in R. v. Kjeldsen, the idea that a psychopath should be excused from criminal liability. The court reasoned that, for legal purposes, psychopaths understand the nature and the quality of their actions, even though they may not feel remorse or guilt for them. U.S law similarly tended to view psychopathy as irrelevant to criminal responsibility, either by statute or case law. The British Mental Health Act 2007 removed any specific language to psychopathy that had existed in the previous, 1983, act. The exclusion of psychopathy as a basis of insanity defences in general rested on the basic assumption that psychopaths were rational and able to resist impulses, and that punishing them was therefore rational and just. Ultimately, though, exactly how courts decided on the admissibility of psychopathy diagnoses or how individual philosophers decided on psychopaths’ moral and legal culpability had little impact on the psychopathy research project itself. The sole fact that so many philosophers uncritically accepted the empirical data was itself enough to legitimize the medical view of psychopathy. The DSM continued to exclude psychopathy – a major problem for using the diagnosis in court – but this setback was at least somewhat compensated by philosophers’ approval

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of the science behind it. (It is fair to wonder what the consequences might have been, had the same philosophical attention been paid to the research rather than its implications.) But the effect of the philosophical debates cut both ways: as the treatises began to appear alongside mainstream empirical research, academic philosophy grew in social relevance. It would be increasingly difficult to dismiss philosophy as merely “academic,” now that it was joined with mainstream natural science and jurisprudence.

4 The Politics of Psychopathy

But what exactly happened to make psychopathy such a powerful idea in law and in the public imagination, and why did it happen in the 1990s and not before? The standard answer has to do with scientific equipment and data, and runs something like this: For most of the twentieth century, the psychopathy concept had essentially lain dormant or in utter disarray. Nobody agreed on what constituted or caused psychopathy, or what it should be even called. The publication of the PCL-R in 1991, however, finally allowed researchers to study and talk about the same thing. (Hare described the first version, the PCL, as a research scale in 1980, but it was not published as a clinical scale until 1991, and is now called the PCL-R.) Newly developed neuroimaging techniques, particularly functional neuroimaging, which became widely available for researchers in the 1990s, soon began to show that psychopaths had unique brain activation. Many researchers thought that these brain patterns, combined with certain environmental stresses, caused the disorder. Later psychometric studies showed that psychopathy had a genetic basis as well. This master narrative of psychopathy makes passing note of individual mid-century theorists, but generally their work is seen as little more than a dress rehearsal for the turn-of-the-century neuropsychiatric revolution. Nothing of cultural relevance occurred in between; the revolution was brought on by the combined forces of scientific insights and technical innovations in neuroimaging and psychometrics. Psychopathy became popular, in other words, because it turned out to be a real disorder. This story, as we will see in chapter 8 and appendix B, is wrong. What sealed psychopathy’s popularity in the 1990s was not data but a com-

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bination of public fears and political shifts, in a mutually reinforcing cycle. Violent Crime In the U.S. and Canada, violent and property crimes increased dramatically from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Sharp increases in youth violent crime arrests in the mid-1980s and early 1990s in the U.S. led Princeton professor John Dilulio to famously predict the rise of juvenile “super-predators”: fearless and ultraselfish youth whose numbers by 2000 would increase by 30,000, resulting in a violent-crime explosion. Dilulio’s pronouncement was fortified by a rise in high-profile real and imagined youth crimes such as the Central Park jogger case in 1989 (a case in which five youths were falsely convicted). In the same year, psychologist Ken Magid and journalist Carole McKelvey published a book titled High Risk: Children without a Conscience, which essentially presaged Dilulio’s argument. Magid and McKelvey, however, chose “psychopath” over “super-predator.” In his 1993 book, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us, Robert Hare again recited the worrying youth crime statistics, described some recent high-profile youth crimes, and drew readers’ attention to the fact that young psychopaths seemed to be untreatable. Hare asked his readers to “consider the more dramatic examples of psychopathy that have been increasing in our society in recent years,”1 and concluded his book with survival tips. However, crime rates, including youth crime rates, began a long and steady decline in the early 1990s, and Dilulio soon retracted his super-predator theory.2 But this did not stop one prominent former FBI criminal profiler from predicting a rebound in crime rates, writing as late as 1998, “I wonder if the same politicians who are taking bows for the current decrease will still be around to accept the blame for what some of us already see coming.”3 He also thought that the Green River Killer would turn out to be more than one person. Serial Murder The 1990s also saw moral panics over workplace violence, online child sexual predation, and satanic ritual abuse, but none affected psychopathy’s popularity more than the rapidly growing interest in serial murder. As David Schmid argued in his Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture, the serial killer cultural phenomenon of the 1980s



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and beyond was largely due to the FBI’s efforts to boost its flagging popular image and to attract new funding. To this end, the bureau took ownership of the serial killer phenomenon in the 1970s when it established the Behavioral Sciences Unit and began to study incarcerated sexual murderers. It defined serial murder as almost exclusively a sexual crime (though in fact serial killers have any number of motives besides sex), as the major 1988 FBI-sponsored study’s title alone, Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, suggested. The bureau further described the murderers as highly mobile, and exaggerated the number of their victims. In 1983, the Justice Department gave a press conference on serial murder, which was widely reported on in the media. The coverage that followed – some of which included expert commentary on serial murder – marked the start of serial murder as a cultural phenomenon. The FBI’s sudden interest in serial murder may have, however, been empirically justified as well. According to the Radford University’s Serial Killer Database, serial murder in the U.S. was increasing dramatically at around this time, from 39 incidents of a killer’s first murder occurring in the 1950s compared to 475 in the 1980s.4 The FBI also began to note an increase in murders committed by strangers with no apparent motive for the killing. In 1976, for example, 8.5 per cent of all homicides were committed by strangers; that figure had risen to 17.8 per cent in 1982, reaching 22.5 per cent in 1985.5 Fictional portrayals of serial murder also increased dramatically in the 1990s. In the rather restrictive calculations of serial killer expert Eric Hickey, the number of serial killer–themed films per decade increased steadily, from two in the 1920s to twenty-three in the 1980s. In the 1990s, they topped 150. Using less exclusive criteria, a search of the Internet Movie Database now yields in excess of 1,000 films featuring serial killers, most of them appearing since 1990.6 Serial killer films also peaked creatively in the 1990s with films like Jonathan Demme’s 1991 The Silence of the Lambs, which won five Academy Awards; David Fincher’s 1995 Se7en; and Oliver Stone’s 1994 Natural Born Killers. Bret Easton Ellis’s book American Psycho, which came out in 1991 – and was made into a movie starring Christian Bale in 2000 – became a bestseller. Fictional serial murderers appeared alongside real ones in print and film. Pioneering 1970s and 1980s FBI criminal profilers Robert Ressler and John Douglas retired in the 1990s and began writing extremely popular books about their experiences, including Ressler’s Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI (1992), and Douglas’s Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit (1995).

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Both men’s work also made it into a number of documentary films about criminal profiling and serial murder. Sometimes the line between fiction and non-fiction blurred. The fiction author Thomas Harris, for instance, consulted with Ressler for his books Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, and the FBI later collaborated on the film adaptation of the latter. (Ressler, though, objected to the FBI’s involvement, as he felt that the film misrepresented a number of things about the bureau.) In the same vein, Nicole Kidman consulted Robert Hare on how to portray a psychopath in the film Malice. Ressler’s Whoever Fights Monsters featured on its second page a William Blake painting with a dedication: “For Bob Ressler with best wishes, Francis Dolarhyde and Thomas Harris” (Dolarhyde is Red Dragon’s fictional serial killer). John Douglas admitted in Mindhunter that “our antecedents actually do go back to crime fiction more than crime fact,”7 and cited Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle as particular inspirations. Psychologists, profilers, academics, and journalists also began to write serial murder non-fiction. Ann Rule, who in a strange coincidence worked in her youth alongside Ted Bundy at a telephone helpline, became one of the best known of the group, and once even appeared before a Senate Subcommittee to testify about serial killers, where she rather bizarrely claimed that serial murderers travel 200,000 miles a year in search of victims, which would mean an average of 548 miles per day. This of course fed into the FBI’s case about serial killers’ extreme mobility. Much of post-1980s true crime literature also cemented the FBI’s dominion over the phenomenon by representing the agency in a heroic, semi-mythological light and its profilers as possessing nearmagical powers of observation and deduction. Secrecy surrounding criminal profiling methods reinforced the mythology. The same mythologizing held for print and film fiction, most obviously in The Silence of the Lambs, but present even in art house takes on FBI agents – witness for example agent Cooper in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Interest in serial murder fuelled interest in psychopathy. What made psychopathy central to serial murder in the public imagination was largely the FBI’s emphasis on lust killers. The link between sexual murder and psychopathy was not new; the sexual psychopath was a recurring theme in U.S. psychiatry, politics, and popular media, emerging most intensely in the period between about 1935 and 1960. The Stanford historian Estelle B. Freedman describes the rise of the sexual psychopath in the course of two moral panics over sexual crime, one



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running from about 1937 to 1940, the other from 1949 to1955, both inspired by a series of particularly gruesome child murders.8 The apparent sexual motivation behind the murders, and ensuing media interest in the cases led the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, to declare “a war on the sex criminal” in 1937. Hoover argued that “the sex fiend, most loathsome of all the vast army of crime, has become a sinister threat to the safety of American childhood and womanhood,”9 and later claimed that sex crimes were the fastest-growing crime in the country. Although there was no evidence of increasing sexual crimes at the time, the combined interests of law enforcement, psychiatry (informed largely by the psychoanalytic school), and the public gave rise to a number of commissions, statutes, and institutions dealing with the sexual psychopath. The sexual psychopath also lent legitimacy to the newly founded discipline of forensic psychiatry by giving it a population to study, treat, and testify about in court. Psychopathy as understood in the 1990s was ideally suited to the FBI’s notion of the serial murderer as a sexual predator. Northeastern University criminologists Jack Levin and James Fox put it like this in their 1985 book Mass Murder: America’s Growing Menace: Few of them can be said to be driven by delusions or hallucinations; almost none of them talks to demons or hears strange voices in empty rooms. Though their crimes may be sickening, they are not sick in either a medical or a legal sense. Instead, the serial killer is typically a sociopathic personality who lacks internal control – guilt or conscience – to guide his own behavior, but has an excessive need to control and dominate others. He definitely knows right from wrong, definitely realizes he had committed a sinful act, but simply doesn’t care about his human prey. The sociopath has never internalized a moral code that prohibits murder. Having fun is all that counts.10

Independent researchers into serial murder tended to follow in the FBI’s footsteps and concentrate on understanding sexual homicide. In 2000, the forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy justified the FBI’s view of serial murder by his summary of the empirical evidence. “Recent evidence,” he wrote, “strongly suggests that a majority of serial murderers are sexually motivated” and “virtually all sexual homicide perpetrators evidence narcissistic and psychopathic personality traits.”11 The psychopath as a lust killer was more than an empirical coincidence. In the 1970s the Behavioral Sciences Unit had begun to infor-

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mally classify crime scenes with the hope that the classification would yield clues about the offender. Eventually, the profilers came up with two main types of crime scenes: the organized and the disorganized (they also proposed a mixed type). Robert Ressler, Ann Burgess, and John Douglas summarized the two types of offenders as follows: Generally, an organized murderer is one who appears to plan his murders in a conscious manner and who displays control of the victim at the crime scene. The disorganized murderer is less consciously aware of a plan, and his crime scenes display haphazard behavior.12

The disorganized killer often had low intelligence and suffered from a serious mental illness. The psychopath, then, fit the organized category both empirically and intuitively. The organized offender by all accounts was the stereotypical depraved sadist with average or above-average IQ who used his social skills to con or charm victims into compliance, and then inflicted horrendous, prolonged violence on them. Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas describe their murders as eroticized, as in torture where death comes in a slow, deliberate manner. The power over another person’s life is seen in one example in which a murderer described tightening and loosening the rope around the victim’s neck as he watched the victim in and out of a conscious state.13

The organized offender was a horrific combination of rationality and animalism, a person with overwhelming sexual fantasies and drives, but one who fulfilled them with impersonal efficiency. A perfect psychopath, that is. As one evolutionary psychologist put it, “the presence of a potential victim is as tempting to the psychopath as is a drink to the alcoholic, a slot machine to a gambler, or a piece of chocolate to a young child.”14 The most famous serial murderers – Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Ed Kemper, Gary Ridgway, and so on – were both organized killers and psychopaths. Classic disorganized killers – say, Herbert Mullin, Ed Gein, and Richard Chase – tended to receive attention for their extreme pathology and the visual horror of their crime scenes, but never entered public consciousness the way the well-adjusted, “everyman” killers did. The disorganized offenders tended to be a comprehensible product of serious mental illness, depraved, yes, but not in the deeply and psychologically puzzling way that their organized counterparts were. In other words, what drew public and professional attention to



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the organized, psychopathic offender was the mystery of reconciling his person with his persona, the very thing that made Russell Williams international news. This is how one FBI special agent put it: For many of us in law enforcement, psychopaths are an enigma. They walk and talk like us, and sometimes cry during an interview or laugh with us as though they were our best friends. Their kids appear normal, and their wives seem to love them. If they are really good actors, they seem to be as offended by violent crime as we are. It is their appearance of normalcy that is so unsettling.15

Not surprisingly, the FBI took interest in psychopathy, frequently consulting with Robert Hare on serial murder and child abductions. (Hare, according to his bio, has been a research advisory board member of the FBI Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center.) Some FBI agents, like Supervisory Special Agent Mary Ellen O’Toole and Sharon Smith at the Behavioral Sciences Unit, became experts in psychopathy, and published academic articles and book chapters on the disorder and its relevance to crime-scene evidence and other law enforcement concerns. In 2012, the bureau dedicated an entire issue of its Law Enforcement Bulletin to psychopathy with information on such things as how to interview psychopaths and how to spot psychopaths by their language. The issue concluded, predictably, with a call for more research on the disorder.16 Politics of Crime Science

On Scientific Fashions Psychopathy’s popularity in the 1990s was caused in part by a resurgence in biological theories of crime. Biological theories – which had regularly been surfacing, but were overshadowed by sociological theories in the middle of the twentieth century – began to make a comeback toward the end of the twentieth century. Nicole Rafter outlines two key reasons for this: an emphasis on biological explanations of human behaviour in general, buoyed by the founding of the Human Genome Project initiated in 1988; and a social movement to reduce all forms of risks, from health to crime. Rafter notes that, beginning in the 1970s, social sciences gradually declined in prestige, and funding previously enjoyed by them began to shift to natural sciences. Within many disci-

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plines, the trend was the same: the focus of psychology, for example, shifted from the study of interpersonal relationships to neuropsychology and evolutionary psychology. This did not mean, however, that a single biological theory began to dominate. Rafter writes that the period since the mid-1960s has been one of tremendous activity, with biocriminologists cultivating a number of fields at once. It has been characterized not by the dominance of a single theory or even a group of related theories but by a multiplicity of contestants – chemical, cognitive, evolutionary, genetic, hormonal, neurological, and psychophysiological explanations – all vying for first place. 17

In this way, psychopathy was an accurate historical weathervane: all of the theories Rafter lists above have been proposed to explain psychopathy – most of them since the 1970s. Another way of putting this is that causal theorizing about psychopathy, like moral insanity a hundred years earlier, was inextricably linked with scientific fashions. The late-eighteenth-century and nineteenthcentury emphasis on biology gave us the biologically based moral faculty, anomia, micronomia, and moral insanity. The mid-twentiethcentury emphasis on sociology produced environmental explanations of psychopathy, and a rebranding of the disorder as sociopathy. The latetwentieth-century emphasis on biology produced biological explanations. More specifically, the rise of functional neuroimaging in the 1990s resulted in more funding for neuroimaging studies, which led to more neuroimaging studies (though neuroimaging of violent offenders itself was not new: pneumoencephalography, a precursor to the CT scan, was used to study aggressive behaviour in the mid-1970s; and the brain activity of psychopaths had been studied with electroencephalography at least as early as the 1940s), which in turn led to more neurological theories of psychopathy. Though most scientists believed that psychopathy was caused by a combination of brain and environment, few were interested in actually studying environment when the real action was in the study of the brain. This was a complete reversal of mid-century priorities. The rise of sociobiology in the 1970s and evolutionary psychology in the late 1980s also quickly led to evolutionary explanations of psychopathy. The Oregon Health Sciences University psychiatrist James MacMillan and the psychiatrist Lial Kofoed proposed in 1984 that so-



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ciopathy was a genetically determined “low-investment reproductive strategy”18 (essentially, promiscuity), an idea later developed by the St. John’s University psychologist Linda Mealey, who laid the foundation for much of evolutionary theorizing to come in her 1995 article “The Sociobiology of Sociopathy: An Integrated Evolutionary Model.”19 Mealey proposed that primary sociopaths – whom she later called psychopaths – were genetically predisposed cheaters. Cheating, according to Mealey, was produced by frequency-dependent selection that created more than one type of individual in a species, which in this case were cheaters and non-cheaters. The aims of cheaters were simple evolutionary benefits: mates and resources. In frequency-dependent selection, low-frequency behavioural strategies would remain in the gene pool as long as the majority of the population held an opposite strategy. That is, a minority cheating strategy would remain viable only as long as the majority were non-cheaters. Mealey’s paper was widely cited, and the cheater-strategy argument entered mainstream psychopathy literature. Support for the evolutionary theory began to accumulate from a number of sources, the most important of which were (a) relatively stable rates of psychopathy across cultures, (b) the fact that the majority of crime was committed by a small percentage of the population, (c) the moderate to strong heritability of some psychopathic traits, and (d) the presence of psychopathic cheater strategies in other animal species. In addressing the last one, a university textbook offered the example of “sneaker” salmon. Sneaker salmon were small, furtive Pacific salmon which, unlike their common counterparts, mostly stayed in the spawning stream, skulking about, ready to fertilize the female egg before the dominant salmon could get to it. “So what do you think,” the authors asked, “are psychopaths the human equivalent of sneakers in the salmon world?”20 If yes, humans would be in unfortunate company with not only salmon, but also bluegill sunfish, isopods, swordtails, and ruffs.21 The evolutionary theory of crime and psychopathy was a perfect example of a popular modern theory: scientifically revolutionary (evolutionary psychology is often, though dubiously, called “the new science of the mind”); intellectually satisfying; multidisciplinary (genetics, cognitive neurosciences, psychology, etc.); reliant on scientific technology and data but not limited by them; and endlessly useful in explaining bad behaviour, even when that behaviour seemed theoretically counterintuitive. The science writer John Whitfield tried to apply psychopathy and the cheater strategy to the British expense-claim scandal and to in-

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vestment bankers.22 Two McMaster University psychologists found an evolutionary strategy for spousal conflict and for killing one’s child.23 Another set of Canadian researchers found that psychopathy actually decreased the likelihood of killing one’s kin. According to the authors, this too was an evolutionary strategy, called “nepotistic inhibition.”24 Appearances aside, the evolutionary theory of psychopathy was never a threat to the prevailing idea that psychopathy was a mental disorder. Although one theory had it that psychopathy meant dysfunction and the other that it meant perfectly intact function, both theories made the same ontological point, and that point was what eventually mattered: psychopathy denoted a specific kind of person. Psychopathy was an “it,” and that “it” was a problem that had to be identified and neutralized. Moreover, the evolutionary theory reinforced “its” biological cause by simply adding a distal cause (frequency-dependent selection) to the already supposed proximal ones (brain function and genes).

Culture of Fear The shift from social to natural sciences was not, as many biological researchers now implicitly or explicitly assert, simply a matter of technological innovation and new data. Neuroimaging technology did improve dramatically in the last decades of the twentieth century, but the push to subject criminals to biological study, and the idea that the brain should be the obvious place to look for answers, was as much a result of political assumptions as it was of scientific tools. The biological theory’s return as a leading crime explanation in the late twentieth century was a natural extension of a general shift in crime politics. Mid-twentieth-century understanding that crime was a social ill, curable with therapy and right social engineering, was born of general postwar optimism in the state’s ability to care for its citizens. Throughout the West, the years between 1945 and the mid-1970s were marked by social mobility, economic equality, and job security. Western governments stabilized after the horrors of the Second World War; trust in governments’ ability to mediate in conflicts and to fairly represent individuals in politics was high, as was faith in the ability of people to improve their social status by hard work. Each of these, in Randolph Roth’s exhaustive study of U.S. homicide, contributed to relatively low postwar homicide rates.25 All this began to change in the mid-1970s. Income inequality rose, particularly in the U.S. and the U.K., and so did the general distrust of fellow citizenry.26 Social mobility decreased,



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and social programs were cut on the political theory that success was predicated not on social class but on individual enterprise. Crime rates rose. In the U.S. and Britain, changes in social mobility and perceptions of fairness were reflected in the individualistic, conservative politics of the 1980s Reagan and Thatcher administrations. Crime became increasingly politicized, and new, tougher penalties were enacted in the hopes that punishment would equal deterrence. Popular support for the death penalty in the U.S. steadily increased in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a peak of 80 per cent in 1994 (by 2013 it had declined to 60 per cent).27 The term “community safety,” with all of its connotations of mistrust and risk, was developed in the late 1980s and took hold on both sides of the Atlantic. With the politicization of crime came a new emphasis on crime as a problem of individuals rather than of societies. Politicians, social scientists, and the media also began to treat crime – exactly as they had in the late nineteenth century – as a broader, more nebulous concept of antisocial behaviour, a term that encompassed not only criminal code offences but juvenile delinquency, hooliganism (especially in Britain), and everyday annoyances like squeegee kids and aggressive panhandling. According to the British sociologist Stuart Waiton, the term “antisocial behaviour” rarely appeared in British media before the 1990s, but has since become a staple in political discourse, contributing to the now widely discussed “culture of fear.”28 Social inequality and the culture of mistrust and fear, Stephen Jay Gould has noted, are preconditions for our recurring interest in biological determinism. “The reasons for recurrence are sociopolitical, and not far to seek ...,” he wrote in the introduction to his Mismeasure of Man, arguing that such periods “correlate with periods of political retrenchment and destruction of social generosity.”29 The major launching point for the biological theory’s popularity in the 1990s was Herrnstein and Murray’s 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which argued for clawing back social programs on the basis that social status was a function of biological ability rather than of social status at birth. No amount of social engineering, Herrnstein and Murray argued, could undo the effects of inborn intelligence. “Should anyone be surprised that the publication of The Bell Curve coincided exactly with the election of Newt Gingrich’s Congress, and with a new age of social meanness unprecedented in my lifetime?” Gould wondered.30 Hare’s Without Conscience, probably the most popular book on psychopathy and a watershed moment in psychopathy’s mainstream acceptance, came out a year before The Bell

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Curve. Both books essentially made the same point: a person’s social standing – as a cognitive elite or non-elite, as a person with or without morals – was a matter of individual characteristics, caused either by genes or by an interaction between genes and individual environments. There was another similarity between The Bell Curve’s argument and the idea of psychopathy. Psychopathy, with its diverse and morally loaded diagnostic features, was a perfect example of the late-twentiethcentury preoccupation with the flexible and inclusive idea of antisocial behaviour. Psychopathy was not about crime per se, but about personality; it was a disorder with presumed specific neurobiological causes, but with multiple manifestations, from loose sexual morals to crime. The same combination of hard-core causal assumptions and looseness about symptomatology pervaded Herrnstein and Murray’s argument. Here are their six points about intelligence, which according to The Bell Curve “are by now beyond significant technical dispute.” Substitute “psychopathy” for “intelligence,” and “diagnostic test for psychopathy” for “IQ tests,” and observe the similarities: 1. There is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beings differ. 2. All standardized tests of academic aptitude or achievement measure this general factor to some degree, but IQ tests expressly designed for that purpose measure it most accurately. 3. IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the word intelligent or smart in ordinary language. 4. IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person’s life. 5. Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic, or racial groups. 6. Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent.31 Around these hard-core assumptions about ontology, measurement, and causality, Herrnstein and Murray built a looser set of intelligence’s effects. These included crime, poverty, educational success, unemployment, welfare dependency, illegitimacy, child neglect, civility and citizenship, and even idleness and injury. In comparison, here are a few typical psychopathic behaviours: crime, sexual and marital promiscuity, child neglect and failure to pay child support, truancy, financial dependency, and poor work performance.32 That is, both are good summaries



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of degeneracy’s effects from a century earlier, minus masturbation and tattooing. They are also good examples of Hacking’s adjustable degeneracy portfolio, which we will soon discuss. Although The Bell Curve was strikingly similar to any mainstream text on psychopathy in its style of argument and its attempt to individualize social problems, there was one significant point of divergence: its reception. The Bell Curve drew heavy criticism for its racism, statistical inaccuracy, misunderstanding of genetics, and its right-wing politics. Critiques of modern biological theories of psychopathy, however, were muted. Some writers objected to psychopathy’s moral overtones and its labelling effect, while others debated subtypes of psychopathy, the exact list of symptoms, or the number of factor analytic solutions it properly yielded. But as long as the diagnosis was carefully applied, not many objected to the basic idea that immoral behaviour was probably caused by a biological disorder. Another reason for the relatively uncritical reception of psychopathy, compared to that of The Bell Curve, was that Herrnstein and Murray’s book was nakedly political; its conservatism was evident not only in its main conclusions, but also in Murray’s libertarian politics and his affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute. Research on psychopathy, on the other hand, seemed politically neutral. Psychopathy was about mental health and community safety (the PCL-R is marketed under the “public safety” product category by its publisher. The Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised, according to its publisher, is “useful in a variety of settings, particularly correctional facilities, forensic practice, substance abuse treatment centers, and research”).33 Evidence of political sentiment in psychopathy research was scant: a few throwaway critiques about sentencing leniency and about the mistaken belief in the inherent goodness of all people.34 But the politics of psychopathy – like its Judeo-Christian morality – were simply subtler than Herrnstein and Murray’s. Where Herrnstein and Murray saw low-SEC social pathology, psychopathy researchers saw individual pathology: welfare mooching became “parasitic lifestyle,” illegitimacy became “many short-term marital relationships,” idleness and unemployment became “lack of realistic, long-term goals,” and so on. Crime, of course, remained crime. But most of all, it was no coincidence that both psychopathy and The Bell Curve argument became popular phenomena just as the politics of crime and poverty had reached their conservative peak, when social problems had transformed into individual problems, and when “welfare state” had be-

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come a dirty word. It was also no coincidence that psychopathy and The Bell Curve argument were ultimately based on natural rather than social science. What caused the controversy over The Bell Curve, then, was its political transparency. As we will see next, psychopathy, much better at hiding its crime politics, began to spread into mainstream culture in a way Herrnstein and Murray could only hope for.

5 The Adjustable Psychopathy Portfolio

The Corporate Psychopath MSNBC aired a program on workplace psychopaths in 2006. The program was inspired by Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s recently published book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work: Dr. Eric Hollander: “Psychopaths can be found in all settings in life. They can be found in the workplace, they can be found even in your social interactions …” Narrator: “And Eric Hollander says the place you work could be an attractive target for a psychopath.” Hollander: “Well, psychopaths can blend in very well in the work place setting. They may have a strong drive for success, for power, for financial gain …” Interviewer: “Some people would say though, Paul [Babiak], that these people [psychopaths] eventually, because they don’t have empathy, will not be successful. Is that true?” Babiak: “It’s true if they work in an old-style bureaucracy. But today’s business moves so quickly that there’s constant change, which attracts them in the first place. And secondly, because the people around them are constantly changing, anybody who figures out who they are ends up being laid off or moved out or the psychopath themselves gets promoted.”1

In their book, Babiak and Hare had argued that late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century business was an ideal place for psychopaths to thrive. In the 1970s and 1980s, the basic model of corporate organization had started to shift from ineffective and expensive bureaucracies

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to sleek and innovative structures. The organization man, the archetypal postwar collectivist and risk-averse corporate drone, gave way to a generation of bold executive types who flourished in flat, simplified, and hypercompetitive organizations. Babiak and Hare argued that the resulting changes in hiring practices facilitated the rise of psychopaths through the corporate ranks. Callousness and insensitivity, far from being impediments to career advancement, might be valuable traits in the new corporate culture. Impersonal corporate structures made it easy to confuse psychopathy with strong leadership. A 2010 study in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law seemed to confirm that psychopaths had indeed found a home in the corporate world.2 The authors – Babiak, Hare, and Craig Neumann – assessed 203 corporate professionals in seven companies, and found a remarkable eight full-blown psychopaths (3.9 per cent of the sample), a significantly higher proportion than that estimated in the general population (1 per cent). Based on their corporate experience, two Western Kentucky University professors claimed that the actual prevalence was probably higher than 4 per cent.3 One psychologist, also a Wall Street insider, put the number at more than 10 per cent.4 Robert Hare cautioned making definitive statements about the prevalence of psychopathy on Wall Street, but allowed on his website that “it may be even higher [emphasis original] than ten percent, on the assumption that psychopathic entrepreneurs and risk-takers tend to gravitate toward financial wateringholes, particularly those that are enormously lucrative and poorly regulated.”5 A website for the victims of psychopaths reported that 50 per cent of business managers may be psychopathic,6 and a British study found that some psychopathic traits were more common in senior business managers than in forensic inmates.7 Commerce students, another study showed, self-reported more psychopathic traits than other students.8 Newspapers and magazines began to report extensively on workplace psychopaths in the early 2000s. Titles such as “Expert Warns of Dangers of the Corporate Psychopath: Call for Screening to Prevent Scandals”; “Are You Sitting Next to the Office Psycho?”; “Corporate Psychos Blend in Well”; and “How to Spot the Office Psychos”9 became standard media fare. Even the Harvard Business Review weighed in, arguing that “chances are good there’s a psychopath on your management team.”10 Psychologists, psychiatrists, lawyers, and other experts wrote mass-market books with titles like The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us; The Psychopathy of Everyday Life: How



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Antisocial Personality Affects All of Us; The Devil You Know: Looking Out for the Psycho in Your Life; Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers; and Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy?11 All of these accounts addressed two common misconceptions. The first misconception was that all psychopaths were hard-core violent criminals. The second was that we tend to be right in our first impressions of people. Both of these assumptions were wrong, the writers explained, because crime was only one aspect of psychopathy – non-criminal aspects of psychopathy included lying, conning, and manipulating – and, because of these non-criminal aspects, psychopaths were extremely good at pretending not to be psychopaths. The back cover to Martha Stout’s bestselling The Sociopath Next Door made the case as follows: We are accustomed to think of sociopaths [which Stout uses interchangeably with psychopaths] as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, clinical psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people have an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is the complete absence of conscience. They could be your colleague, your neighbor, even family. And they can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt, shame, or remorse.

The “hidden psychopath” idea was not new. As early as 1941, Hervey Cleckley had argued that psychopaths were not definitionally criminal. Cleckley distinguished criminal psychopaths from non-criminal psychopaths – the latter kept up “a far better and more consistent outward appearance of being normal”12 – and gave case studies of successful professional psychopaths. In Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us, Hare devoted a chapter to white-collar, or “subcriminal” psychopaths, who were every bit as egocentric, callous, and manipulative as the average criminal psychopath; however, their intelligence, family background, social skills, and circumstances permit them to construct a facade of normalcy and to get whatever they want with relative impunity.13

Around the turn of the twentieth century, researchers began to pay serious attention to subcriminal psychopaths. Some proposed that subcriminal psychopaths – or “successful” psychopaths, as they were now increasingly called – made up a distinct psychopath subtype with

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distinct behaviours and neurological deficits. Soon, studies began to report behavioural and neurobiological differences between successful and unsuccessful psychopaths, and this led some researchers to propose that criminal arrests and convictions themselves might have specific neurobiological causes.14 The successful psychopath updates Hacking’s adjustable degeneracy portfolio idea – let us call it the “adjustable psychopathy portfolio.” Successful psychopathy preserves the hard-core assumptions about evil and mental health while introducing flexibility around the core. The auxiliary hypothesis – that someone can be a psychopath without meeting the necessary cut-off score for psychopathy, which is difficult without criminal convictions – allows the psychopathy concept to capture new populations without any loss of the original concept’s meaning. As more and more people qualify for the diagnosis, two important things happen. First, with the addition of each new subtype (since the mid-twentieth century at least thirty different subtypes of have been proposed),15 the research program gains legitimacy, as each subtype description seems to refine the original concept. Second, the research program retrofits itself to address evolving social problems such as corporate raiders and rogue traders. In this way, the program meets the dual demands of being relevant and scientific. In practice, this means that various mental health experts – whether so by their professional qualifications or simply by their own definition – can offer diagnoses as high-profile criminal cases unfold in the media. The expert can do so with reference to cutting-edge research, since the criteria for successful psychopathy are not fixed and diagnosing psychopathy has become feasible with minimal data and personal involvement. Crime reporting suffices as diagnostic information for psychopathy, so long as the labels come with caveats (i.e., the commentator has not done a full assessment), and provisionally (i.e., the persons diagnosed are “psychopathic” or show “psychopathic behaviour” rather than being outright psychopaths). In this way, when Bernie Madoff was arrested in 2008 for the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, mental health experts were on hand to diagnose him immediately. It no longer mattered that Madoff had no prior criminal record – he was, in fact, a noted philanthropist – or that the experts had never actually met him. What mattered was that Madoff seemed to fit the profile, so long as both “fit” and “profile” were understood in the loosest possible terms. Here was Robert Hare on the case:



The Adjustable Psychopathy Portfolio  83 You can’t talk about psychopathy without bringing Bernie Madoff up. Now I don’t know whether he is a psychopath or not. I haven’t evaluated him; I don’t know if anybody has done a formal evaluation on him, but anybody who can destroy the lives of tens of thousands of people including close relatives and friends is not your normal loving kind of guy.16

And here was a former FBI profiler in an interview with the New York Times: “Some of the characteristics you see in psychopaths are lying, manipulation, the ability to deceive, feelings of grandiosity and callousness toward their victims,” says Gregg O. McCrary, a former special agent with the F.B.I. who spent years constructing criminal behavioral profiles. Mr. McCrary cautions that he has never met Mr. Madoff, so he can’t make a diagnosis, but he says Mr. Madoff appears to share many of the destructive traits typically seen in a psychopath. That is why, he says, so many who came into contact with Mr. Madoff have been left reeling and in confusion about his motives.17

The implosion of Enron and WorldCom, in 2001 and 2002 respectively, gave psychologists similarly easy targets. Within a month of WorldCom’s bankruptcy, Robert Hare gave a talk to a large group of law-enforcement officers on psychopathy. He began with a slide show of hit men and sex offenders and then turned to pictures of Enron and WorldCom executives. “These,” Hare said, “are callous, cold-blooded individuals. They don’t care that you have thoughts and feelings. They have no sense of guilt or remorse.”18 When the major Enron criminal cases wound their way through the courts in 2006, psychological postmortems quickly followed. At least three psychopaths emerged, according to different psychologists: Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lay, Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Skilling, and Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow.19 Other corporate scandals revealed more psychopaths, such as the CEO of Adelphia Communications Corporation, John Rigas, who in 2004 was convicted of bank, wire, and securities fraud.20 And when the media tycoon and British MP Robert Maxwell died in 1991, Robert Hare promptly made reference to him in Without Conscience. In 2004, Hare described Maxwell in terms that were now becoming standard for the adjustable psychopathy portfolio: “I’m not saying Maxwell was a psychopath, but he sure had psychopathic tendencies.”21

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Scientific treatises on successful psychopaths called for new and subtle forms of surveillance and screening in the workplace. Ensuing media coverage echoed these demands and created a sense of emergency about undiagnosed psychopathy. To this end, Hare and Babiak began to develop a questionnaire, called B-Scan (short for BusinessScan). The questionnaire included a self-report form for employees or potential employees, and forms for corporate supervisors to evaluate their employees on the psychopathy spectrum.22 Babiak also set up a consultancy for corporations concerned about psychopaths. A company could call Dr. Babiak for “shadow consultation,” “private coaching,” or “executive briefing.” These sessions, according to his website, would provide “educational,” “provoking/eye opening,” and “entertaining” “topics” and “takeaways” on narcissistic and egocentric corporate fraudsters. One anonymous attendee described these sessions as “informative and fun.”23 In an interview for the 2003 film The Corporation, Robert Hare took a completely new angle on the corporate psychopath problem. Hare’s earlier work was premised on the idea that psychopaths were a pervasive and parasitic element in modern businesses. He now argued that corporations themselves were psychopathic. According to Hare, corporations were superficial, grandiose, manipulative, lacking in empathy and remorse, unwilling to accept responsibility, impulsive, irresponsible, lacking in long-term goals, and antisocial. “Now, it would be pretty hard for us not to look at the corporate structure itself as not being psychopathic [sic],” he concluded. “They would have all the characteristics. And in fact I suppose one could argue that in many respects a corporation of that sort is the prototypical psychopath, at the corporate level instead of the individual level.” 24 This idea, the film-makers emphasized, was political as much as it was theoretical. The film, written by the University of British Columbia law professor Joel Bakan (a supporter of, among other things, the Occupy movement), and directed by Mark Achbar (the director of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media) was a biting leftist polemic on the fundamental social irresponsibility of large corporations. In the context of the film, Hare’s superimposition of a clinical diagnosis on corporations was a critique of laissez-faire capitalism itself. Even though this critique of corporations seemed like a departure from the research program’s usual focus on individual pathology, in reality this new approach was simply a natural extension of the kind of reductionism that had guided much of the thinking on psychopathy



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since Benjamin Rush. Just as researchers had previously looked to biology to understand the individual, they now could look to the individual to understand corporations. In this line of thinking, pathology and its effects worked like this: individuals suffer from psychopathy, corporations suffer from corporate psychopaths, societies suffer from psychopathic corporations, and at the very beginning lies a biological defect that causes the psychopathy. Once committed to this form of epistemology, mainstream psychopathy researchers were averse to reversing the causal order. They rarely asked, for example, whether modern societies may in fact create a certain kind of corporation that in turn creates or reinforces individual behaviour that we now call psychopathic. That is exactly what Noam Chomsky, in the same film, suggested. “It’s a fair assumption,” he said, that every human being ... is a moral person. We’ve got the same genes, we’re more or less the same. But our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant and a saint. When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave owner, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual. So, slavery, for example or other forms of tyranny, are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you could imagine – benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves, caring about other people. I mean, as individuals they may be anything. In their institutional role they’re monsters because the institution is monstrous. And then the same is true here.25

The difference between Hare’s and Chomsky’s views here is not their opinion on the nature of corporations, but on the more essential question of human nature. While Hare compared the corporation to an inherently bad individual, Chomsky rejected the idea of innate evil altogether, and saw social and economic arrangements as the true sources of evil. (A third option, of course, is that rather than creating psychopathy, certain cultural forces create concern for it, and so cause us to look for it, and find it, in corporations.) The issue here is not who is right, but the set of basic epistemic and ontological commitments that guide Hare’s and Chomsky’s respective thinking about the nature of good and evil. In 2011, the Middlesex University professor Clive Boddy took the reductive approach to its logical conclusion in an article published in

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the Journal of Business Ethics. As its title, “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis,” suggests, Boddy believed that the entire 2008 global recession was caused by corporate psychopaths. In his own words: The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that corporate psychopaths, rising to key senior positions within modern financial corporations, where they are able to influence the moral climate of the whole organisation and yield considerable power, have largely caused the crisis. In these senior corporate positions, the corporate psychopath’s single-minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement to the exclusion of all other considerations has led to the abandonment of the old fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or any other real notion of corporate social responsibility.26

Boddy concluded his article with a suggestion that it would be important to conduct “research into the brain chemistry and connectivity of these people.”27 Boddy’s extreme form of reductionism and ahistoricism showed a deep commitment to a reverse, yet faithful, version of Hacking’s adjustable degeneracy portfolio idea. Whereas Lombroso saw primitive peoples and cultures as savage and immoral, Boddy glamorized earlier forms of corporate culture as essentially stable, fair, and hostile to psychopaths. In Boddy’s view, previously sturdy and decent capitalist economies were becoming vulnerable to corporate psychopaths. These psychopaths in turn were giving capitalism a black eye. In Hacking’s words, Boddy’s hard core of biological determinism was augmented by auxiliary hypotheses about capitalism, the global economy, and a kind of moral degeneration that took modern corporations further and further from a pre-1970s corporate golden age. Boddy’s remedy – brain imaging – also naturally implied an occupational hierarchy. At the top were research psychologists and psychiatrists, followed by management specialists like Boddy himself, and somewhere toward the bottom were economists and politicians concerned with speculative bubbles, financial deregulation, fair and efficient tax systems, and the like. This also meant that if Boddy was right, and psychopathy in fact was relevant to institutions as much as it was to individuals, psychopathy experts’ realm of influence should logically expand to include economics, business, sociology, political science, and any number of other social sciences.



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One of the most remarkable features of corporate psychopathy was, like degeneracy in its time, its ability to explain seemingly contradictory events. A major premise of Babiak and Hare’s Snakes in Suits argument was that corporate culture had begun to shift in the 1970s, and that the shift had fully matured in the 1990s. This meant that the shift coincided with the economic boom of the 1990s. The coincidence of improved corporate efficiency and profit makes sense, and if Babiak and Hare were right, the coincidence should attract psychopaths. But what about the post-2008 global recession? A writer for Fraud Magazine asked Babiak and Hare this very question. Here is Babiak’s answer: While economic slowdowns can lead to layoffs and plant closings, there is still the need for seasoned, experienced leaders who have the wherewithal to meet the challenge of recovery and turnaround. These individuals are rare. What a perfect scenario for the psychopath to enter as the “solution,” replete with the skills (faked), abilities (faked), and background (faked) necessary to take over and makes things right. There is also greater access to higher education in general than before, as well as questionable online degrees that can be bought and used by psychopaths to pad their resumes. Losing one’s job no longer bears the stigma – or provokes as much concern – as it once did; layoffs and plant closings have left many truly stellar executives with gaps in their employment histories. Economic conditions can be a convenient explanation for short tenures listed on the resume. While a psychopath would be expected to blame the former boss’s personality or colleagues’ underhandedness for losing his or her job, a really clever one can feign some sadness at having to leave “a great job at a great company” due to economic conditions.28

That is, both prosperity and its opposite created opportunities for psychopaths. The transitory nature of modern corporations itself invited psychopaths, regardless of how well those corporations actually performed. But this created another problem. On the one hand, Babiak and Hare contended that modernity and its demands for constant business innovation themselves were to blame for the corporate psychopathy problem. On the other hand, they also argued that the same problem afflicted highly traditional, close-kit “affinity groups” as well. They wrote, Affinity groups – religious, political, or social groups in which all mem-

88  The Myth of the Born Criminal bers share common values or beliefs – are particularly attractive to psychopaths because of the collective trust that members of these groups have in one another ... These noble qualities, unfortunately, make them easier targets for manipulation by unscrupulous fraudsters.29

To sum up: psychopaths were attracted to modern organizations, but they were also attracted to traditional organizations. They preyed on organizations that believed in basic human goodness and on organizations that were by definition psychopathic. Even gangs and intelligence agencies, Hare admitted, could not protect themselves from psychopaths. The portfolio was indeed adjustable. Psychopaths, Politics, and Power Corporations and corporate leaders were not the only targets of successful psychopathy. Some researchers found psychopathy even within academia and law enforcement.30 And just as Tony Blair’s decision to involve Britain in the Bush administration’s war on terror was coming under heavy criticism, the neuropsychologist Paul Brok claimed that Blair was “a plausible psychopath,” whose problem was likely in the “underactive emotional centres in the temporal lobes.” Psychotherapist Dr. Sidney Crown agreed.31 The University College London psychologist Adrian Furnham diagnosed the disgraced and convicted former MP, author, and lifetime peer Lord Archer as a psychopath. In 2012, an international group of researchers diagnosed the recently ousted Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, with “mild psychopathy,” and suggested that Donald Trump, who had just ended his flirtation with the Republican Party presidential nomination, showed “subclinical psychopathy.”32 One British psychologist implicated Vladimir Putin. Retrospectively, he also diagnosed Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt.33 A group of researchers rated U.S. presidents on different aspects of psychopathy, and gave Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt, among others, abnormally high “Fearless Dominance” scores.34 Hare saw psychopathy in the leadership of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and Martha Stout, the author of The Sociopath Next Door, identified Nicolae Ceauÿescu as a sociopath.35 “The higher you go up the ladder,” Stout argued, “the greater the number of sociopaths you’ll find there.”36 The vice-president of the U.S. National Association of Chiefs of Police compared politicians to serial killers.37



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But as Robert Hare demonstrated in an interview with The New Yorker in 2008, you did not need to look high or far to find psychopaths. “As I sped along Wolf Road,” the interviewer recalls, a traffic light ahead turned yellow. I momentarily thought about flooring it, and probably would have, if not for my passenger; instead, I slowed down and stopped. But the car on my left went flying by, through what was now a red light. “Wow, look at that,” Hare said. “Now, that man might be a psychopath. That was psychopathic behavior, certainly – to put others in the intersection in danger in order to realize your own goals.”38

A few years later, Hare was speaking with another writer who recalled an incident with a rude airport concierge at Heathrow Airport. Hare responded that the concierge might be a psychopath, and added “a lot of psychopaths become gate-keepers, concierges, security guards, masters of their own domain.”39 Corporate, political, and airport concierge psychopaths embody our natural fears of unrestrained power. When media construct morality plays out of fraud, corruption, egocentrism, and extreme arrogance, and when these reach a sufficient level of public significance, the psychopathy portfolio is there to first magnify and then offset the resulting fear with a scientific explanation. The portfolio redeploys the media accounts as clinical vignettes – typically preserving the high moral overtones of the original accounts – and then fits them into preexisting classification schemes. The resulting narrative has the symmetry and simplicity of the best degenerationist tracts. One can legitimately forgo any deep historical/political/economic analysis, the narrative explains, and see these complicated messes as a series of dysfunctions in neurobiology instead. A successful adjustable psychopathy portfolio has a number of beneficiaries: experimental and clinical psychology, at the expense of less reductionistic branches of social science; lower-end media outlets that traffic in fear imagery and catchy social science research (“Are you sitting next to the office psycho?”); consulting firms and psychological test publishers selling tools for screening corporate psychopaths; activists opposed to corporate-led globalization; and those in the reading and viewing public who favour cut-and-dried explanations of complex events. But the portfolio is infinitely flexible, making it likely that any

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major social development will bear its imprint. Probably the best illustration of this is the Internet. The Internet Since the Internet became widespread in the 1990s, it has been inextricably linked to fears about its effects on users. The most salient fears concern sexual predation of children, and this has led several jurisdictions around the world to enact laws targeting Internet-facilitated child abuse. But with the introduction of the major modern social networking platforms in the early 2000s, these fears spread rapidly to include adult and non-sexual victimization as well. By about 2010, the psychopathy portfolio incorporated Internet predation (by the portfolio’s standards this was relatively late, considering that by now many Internet-predation laws were a decade old), even spawning the neologism “cyberpath” to denote the predatory, psychopathic Internet user. Most early 2000s Internet references in psychopathy discourse were limited to financial fraud, as illustrated by Babiak and Hare’s Snakes in Suits. But as social networking evolved, so did popular fears. The online psychopath shifted from a purely monetary threat to something more ambiguous and menacing. Robert Hare argued in the 2011 film I Am Fishead that psychopaths had “flourished” in the Internet age, and the British forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes introduced her 2012 Telegraph article “Is There a Psychopath in Your Inbox?” with the claim that “the Internet has become a hunting ground for psychopaths.” “The key things that make the Internet so attractive to them [psychopaths],” she went on to argue, are the anonymity it allows – one client managed 20 separate email accounts to take on 20 different online personas, ranging from a 12-­year­-old girl to a 70-year-­old grandfather – and the instant gratification it gives them. They’re just the click of a button away from a potential audience; they don’t have to go out to a bar. The Internet also gives them access to a huge volume and variety of people it would otherwise take several lifetimes for him or her to meet.40

A July 2012 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin pointed out that social networking sites were likely to attract psychopaths, since it was easier, according to research, to get away with lying online than in person. However, the bulletin also noted that text-based online social network-



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ing made it easier for law enforcement to analyse suspect communications. “Words provide a window into the minds of criminals,” the article explained, “helping to determine whether they fit any particular personality profile, such as psychopathy.”41 Psychologists’ and law enforcement officers’ concerns about Internet psychopaths mirrored popular fears about the Internet itself. Just as psychopaths had the ability to take on any number of personas, so Internet anonymity enabled unrestrained impression management and multiple virtual identities. That is, psychopaths and the Internet function in the same kind of unsettling existential vacuum where persona and personality bleed effortlessly into one another, and where identity becomes whatever situations demand of it. Both feed off instant gratification, and both embody freedom from constraints: the psychopath of moral constraints, the Internet of the physical limits of tangible goods and services. Logically, the situation with the Internet and psychopathy is not that different from that with corporations and psychopathy. If the corporations-as-psychopaths idea hinged on fears of corporate powers, the power of the Internet to subvert transparency and human identity underwrote the connection to psychopathy. The Internet was more than a hunting ground for psychopaths. It was a virtual analogy to the concrete psychopath problem. By the second decade of the twenty-first century, social networking behaviour became increasingly linked with morality and mental health. Researchers began to study whether the Internet facilitated deception, and law enforcement agencies took an interest in social networkingbased criminal profiling.42 In the highest-profile study conducted to date, a team of Florida Atlantic University computer scientists designed a program to detect psychopathy in Twitter postings. A large sample of online users filled in personality questionnaires and allowed the researchers access to their Twitter feeds. The program was able to correlate the respondents’ personality profiles with the content of their tweets, and the researchers concluded that the algorithm should be useful in “employment, online dating, social networking and use by law enforcement.”43 Forbes Magazine proposed a new term – “Klychopath” – a derivative of the Internet site Klout that rates Twitter users’ social influence. In the wake of the revelation that neither the Colorado movie theatre shooter James Holmes nor the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik had a Facebook profile, the Mail Online asked the obvious question: “Is not joining Facebook a sign you’re a psychopath?”44

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Just as the adjustable degeneracy portfolio expanded to include everything from violent crime and religious fanaticism to genius and art, the psychopathy portfolio pathologized more and more behaviours. For social networking, this meant an ever-increasing list of suspicious behavioural signs, one of which was not participating in social networking at all. If the Internet became the face of progress at the turn of the twentieth century, psychopathy personified the flip side of that change. In this role, the online psychopath reflected larger concerns about the Internet. As the twenty-first century wore on, it became increasingly clear that the Internet could be used for democratic and creative ends just as much as it could be for distraction, repression, misinformation, and fraud. The psychopathic sexual online predator gave a face to the Internet’s many problems with anonymity. Online identity theft reminded us about the fluidity between virtual and real goods, about how quickly passwords, bank account numbers, birth dates, and mothers’ maiden names translate to actual bank withdrawals. The presence of cyberpaths, the portfolio accurately suggested, should constrain how much we give of ourselves online. As Kerry Daynes put it, “psychopaths are increasingly turning to the Internet as a means of meeting people ... This means that there’s a small chance that the person sitting across the table could be a psycho – and you will need to take steps to protect yourself.” The warning appeared under a picture of a young woman sitting with a laptop, and a caption “Bad date? The Internet has become a field of opportunity for psychopaths.”45 The psychopathy portfolio had taken on a new and powerful role as an object lesson in rethinking progress. Degenerate Society The psychopathy portfolio adjusted in a number of ways. It admitted new patient groups and behaviours, it assimilated social fears and political aspirations, and it responded to technological advances. It also accommodated a range of estimates about the prevalence of psychopathy, and an even broader spectrum of implications of those estimates for the health of societies. A typical opening to a modern tract on psychopathy included an estimate of psychopathy’s prevalence, followed by a sentence like “It is very likely that at some time in your life you will come into painful contact with a psychopath.”46 Robert Hare put his population prevalence estimate at 1 per cent, and calculated in 1993 that there were 2 million



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psychopaths in North America, with 100,000 in New York alone. According to Martha Stout, the prevalence was 4 per cent, which raised the number of psychopaths to over 12 million in the U.S. and to about 330,000 in New York City, by 2011 population estimates.47 The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health estimated the prevalence of the much less exclusive – and therefore more prevalent – disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and placed that number at 1 per cent of the general population. Since antisocial personality disorder is considered by some to be up to five times more common than psychopathy,48 only 0.2 per cent of the population should be psychopathic, and instead of having 330,000 psychopaths, New York City should have fewer than 17,000. Another frequently cited number was an estimate that 50 per cent of serious crime in North America was committed by psychopaths.49 Clearly embracing psychopathy’s flexibility, FBI profiler John Douglas implied a much higher number, writing “virtually anyone who commits murder or some other horrible or violent act can be thought of as being ‘mentally ill.’ Normal, mentally healthy people just don’t do those kinds of things.”50 Of course, nobody has verified the proportion of all serious crimes committed by psychopaths or their prevalence in the general population. Full psychopathy assessments have been done on only a small number of people – typically incarcerated offenders – and, at least when done with the help of the PCL-R, each requires hours of interview and document review. More importantly, psychopathy’s prevalence could be manipulated simply by changing the cut-off score for psychopathy (in fact, different researchers and practitioners often use different scores). Increase it, and the number of psychopaths declines; decrease it, and their numbers grow.51 However, the key feature of these estimates was not their numerical flexibility, but their potential use in expanding the psychopathy portfolio’s reach. The degeneracy portfolio had in part hinged on the argument that degeneration was more than an individual problem; it was also a gauge of the mental and moral hygiene of entire societies. If the number of degenerates in a given country reached a critical threshold, some contended, the country itself could become degenerate. It was critical for the degeneration theory’s popularity that it was able to stoke fears of just such a scenario. If crime reporting did not sell enough copy, national emergencies would. So it goes for psychopathy. The eminent author and psychologist Benjamin B. Wolman worried in 1999 – in the midst of declining crime

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rates throughout North America – about “the rise of sociopathy and the growing danger of an epidemic,” which posed a “threat to civilization and the democratic way of life.” In an unmistakeable appropriation of nineteenth-century degenerationist logic, Wolman compared the sexual practices of sociopathic youths to those of “baboons, rhesus monkeys, and other infrahuman species, and some primitive tribes” and bemoaned sociopaths’ “regression to primitivism.”52 Wolman distanced himself from Lombroso, however, by attributing the rise of sociopathy not to biology but to the conservative mainstays: poor parenting, declining family values, TV, liberal education, and lack of cultural norms. In 2012, the Cambridge research psychologist Kevin Dutton also noted the increasing incidence of psychopathy around the world, citing as evidence a Japanese youth who sold his kidney to buy an iPad, Chinese shoppers who failed to help an accident victim, the defence team in the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping trial, the self-reported narcissism of college students, and U.S. corporate crime. Dutton hypothesized that there were probably many causes for the trend, but he concentrated on one in particular: children’s reading habits. Reading books, Dutton explained, fostered empathy and changed children’s brains for the better. Studies had shown a decrease in the number of books an average child read, which led Dutton – the author of two books himself – to link the incidence of psychopathy with a lack of reading. And here was Robert Hare in an interview with Dutton: I think, in general, yes, society is becoming more psychopathic. I mean, there’s stuff going on nowadays that we wouldn’t have seen 20, even 10 years ago. Kids are becoming anesthetized to normal sexual behavior by early exposure to pornography on the Internet. Rent-a-friend sites are getting more popular on the Web, because folks are either too busy or too techy to make real ones ... The recent hike in female criminality is particularly revealing. And don’t even get me started on Wall Street.53

Hitching psychopathy to the cultural decline narrative may have been historically inevitable. By the early twenty-first century, the psychopathy portfolio had co-opted a basic set of postmodern fears: technology, strangers, alienation, powerlessness, anonymity, and financial meltdowns. However, in the rush to establish cultural relevance, hardly anyone had paid much attention to traditional grievances over such things as justice and social change. Now, in evoking the classic conservative refrain about the decline in civility, the portfolio had something



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to offer for both ends of the political spectrum. The political left could diagnose cut-throat capitalists, and conservatives could diagnose the next generation, and each side had science on its side.54 The Useful Psychopath The more psychopathy penetrated popular culture, the more it shed its original connotation with evil. Successful psychopathy in particular raised the obvious question: could psychopathy confer certain social benefits? If so many heads of state and captains of industry were psychopathic, could their psychopathy be in some ways advantageous? Increasingly, the answer became yes. In his 2012 book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success, Kevin Dutton set out to prove that psychopathy is in many ways socially beneficial. Dutton’s argument rested on the assumption that the consistent presence of psychopathy must indicate that the disorder has some evolutionary benefit. What is more, Dutton noted, psychopaths consistently outperformed their nonpsychopathic counterparts in a number of tasks that required risk-taking, a finding that seemed to support the idea that early psychopaths had been valuable as hunters and warriors. In modern times, psychopathy might be a useful trait in high-risk professions like the military, law enforcement, and business.55 Dutton cited Steve Jobs as an exemplary contemporary psychopath. Jobs was charismatic, visionary, focused, and ruthless, but a secondrate inventor who took other people’s ideas and made them appealing to the consumer. Dutton now took his idea a step further, and argued that even saints could be psychopaths. Saint Paul was a perfect candidate – a drifter, risk-taker, an incarcerated criminal, and an expert manipulator of crowds – who, because of his psychopathy, rose to the centre of the Christian canon. Dutton argued that Saint Paul’s canonization had obscured the more sordid facts of his life, and noted that “deep within the corridors of the brain, psychopathy and sainthood share secret neural office space.”56 Even more counter-intuitively, Dutton cited an Australian study that seemed to show that under certain circumstances psychopaths were more altruistic than non-psychopaths. But to Dutton this made perfect sense, as just the right amount of psychopathy could be channelled to either pro-social or antisocial pursuits. One example of such channelling were psychopath-heroes who, due to their superior focus and lack of anxiety, were able to perform high-

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stakes military tasks and civilian rescue operations. For tasks like these, Dutton argued, cooperation was anathema; what was required was the sort of cold-hearted individualism only psychopaths possessed. In Dutton’s hands, psychopathy completed a full circle. It could now afflict anyone from despicable schemers to leaders of men, from serial murderers to rescuer-heroes. But Dutton was not solely responsible for closing the loop. By the early 2000s, various experts had begun to dismantle psychopathy’s traditional role as a mental illness and expanded diagnostic data sources to include anything from the Bible to self-reports to brief encounters. Dutton simply put together research and theory that had begun to offer something for everyone. Gradually, psychopathy lost its distinct clinical meaning, and it increasingly became shorthand for extraordinary people, good or bad. Spotting psychopathy in high achievers became a sport in itself. In this way, just like late-nineteenth-century degenerates – which included Lombroso’s genius-degenerates – the twenty-first-century psychopath became a consummate cultural projection. Lay audiences and social scientists alike could lay claim to psychopathy by applying the label to their own fears and research aspirations. The logic of psychopathy came to accommodate the obvious (psychopaths commit crimes, ruthlessness works, etc.) and the counter-intuitive (psychopaths are socially beneficial, saints can be psychopaths), and all of it fit neatly within an ever-expanding portfolio. As we will see next, it did not take long for psychopathy to break free of its scientific moorings and enter popular culture.

6 The Culture of Psychopathy

One side effect of the psychopathy portfolio’s being so adjustable was that it encouraged non-scientists to adopt the diagnosis to their own ends. Natural and social scientists may have originated the psychopathy discourse, but their exclusive claim to it did not last long: non-experts soon discovered the power of the diagnosis to stand for any number of grievances, from simple moral outrage to philosophical disagreements. By marrying Judeo-Christian theology with mainstream science, psychopathy – just like degeneracy before it – was as much something that afflicted people as it was a tool for talking about good and evil in a secular age. Psychopathy was to late modernity what witchcraft had been to early modernity: a platform for marking out the moral world and one’s enemies within it. Psychopathy discourse now offered scientists and non-scientists alike a concept that allowed everyday moralizing to pass as scientific statements. But eventually psychopathy became something much more nuanced than a mere synonym for evil. While some saw psychopathy as an analogy for whatever ailed modern societies and their political leaders, others embraced it as a symbol of strength, danger, and sexual prowess; and still others wanted to have the diagnosis for themselves in a juvenile quest for identity. In this way, psychopathy also became a cultural weathervane of sorts. Cultural norms and anxieties, particularly in individualistic North America, often found expression in the character of the psychopath. Since the mid-twentieth century, the psychopath has stood as the personification of the benefits and drawbacks, the freedom and the horror, of individual freedom. This process of cultural appropriation depended, to an extent, on the cooperation of mental health experts. Although the mass appeal of psychopathy was no mystery – the diagnosis by its nature evoked

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fear, puzzlement, and envy – a number of psychopathy experts took steps to publicly emphasize just how dangerous and compelling the psychopath was. Some professionals also popularized the concept by assessing ordinary people, wannabe psychopaths, and fictional characters on the psychopathy spectrum, in some cases essentially providing diagnoses on demand. Thus the professional and lay audiences became a positive feedback loop of information. In this loop, experts disseminated scientific information about psychopathy in evocative lay terms, and non-experts assimilated the relevant concepts into their existing world views. Non-experts then made the concepts personally useful, which eventually further popularized the scientific concepts, thus creating ever-widening audiences for more scientific information. Without this cultural endorsement, psychopathy could never have become the deeply resonant and uniquely Western construction it eventually did. It was this cultural endorsement that also allowed scientific research to attract funding and new generations of students to become interested in psychopathy research.1 Psychopathy as Cultural Critique

The Hipster Psychopath The cultural iconography of the psychopath was born in the early counterculture of 1950s America. The U.S. postwar welfare state had created unprecedented opportunities for economic and social success for the returning veterans of the Second World War and their families. Job security and social mobility in the Cold War were at an all-time high, and Soviet nuclear and ideological threats galvanized the country in a common fear. But the American dream came with what many judged to be a heavy price: conformity. The symbols of conformity – dull suburban architecture, grey and uniform dress codes, bureaucracy, household consumer goods, and so on – were to literate observers a sign that Americans had abandoned en masse the founding ideals of individualism in return for safe collectivism. Thomas Frank wrote in his The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism that the 1950s was said to be a time of intolerance of difference, of look-alike commuters clad in gray flannel and of identical prefabricated ranch houses in planned suburban Levittowns, all stretching moderately and reasonably to the ho-



The Culture of Psychopathy  99 rizon. Conformity was not supposed to be a merely transitory problem of the moment, an intolerance which would fade eventually like the red scares of the past. According to its more sociologically and historically oriented observers, conformity was forever, a symptom of vast economic and social shifts, part of a permanent cultural sea-change that accompanied the ongoing transformation of the American economy.2

Some writers thought that this shift was more than economic and social. It had brought, in Frank’s paraphrasing of mid-century sociologist David Riesman, “a new dominant ‘characterological’ type: the ‘otherdirected’ man who, unlike his ‘inner-directed’ predecessors, looked for guidance not to abstract, unchanging ideals, but to the behavior and beliefs of those around him.”3 With the perceived demands of conformity came longings for a different kind of America: aggressively free, bohemian, and racially equal. A confluence of events in mid-1950s pop culture gave this ideal a viable identity: the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the stylistic and popular expansion of bebop, and the appearance of Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show. The resulting composite countercultural character was the hipster. The hipster was an aggregate of a number of things, all of which stood in contrast to Riesman’s “other-directed man.” For one, the hipster – who was more often than not white and middle class – emulated and idealized black culture, especially as embodied by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie. For the hip generation, black culture represented a flight from stifling social convention. Jazz music was a form of subversion and innovation in the face of oppression, black male sexuality an overdue insult to white middle-class courtship rituals, and black English an elusive in-group identifier. Bebop indicated another important hipster value: the marriage of high and low culture. Bebop’s emphasis on improvisation and difficult, fragmented arrangements challenged the value of the prevailing danceable swing jazz, and remained by design inaccessible to the casual music fan. Yet, bebop was played by marginalized black musicians in low-culture underground venues. The result was a distinctly mid-century mix of bohemian sophistication and largely whiteconcocted ideas of black sexual primitivism. Another significant hipster reference group was the criminal class. Outlaws and rebels, the staples of American mythology, represented

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for hipsters a return to a purer and more primitive America, one that was free to set its own language and codes, and free to seek simple pleasures. In the cultural critic Richard Slotkin’s contention, the Puritans’ relationship to the New World was largely defined by the difficulties of wilderness life and of the Indian Wars.4 Consequently, American mythology came to see violence as natural and regenerative; what was necessary for early settler survival became the founding idea of the frontier spirit. As later generations reworked the original myths, violence took on a new role as an engine of change and as a counterforce to cultural stagnation. What started out as simple law-breaking could later become legend. Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse James, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Al Capone became part of the creative violence–folklore, and it was these characters whom the hipsters embraced. For the 1950s bohemian, the outlaw became shorthand for individualism and rebellion. But as John Leland, the author of Hip: The History, argues, this violence was all borrowed gesture, an aesthetic without nerve or desire to actually carry it out. “At an elemental level, the hipster is a vicarious form of the outlaw,” Leland wrote. “Hipsters are criminals once removed, intimations of crime without the thing itself. In a nation of laws, the romance of the outlaw lies mainly in the potential, isolated from the seamier reality of its results.”5 One result of hip’s attempt to wed high culture with low culture, white culture with black culture, and outright criminality with midcentury romanticism was the psychopath-hero. The first to make the leap from hip’s intimations of violence to a reverence of actual violence, from the hipster to the psychopath, was Norman Mailer. Mailer set up a binary choice between conformity and hipsterism in his widely reviled 1957 essay “The White Negro”: “One is Hip or one is Square ... one is a rebel or one conforms, one is a frontiersman in the Wild West of American night life, or else a Square cell ... doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed.” For Mailer, there is only one truly moral choice. Having witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps and the atom bomb – both courtesy of vast scientific and bureaucratic operations – the modern individual could either fall into “slow death by conformity with every creative and rebellious instinct stifled” or to “accept the terms of death, to live with death as immediate danger, to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self.” The hipster – whom Mailer fashioned as an American-style existentialist or as a “wise prim-



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itive” (i.e., black, hence the essay’s title and hence the critiques of his heavy-handed racial stereotypes) – chose the latter. This choice did not mean organized political dissent, but private pathology, which Mailer considered preferable to systemic, state-sanctioned violence. He glorified hip’s psychopathic immoderation, solipsism, and disregard for the future. The hipster pursued his nihilistic ends at leisure, showed active hostility to cooperation, and professed faith only in himself. “Whether the life is criminal or not,” he wrote, “the decision is to encourage the psychopath in oneself, to explore that domain of experience where security is boredom and thereof sickness, and one exists in the present, in that enormous present which is without past or future.”6

The Postmodern Psychopath The idea that psychopaths signified cultural values became a rich source of philosophical debate after Mailer’s initial salvo. The basic position here was that the psychopath was not mentally ill. Rather, he was essentially sane, and simply reflected an individualistic, competitive culture. Sociologists and cultural critics found in psychopathy a useful analogy for the ills of modern consumer culture and unchecked individualism. In his 1996 book The Wilding of America: How Greed and Violence are Eroding our Nation’s Character, sociologist Charles Derber used the 1989 assault on a Central Park jogger – referred to as “wilding” in the media, though wrongly, as the actual offence most likely had nothing to do with wilding – as an illustration of an unsettling trend in American life: the increasing acceptance of “legitimate” sociopathy in all walks of life. American business, politics, and even home-life, Derber argued, were increasingly devoted to the pursuit of naked selfinterest. “In sociopathic societies,” he wrote, “the clinical effort to dissect the sociopathic personality cannot be separated from an analysis of national character and ideology.”7 Psychologist Robert Joseph Smith reached the same conclusion in his 1978 book, The Psychopath in Society. Smith examined the North American national character through case studies of commercials, children’s stories, and literature, and concluded that the traits most valued in the U.S. are congruent with psycho­ pathy. He wrote, In a situation where individualism is trump, the psychopath is powerfully equipped to survive, if not always to succeed. That is, if the operational basis of the culture requires projecting a good image while watching out

102  The Myth of the Born Criminal for oneself, if it encourages pursuit of material pleasure and the merchandizing of people, then far from being a mask of sanity or a moral imbecile, the psychopath is the reasonable one and those of us who are trusting, reliable, and empathetic are out of phase with reality.8

The exact aspect of modernity that psychopaths represented depended on a writer’s interests. For cultural critics, the psychopath mirrored capitalist greed; for the philosophically inclined, the psychopath became a philosopher of sorts. What united the two camps were grievances over some aspect of contemporary life, which they sought to portray as analogous to psychopathy. For philosophers the grievance tended to concern postmodernism. In the early part of the twentieth century, the term “postmodern” was used to describe art and architecture that stood in contrast to modernist art and architecture. In the latter half of the twentieth century, postmodernism acquired new meanings as it spread to literary theory and the humanities. Here, the term came to denote a set of epistemological ideas that stood in contrast to traditional beliefs about authority and knowledge. Postmodernist epistemology was a critique of modernity’s view of science and objectivity. Modern science, rather than being the arbiter of objective truths, was in fact deeply male- and ethnocentric. Postmoderns argued that what moderns took as authoritative knowledge about history, society, and natural phenomena were merely subjective feelings and preferences perpetuated by the powerful. Postmodernism gained traction with the rise of multiculturalism and cultural relativism in the 1960s and 1970s, and quickly became dogma in many humanities and social sciences departments. One problem with postmodernism was its insistence that truth and falsehood were objectively indistinguishable, which, if taken literally, would undermine any scientific inquiry. If science and pseudoscience were epistemically the same, what would be the point of debunking the latter? Many writers pointed out that postmodernism did not seem to contribute to our understanding of the world in any meaningful way. This problem came to a head when the physicist Alan Sokal submitted a deliberately nonsensical faux-postmodernist article about quantum gravity to the well-regarded postmodernist cultural studies journal Social Text. When the journal published the article, Sokal revealed his submission as a hoax intended to expose the silliness of postmodern thought. The hoax, which came to be known as “The Sokal Affair,” galvanized postmodernism’s critics.



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For some critics, the mental life – or lack thereof – of psychopaths made for an irresistible analogy to postmodernism. The York University philosopher David Stamos compared psychopaths’ lack of morality with postmodernists’ lack of commitment to objective truth. In his 2011 essay “The Philosophical Significance of Psychopaths: Postmodernism, Morality, and God,” Stamos wrote, “Just as psychopaths lack moral virtues and values and do not want them, postmodernists lack epistemic virtues and values and do not want them.”9 The Oregon State University psychologist Michael Levenson compared psychopathy to the bête noire of postmodernists, scientism (the overextension of science to explain practically everything) like this: “The psychopath appears to be a postmodernist philosopher who fully endorses – and extends to its logical extreme – scientistic devaluation of concerns about intrinsic or ultimate meaning.”10 Other writers, such as the sociologist Simon Gottschalk, argued that the postmodern self, egged on towards pathological individualism and sensation-seeking by a ruthless consumer society, was “systematically encouraged” to adopt sociopathic tendencies.11

The Ideological Enemy On the crassest and most predictable level, psychopathy became a means of categorizing enemies to one’s ideology. Embittered political ideologues took to diagnosing their political adversaries (especially those in power), blithely conflating differences in opinion with psychopathy in their opponents. Some tried to make quasi-legitimate taxonomies by matching their foes’ public utterances and policies with diagnostic criteria for psychopathy, often nominating psychopathy researchers as spiritual friends of sorts in a fight against evil. Democrats diagnosed Republicans and Republicans diagnosed Democrats. Barack Obama – Nobel Peace Prize or not – was a psychopath for running secret and not-so-secret wars, for cutting taxes and for increasing them, for his smooth talk and self-confidence. George W. Bush had psychopathic eyes and took psychopathic delight in having people tortured. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney was diagnosed for strapping his dog to the roof of his car and for shutting down companies while at Bain Capital. Even the uncharismatic Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, received the label for his pro-business stance. The atheist blogger Austin Cline diagnosed God, and Jacob Stein, an Orthodox Jew, diagnosed atheists like Austin Cline. “It suddenly struck me,” Stein wrote on his blog, Jewish Philosopher, “What is

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the difference between a typical atheist and a psychopath/sociopath? Apparently, absolutely nothing.” Finally, Thomas Sheridan, the author of the book Puzzling People: The Labyrinth of the Psychopath, updated Max Nordau’s degenerate art idea by blogging that modern art had no lasting value, and that those hawking it were “gaslighting” us into believing the opposite. He defined gaslighting as “how a psychopath in a personal relationship with another person will slowly over time change the reality and perceptions of the individual they are targeting,” and noted that modern art resulted from an “underlying psychopathic rationale.”12 Psychopathy as Identity Psychopaths in popular culture are almost invariably talented and famous. Their fame, however, is also what sets limits on what kinds of people become pop-culture psychopaths. Diagnosing famous people is practically always retrospective – only public figures with significant public records qualify as psychopaths. And since the fame of useful psychopaths – and the talent that supposedly gave rise to that fame – precedes their diagnosis, the diagnosis is at best a secondary trait in the public record. That is, psychopathy is contingent on fame: we diagnose public figures only because their professions allow the disorder to manifest itself. There is, however, one type of person whose principal identity is psychopathy, who has no discernible talents, and yet whose pop-cultural appeal surpasses that of all other psychopaths: the serial killer. As we saw in chapter 4, the cultural iconography of the serial killer was a product of the FBI’s redefinition of serial murder in the 1970s. Psychopathy entered the cultural mainstream in the 1990s and, in the public imagination, soon became indistinguishable from serial murder. The cult of the psychopathic serial murderer grew steadily in the last decades of the twentieth century, in the process erasing the line between fame and notoriety. What was central to the fame of serial killers was its complete separation from any conceivable achievement: serial killers were famous for killing people and getting away with it for a while, a task that the typically dull and charmless existence of these killers made surprisingly easy. But of course the factors that sealed the serial killer’s fame had little to do with the reality of murder. The serial killer psychopath is the latest manifestation of the classic folkloric monster. Each monster is a receptacle of culturally de-



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termined fears, and as such conveys a great deal about a culture’s collective psyche. Kevin Haggerty at the University of Alberta has cogently argued that the serial killer is essentially an image of modern, anonymous, media-saturated, and instant celebrity–obsessed society. The choice of serial murderers’ victims also mirrors social values that reflexively denigrate certain groups, such as prostitutes. Haggerty writes, Rather than attempt to comprehensively list the axes of marginalization that distinguish the victims of serial killers, it is easier to point out who they do not [emphasis original] kill. In North America serial killers very rarely murder wealthy Caucasian heterosexual males – those individuals who are iconically positioned in the most esteemed cultural category.13

But the monster does more than kill and repulse; it also symbolizes unstated longings for God-like powers and freedom from social constraints. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen describes the monster’s appeal in this way: The monster also attracts. The same creatures who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies; the linking of monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more appealing as a temporary egress from constraint. This simultaneous repulsion and attraction at the core of the monster’s composition accounts greatly for its continued cultural popularity, for the fact that the monster seldom can be contained in a simple binary dialectic ... We distrust and loathe the monster at the same time we envy its freedom, and perhaps its sublime despair.14

Psychologists have long noted enviable freedom of psychopaths from conventional morality. Hare and Babiak write that psychopaths “lack feelings of remorse and guilt, part of the internal moral sense that prevents the rest of us from acting out some of the fantasies we occasionally have about using, manipulating, and hurting others.”15 According to Martha Stout, as a psychopath “you can do anything at all [emphasis original], and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their conscience, will most likely remain undiscovered.” Stout goes on to ask, “What will you do with your huge and secret advantage?”16 Aside from the obvious points about psychopaths’ freedom, the operative words here are “fantasies,” “strange,” and “secret,” each a key element of monster folklore.

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As Cohen suggests above, the monster operates on a number of psychological levels. The monster is an object of fantasy and envy, but also a figure of “sublime despair,” an unreadable and secretive figure whose existence is a tragedy to itself as much as to its victims. It carries a horrible secret of being neither human nor animal, but something in between. We also know that eventually the monster is cut down by a hero, and so its death is stamped into its very nature by a narrative convention. In short, folklore catches the monster up in multiple traps of identity, which makes the monster a complex character. By design, then, the monster’s complexity stands in contrast to the folklore’s audience, whose lives in comparison seem flat and ordinary. Given the monster’s depth, complexity, and freedom, it is not surprising that monsters are often given a sympathetic or at least semisympathetic treatment in modern retellings. The inverted monster narrative – which emphasizes the monster’s positives over the bloody and tragic negatives – has been the basis of vampires’, witches’, and werewolves’ appeal, and is increasingly prominent in recent franchises like Dexter and Twilight. The sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia features the psychopathic Dennis Reynolds, who, as Men’s Health put it “has convinced America to fall in love with him.” Glenn Howerton, the actor who portrays Dennis and who also co-created the show, explained to the magazine that “being a psychopath isn’t such a bad thing after all.”17 In this regard, real-life serial killers are different only in degree from their fictional counterparts. As proof of the disappearing line between fame and infamy, you can now join serial killer fan clubs and buy the killers’ letters, art, prison address lists, hair and nail clippings, and personal effects. There are Top 10 and Top 100 serial killer lists, and even Kevin Dutton refers to serial “A-listers” and “Hall of Famers,”18 apparently to distinguish Ted Bundy et al. from their less prolific and less popular counterparts. “I have cradled John Wayne Gacy’s brain in my hands,”19 he exclaimed in a strange mix of Lombrosian enthusiasm, twenty-first-century fanboy culture, and religious iconography. The adoration of serial killers is in basic outline equal to the exaltation of actors (who tend to enjoy playing serial killers) and superstar athletes. Each celebrity occupies a semi-spiritual plane onto which audiences can project any number of desires and pathologies, the only difference being the slightly subversive shame that comes with admiring and projecting onto the killers. What made this inversion possible is what made monster folklore possible in the first place: essentially it is just a story. As the UCLA Eng-



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lish professor Mark Seltzer has argued, modern “true crime” literature and film are increasingly indistinguishable from their fictional counterparts. He wrote, True crime is crime fact that looks like crime fiction ... “Crime” on its own is then crime fiction, “false crime.” The presumption seems to be that “crime” is a fictional genre and that one must bend fiction toward fact by adding the word “true” to crime. This interestingly paradoxical relation between true and false crime points to the manner in which crime in modern society resides in that interval between real and fictional reality ... That is, a reality bound up through and through with the reality of the mass media.20

This conflation of real and fictional crime has the psychological effect of releasing the audience from having to consider the seamy realities of actual murder. If the killer’s identity is hard to distinguish from fiction, so it is easy to confuse real victims’ suffering with the suffering of fictional victims. It is safe to contemplate and identify with the monster when his victims are marginally real. The confusion only deepens when it is reinforced by mental health experts. A number of psychologists, for example, contributed to The Psychology of Dexter, a booklength psychological assessment of the fictional psychopath Dexter Morgan (or “America’s favorite serial killer,”21 as one Emory University psychologist put it in the book). Then, on 24 October 2012, Kevin Dutton took the stage at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, joined by Michael C. Hall, who portrayed Dexter on TV. “Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience,” the museum advertisement explained in terms reminiscent of P.T. Barnum, “Dutton reveals that there is a scale of ‘madness’ along which we all sit. In this on-stage conversation, Dutton will test his theories on the actor who embodies psychopathic qualities in his role on Showtime’s Dexter.”22 The conflation of real and imaginary here is so complete and unique that it is nearly impossible to think of an analogy elsewhere. The closest would probably be a zoologist studying a person who wears an animal costume. The widespread appeal of psychopathy as an alter ego lies in psychopathy’s inclusiveness. Since psychopathy can define the president as much it can the serial murderer, the label’s essence is not harm, but freedom and potential. Psychopathy implies a range of options denied to the non-psychopath: a psychopath can kill or choose not to kill; he

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can choose any career or no career at all; he can use his talents for good or evil. The psychopath is also good at many things the average person is not: lying, first impressions, manipulation, casual sex, and starting new jobs and relationships. Studies seem to prove this: one study found a positive correlation between psychopathy and the number of casual sex partners.23 Another study showed that psychopaths have special powers of perception. In a much-discussed experiment, a team of Brock University researchers tested whether undergraduate students with psychopathic traits were better than non-psychopathic students at detecting vulnerability in potential victims. To do this, the researchers asked a pool of subjects whether they had been previously victimized, and then filmed them walking down a hallway. The researchers then gave another pool of students a self-report questionnaire on psychopathy, and showed them the film with the instruction to identify who among the walkers would be a good mugging victim. The higher an individual’s self-reported psychopathy, the better he or she was at identifying the previously victimized group.24 “Psychopathy really is like a high performance sports car,”25 Kevin Dutton concluded. Also, just like the folklore of vampires, werewolves, and other monsters, psychopathy taps into typical adolescent fears and hopes. The monster’s destructive powers temper and justify the bitterness of social exclusion and sense of alienation. The monster is free from doubt and immune to ego threats, and when the ego is threatened, a secret alter ego deploys to avenge the hurt. The monster is tragically alone but superior. Given the choice between having a conscience and not having it, between weakness and strength, doubt and certainty, many would conceivably choose the psychopath’s fate. The online “I Am a Psychopath” discussion and chat forum is a case in point. The website capitalizes on the inverted monster narrative and on psychopathy’s attractiveness as a personality trait. Officially, the forum allows subscribers to do the following: “Anonymously connect with people who share your experiences – like those who say ‘I Am a Psychopath.’ Read hundreds of true stories, share your own story anonymously, get feedback and comments, chat in the discussion forum, help others, meet new friends, and so much more.”26 In practice, however, many use the forum for a completely different purpose: showing off. “I am proud to be what you call a psychopath,” wrote one member. “In my opinion we, the Psychopaths, stand above all other Humans.” Another member explained “The Benefits of Being a Young Black Psychopath” like this: “Since I am a black psychopath, I



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am able to use my psychopathic gifts on a group of people who are easy targets: other black people ... I’m a likable guy who’s intelligent and a lady’s man. So because of this, I am able to blend in quite well with these people and I know how to get them to do things I want them to do.” Or consider an entry by a fifteen-year-old girl on the mental health forum Psychforums.com (reproduced verbatim here). The girl asked “Am I a Psychopath?” and wrote: I want to know whats wrong with me because I’m becoming more and more violent, hurting the people I “love” and such. And when Im bored, I like hurting the people closest to me then charming my way out of it. I know this isn’t normal. Conforming isnt normal either though, in a sense that conforming is unhealthy. Am I just healthy, in a different kind of light?

When the forum refused to diagnose the girl due to her youth and because psychopaths did not usually complain about their condition, she replied, “I asked you to please not judge me by my age. You have not a clue what has happened in my past ... Although I may be wrong, please don’t rule out any kind of mental disorder.” What the writer seemed to have in mind, however, was not really “any kind of mental disorder,” but psychopathy in particular. (Psychopathy’s close relative, antisocial personality disorder, rarely appeared in this context, in part because of its unpleasant connotation with everyday thuggery, jail time, and reduced circumstances. As psychopathy experts had long argued, psychopathy was about personality and, by extension, identity, while APD simply connoted behaviour, a distinction now manifest in the blogosphere.) Sam Vaknin, a middle-aged self-professed corporate psychopath, took the psychopath-as-identity idea a step further. According to Vaknin’s CV, he was, among other things, a businessman, a philosopher, a physicist, a journalist, a personality disorders and self-growth expert, an editor, a financial analyst, an adviser to the minister of health of Macedonia, a convicted criminal, and a short-story writer. He claimed to have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder in the 1980s. While incarcerated for stock fraud in the 1990s in Israel, Vaknin began to write – and eventually self-published – a book on the condition. He settled down in Macedonia, where he started a website for victims of narcissists. A follow-up series of e-books and video lectures soon followed, which he sold through his website. He eventually

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parlayed his diagnosis into an appearance on the 2007 British documentary film Egomania, which billed Vaknin as “the world’s leading expert on NPD.” For the film, Vaknin provided a series of insights on the nature of narcissistic personality disorder, and a narrative twist toward the end of the show whereby he confessed that he himself was “a selfaware narcissist.” This, he explained, was a rare condition. “We had finally found a level-nine narcissist,” the film’s narrator noted, whatever that meant. “Sam is unique.” Vaknin’s by-the-book narcissism, on display throughout the film, seemed to unsettle the entire film crew. Two years later, Vaknin appeared in the film I, Psychopath. This time, he submitted himself to a battery of diagnostic tests to see whether, aside from his NPD, he also qualified as a bona fide psychopath. Various mental health experts examined his brain and interview responses, and eventually gave him the diagnosis. Vaknin’s tantrums and manipulations were again captured on film, supposedly as evidence that he was indeed a psychopath. The film’s director bemoaned on camera the toll that the filming was taking on his own mental health. Robert Hare, who appeared on the film himself, later confirmed Vaknin’s diagnosis in a radio interview, and explained that Vaknin’s condition was most likely genetic.27 Amid layers of complexity and irony, the troubling question remained: was Vaknin a psychopath or merely pretending to be one? Would pretending make him a psychopath anyway? Why would Vaknin agree to be filmed in this way? One thing stood out clearly: Vaknin seemed to sincerely want to be a psychopath. At least he was making money from it, as he confessed on camera. M.E. Thomas, a pseudonymous sociopath/psychopath followed in Vaknin’s footsteps in her 2013 book, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight. In the book, Thomas, a self-described law professor, musician, Sunday school teacher, and woman with a “brilliant IQ,” recounted how she came to suspect that she might be a psychopath, and described her mission to find a diagnosis. She finally received it when John Edens, a professor at Texas A&M University and a noted expert on psychopathy, put Thomas through a number of tests and pronounced her “a ‘socialized’ or ‘successful’ psychopath.” Her personality profile, according to Edens, mirrored “the prototypical psychopathic personality among females.” Thomas sensed Edens’s sympathy for her condition: “At one point during our interview I thought that he might cry,” she wrote. “He seemed so distressed on my behalf ... I think ... he was worried for me – worried about what a diagnosis like ‘sociopath’ would mean for me in my life.” “Of course it’s hard for



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me to worry about things like that,” Thomas went on, since sociopaths are not supposed to care. Yet earlier in the book she had worried, and quite dramatically so: “I have managed to remain undetected so far,” she wrote, but there’s no telling how long that will last. Will I end up being shipped off to a sociopaths-only gulag? Perhaps if I’m lucky. Many visitors to my blog [SociopathWorld.com, which advertises her book and accepts donations] have called for much worse, including our total extermination. I’m hoping that once you get to know one sociopath, you’ll show even this cold heart some compassion when the cattle cars come to ship me off somewhere.28

Although marginally more subtle than Vaknin, Thomas nevertheless was faithful to Vaknin’s method of persona construction. She sought out a mental health expert to confirm the diagnosis she suspected, assimilated her own narrative to the scientific consensus (she blamed “dual quirks of genetics and environment” for her condition),29 and proceeded to recount a life of psychopathy in the flat, mechanical precision of someone ticking off boxes. Finally, Thomas’s inauthentic and shallow prose, like Vaknin’s bouts of on-camera ill temper, both confirmed her as a psychopath and left open the possibility that she was faking it. The faking itself, of course, had a familiarly circular logic: counterfeiting a psychopathic profile would itself count as a symptom of psychopathy.30 In this context, the logic of psychopathy seemed to make it an impossible-to-malinger disorder, even if doing so was perfectly rational. (I, Psychopath and Confessions of a Sociopath featuring a non-psychopath and a non-sociopath would probably not produce compelling narratives.) If diagnosing Vaknin and Thomas was ironic in all sorts of intended and unintended ways, the National Public Radio’s take on the diagnosis came as a light-hearted corrective. Having read Jon Ronson’s book Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, the station decided to ask a forensic psychologist to assess the staff on This American Life. “Who is the psycho?” the host asked: So if you heard at the beginning of today’s program, you heard that I and my fellow producers here at This American Life decided to take the psychopath test ourselves for this week’s program. And just to quickly repeat our caveats about that, we did this for entertainment and education purposes

112  The Myth of the Born Criminal only, which meant that we took the short version of the test ... We figured that we would each score a couple points here, a couple points there. And then we wanted to see who would rack up the most points. Robyn and Jane ... were favorites because of trouble that they got into as teenagers.

After lengthy interviews with a number of guests including Jon Ronson and Robert Hare, the theme music to Psycho announced that the results were in. Disappointingly, everybody scored zero. The show concluded with a recording of one assessment session with staff member Robyn Semien (David Bernstein was the psychologist; Ira Glass was the host): David Bernstein: So here’s a question. Now, you said you stole the manual. Robyn Semien: Yeah. Bernstein: And you gave out the answers? Semien: Yeah. Bernstein: Did you sell the answers? Semien: No. Bernstein: Why’d you give them away? Semien: Just because we wanted everyone to do well. Bernstein: Mm-hm. Ira Glass: That is the mm-hm of “I am bored.” That’s the mm-hm that you say when you’re thinking, you people are not psychopaths.31

The last stage of psychopathy’s adoption into pop-culture seemed to involve the turning of tragedy into a blend of comedy and impromptu career advice. Even this stage was facilitated by actual social scientists. To this end, Kevin Dutton created “The Psychopath Challenge,” a questionnaire that could determine whether a person taking the test might be psychopathic. The test was on Dutton’s website. “A bit of fun!” the site promised. “Ever wondered if YOU might be a psychopath? Filling in one questionnaire won’t really tell you for sure. But hey, why not take the ‘psychopath challenge’?” High scorers, Dutton explained, should consider careers in neurosurgery, law, or the Special Forces, because “psychopaths have a lot of good things going for them.”32

PART II

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7 The Language of Persuasion

In 2006 Martin Kantor, a retired psychiatrist from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centre in New Jersey, began his latest book, The Psychopathy of Everyday Life: How Antisocial Personality Disorder Affects Us All, with these words: “Psychopathy is both a serious psychological problem that threatens our individual happiness and a widespread social problem that threatens our entire civilization.”1 Though vacuous – substitute “evil” for “psychopathy,” and observe the banality – Kantor’s statement was still powerful. It expressed just how urgent it was to understand psychopathy: the stakes were high, and we ignored psychopathy at our own peril. Or consider the typical introduction to an academic journal article on psychopathy. Here is an example: Psychopathy is one of the most powerful predictors of both violent and non-violent criminal recidivism ... Offenders with psychopathic features commit more crimes, commit a greater variety of crimes, and are more violent during the commission of their crimes ... Given the well-defined relationship between psychopathy and extreme violence ... it might be predicted that psychopathy would be associated with a propensity for committing sexual violence.2

Of course psychopaths commit more crimes than non-psychopaths. They do so almost by definition.3 Traditional measures of psychopathy include items that are either directly or indirectly about crime. The PCL-R, for example, includes items about juvenile delinquency, conditional release, criminal versatility, conning, remorselessness, and failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions (to receive a score on

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the last two items there must be something to feel remorseful about and to take responsibility for). The Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, though less explicitly about crime, measures attitudes about such things as clever scams, ripping people off, hurting others in pursuit of goals, cheating, and behaviours that consistently land one in trouble.4 A great number of studies, nevertheless, have examined the relationship between crime and psychopathy. The Carleton University psychologists Adelle Forth and Heather Burke summarize the research as follows: “A strong relation between psychopathy, criminal behaviors, and violence has consistently been found in adult offender populations.”5 That is, researchers “consistently” find that people without conscience do bad things. The important question here is not the exact quantitative strength of the crime–psychopathy relationship, but the reason why social scientists would carry out these studies in the first place. While it is elementary logic that tautologies need not be tested empirically, testing them may nevertheless fulfil a useful purpose. Take the analogy of a political campaign. Suppose you want to enter politics because you think that, if elected, you will bring about the most public good. But to win, you cannot appeal to social benefits alone; you also have to do things that bear no logical relation to good governance – serving pancakes, espousing slogans, making vague or impossible-tokeep campaign promises, getting expensive haircuts, and so on. Now think about the psychopathy research program. To attract attention and funding, a psychopathy researcher has to stress the public benefits of his or her research, which the researcher can do by, say, proving that there is an empirical relationship between psychopathy and social problems, such as crime. Although this serves no actual scientific purpose, it does serve a unique function: persuasion – the scientific equivalent, in other words, of a slogan or a haircut. The rhetorical logic behind the “dangerous psychopath” argument is simple: it mobilizes audiences into action – to read a book, to accept an article for publication, to approve a grant application, and so on. Since psychopaths are a proven threat to human welfare, the logic goes, it is in an audience’s self-interest to act, however that action may be construed for the particular situation. In rhetoric, this strategy is called “framing.” The frame in this case packages psychopathy as primarily a crime problem, a problem that requires action, and it is this call for action that sells the research program.



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In this chapter we propose that psychopathy has become popular in part because of rhetoric. Although rhetoric was an important part of nineteenth-century degeneracy and moral insanity discourse, it did not blossom into an art until the 1990s, largely for technological reasons. In the 1990s, advancements in neuroimaging and psychometric techniques introduced the world to a new kind of social scientist, one whose primary competency was in operating complex technologies rather than in understanding and managing the human psyche. One of the effects of this shift was to inhibit psychology’s traditional critics – philosophers, humanists, and journalists – who had no training in interpreting neuroimaging or psychometric data.6 Logical critiques in the style of, say, Walter Lippman (who skewered U.S. Army mental testing in 1922) or Noam Chomsky (whose critique of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior in 1959 was instrumental in taking the sheen off behaviourism) are exponentially easier to dismiss today with appeals to the data. Here is Robert Hare on the data: Like most clinical constructs, psychopathy has been and continues to be the subject of considerable debate, scientific and otherwise. Some commentators – perhaps influenced by belief systems intolerant of clinical and behavioral constructs, or overwhelmed by the inconsistent, fuzzy, and legalistic ways in which the term is often used – have even suggested that the disorder is mythological or, at the very least, not clinically or theoretically useful. These views typically have an armchair quality about them, and are held with surprising certitude and tenacity, given the wealth of clinical and empirical support for the construct of psychopathy now readily available in the literature ... Indeed, a meeting of leading researchers on personality disorders organized by the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, DC, in June 1992 concluded that the convergence of biological, psychological, and behavioral paradigms in the theory and research on psychopathy was a useful model for the construct validation of other personality disorders.7

In other words, it is both very complicated and very simple. Unless we have a thorough understanding of the empirical literature – published accounts of which now number in the thousands – and construct validation (a concept even experts have trouble understanding; see appendix B), we should accept what the experts tell us. And what they tell us is a simple story: psychopathy is a real disorder. Yet, it does not

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take a social scientist to see that the passage above is also effectively a condensed manual on rhetoric. There is an ad hominem on ethics, objectivity, and competence of critics (they are “influenced by belief systems intolerant of clinical and behavioural constructs, or overwhelmed”; their views “have an armchair quality about them,” and are “held with surprising certitude and tenacity”); a claim to objectivity (the data are “readily available,” and basically require no interpretation. For more on this, see chapter 8.); an appeal to authority (“a meeting of leading researchers on personality disorders organized by the National Institute of Mental Health ... concluded) [emphasis added]; and slippery language (“clinical construct” sounds scientific, but what does it mean? Is a construct not the opposite of a real thing? For more on this, see appendix B. Also, the statement that critics have “suggested that the disorder is mythological” already implies that the argument is about a disorder, the very thing many critics in fact reject). But are these rhetorical utterances intentionally rhetorical? In this book we do not claim that rhetoric deployed in the service of psychopathy research is meant to deceive, distract, or to market a dubious product. Our criteria for considering a statement rhetorical and for including it here is that (a) it is scientifically questionable or inessential, (b) it is frequently made, and (c) it advances an institutional agenda. In other words, rhetoric for our purposes here consists of statements that serve only institutional agendas, and not scientific ones. We do not know the reasons for these rhetorical statements; we only discuss their effects, and when we say a certain statement has a certain rhetorical purpose, we do not mean that the individual making that statement has that purpose, only that it has a rhetorical effect. What follows is a discussion of some of the rhetorical techniques evident in psychopathy discourse. Medical Terminology The master narrative of psychopathy is the disease model. Psychopathy is a disorder, psychopaths are patients with a dysfunction, their symptoms – itemized in diagnostic tests – have an onset and a course, and psychopathy may or may not be treatable. A typical academic journal article sounds like this: Antisocial and psychopathic personality disorders can be linked to a number of biochemical abnormalities (e.g., serotonin, monoamine oxidase,



The Language of Persuasion  119 and hormone dysfunctions), genetic and environmental influences, and psychological and social manifestations. It is noted that children with conduct disorders, with or without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), have an elevated risk for antisocial or psychopathic personality disorders in adolescence and adulthood. The presence of comorbid disorders such as substance abuse and schizophrenia have a strong negative predictive value with respect to the course, the prognosis, and the outcome of antisocial and psychopathic disorders. There are substantial gender differences. The rates for spontaneous remission and improvement of antisocial and psychopathic personality disorders are possibly relatively high and these rates are higher for women than for men. In the 4th decade of life, most of the antisocial and psychopathic personalities are in remission.8

But do psychopaths have a disorder with a dysfunction, course, prognosis, and remission, or are they simply types of people in the way that, say, liberals, musicians, attractive people, introverts, jerks, and complainers are types of people? In the latter model, psychopathy is a personality description, and psychopaths are no more patients with a dysfunction than musicians are. Let us call this the descriptive model. The medical and descriptive models employ distinct languages, and the choice of language comes with ontological, epistemological, and ethical assumptions as well as with practical consequences. Medical entities are real things that can be studied empirically. These studies should be funded, because it is our ethical imperative to reduce suffering. The descriptive model, on the other hand, is essentially about language. We teach children and foreigners the proper rules of language by way of pointing, exemplifying, and so on – a person who behaves like this is called a jerk, the people on the stage with certain skills and habits are called musicians, and so on. Jerks may constitute a problem, but they are not primarily objects of scientific study. The term “jerk” does not constitute or imply a real thing; it is simply a linguistic convention for expressing moral disapproval. But observe what happens if we rename jerks “psychopaths” (the suffix itself indicating suffering or disease), construct symptom checklists, develop scoring criteria for each, calculate a composite score, decide on a cut-off point, and restrict the term’s use to individuals above that score. The natural consequence is that psychopath becomes psychopathy, the term’s use shifting from the descriptive to the explanatory, to a problem or dysfunction internal to the individual. The jerk becomes a patient, personality becomes suffering.

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And so, with a few essentially random decisions you have created an entirely new discourse. The question is which language – the medical or the descriptive – makes more sense for psychopathy. The answer has nothing to do with whether or not psychopathy has a biological cause. Liberalism, introversion, jerkiness, chronic complaining, and musical ability probably have a biological cause – at least in part – and attractiveness certainly has one, but they are not disorders. Nor are socio-economic status,9 religious affiliation,10 and political orientation11 disorders, though each has been shown to have neurobiological correlates. (We will discuss psychopathy’s proposed biological causes in chapter 8.) So, let us concentrate on language. Is the medical language logically appropriate for psychopathy? Are psychopaths patients who suffer from symptoms? Not in the traditional sense of the words. Psychopaths do not typically complain about their psychopathy or seek help for it. Unless a psychopath is punished for a crime, psychopathy is only problematic for others. Some features – like juvenile delinquency, revocation of conditional release, and criminal versatility – are in fact as much about criminal law and the functioning of the criminal justice system as they are about the individual diagnosed. As we saw in chapter 5, some people actually want to be psychopaths. Do the symptoms of psychopathy have an onset and course in the way diseases typically have? The answer is no, since there is no pre- and post-psychopathy, no fluctuation in symptoms (though psychopaths commit fewer crimes as they approach middle age, but so do non-psychopaths). Do psychopaths suffer from a dysfunction? Are they unable to feel remorse, stay unmarried or monogamous, refrain from crime, take responsibility for their offences, and so on, or do they simply choose to do so less than non-psychopaths? In medicine, dysfunction is typically taken to mean that an organism either (a) has ceased to be able to do what it was previously able to do, or (b) cannot perform its natural function (excluding the natural aging process in both cases). The problem with psychopathy and (a) is, again, that there are no proposed pre- and post-psychopathy functions. The problem with (b) is that framing such things as remorse, manipulation, sense of self-worth, and charm – which are included in most measures of psychopathy – in terms of natural functions requires either metaphysical speculation or guesswork about evolutionary adaptation. In other words, there are no compelling empirical grounds for preferring medical language over personality description when discussing psychopaths.12 However, the rhetorical reasons for the medical model



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are obvious: the more psychopathy discourse resembles medical discourse, the more it commands research funds, professional prestige, law enforcement endorsements, and mainstream media interest. Dangerous Knowledge Not long after the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised was published and began to gain public attention, concerns were raised about its potential misuse. This was not without some justification, as a psychopathy diagnosis can influence any number of legal decisions, including death sentence deliberations (see chapter 9). Robert Hare has provided anecdotal evidence of PCL-R misuse in the American and Canadian criminal justice systems. These range from a judge’s ad hoc PCL-R diagnosis of a defendant to inmates diagnosing themselves.13 Others have documented PCL-R misuses as well. Here are two representative cases, as described by John Edens:14 In one case, prosecution sought the death penalty for a defendant in a multiple murder case. The argument centred in part on the defendant’s PCL-R score (thirty-six) which, the prosecution argued, meant that the defendant was likely to engage in institutional violence if not given the death penalty. Edens points out that the empirical literature is inconclusive on the issue of institutional violence, and the violence risk may be in any case irrelevant for inmates on twenty-three-hour-a-day lockdown in the facility in which the defendant would be placed. The second case concerns a defendant on trial for multiple sexual assaults against his child. A psychiatrist had assessed him based on a number of tests, including ten to fifteen select and improperly documented PCL-R items, and concluded that the defendant did not show “sociopathic tendencies” and was therefore unlikely to have committed the offences. Edens lists three principal problems with this argument. The psychiatrist (a) did not have adequate information available to administer and score the PCL-R appropriately; (b) presented the obtained results in a highly unusual and nonstandardized manner; and (c) drew conclusions that are in no way supported by the existing literature regarding the relationship between psychopathy and sexual violence ... Although it is true that some sex offenders score quite highly on the PCL-R ... and that the combination of psychopathy and deviant sexual arousal has been shown to be a robust predictor of sex offender recidivism in general ... these factors have very little to do with the prediction of incest per se.15

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All this has led Robert Hare to comment at length on the dangers of PCL-R misuse. Once, Hare recalls, a prominent criminal lawyer described him to an audience at an international conference as “a very dangerous man.” “I share his concern,” Hare wrote in 1998,16 and later posted this warning on his website: “The potential for harm is considerable if the PCL-R is used incorrectly, or if the user is not familiar with the clinical and empirical literature pertaining to psychopathy.”17 To minimize the risk of misuse, Hare listed the qualifications PCL-R users should have. These include educational requirements (an advanced degree in social, behavioural, or medical sciences), and work experience in the forensic field. The PCL-R publisher refuses to even sell the test to anyone without a graduate degree and training in test administration.18 In 2003, the question over user qualifications reached the Federal Court of Canada, which had agreed to hear an inmate complaint over a PCLR assessment done by a non-PhD-level psychologist (the court decided against the complainant).19 The PCL-R also poses dangers to its users in the form of copyright law. Hare recounts the following scene: In a recent civil commitment hearing for a sex offender, the prosecutor noticed that the defendant’s psychologist appeared in court with photocopies of the PCL-R Manual, the Interview Schedule, and the Rating Sheet. He asked the psychologist – who had testified that the defendant was not a psychopath – if he was trained in the use of the PCL-R. The psychologist replied that he was not, but that he had attended a lecture on the assessment of psychopathy presented by a prominent forensic psychologist. When the prosecutor asked if he had an authorized version of the manual, the judge cautioned the psychologist that he might be about to incriminate himself in an illegal act. The prosecutor then repeated his question, whereupon the psychologist said, “I plead the Fifth Amendment on the grounds that I might incriminate myself.” The prosecutor asked how many copies he had made of the PCL-R, who had received them, and so forth. To each question the psychologist said, “I plead the Fifth Amendment.” The judge then rejected the psychologist’s assessment of the defendant.20

Copyright laws have also set severe limits on how psychopathy can be discussed in public. Mainstream media and university texts very rarely publish the entire list of PCL-R items (to circumvent copyright law, some textbooks provide Cleckley’s symptom list or the original PCL items), resulting in a lopsided public discourse with lengthy dis-



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cussions of psychopathy’s proposed causes on the one side but deliberate haziness on exactly what they are supposed to cause on the other. This stands in stark contrast to DSM-sanctioned disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder, whose symptoms can be found in most first-year psychology textbooks. Although copyright laws governing psychological tests like the PCLR are generally fair, and the misapplication of diagnostic tests can be harmful, sustained discussion on copyright restrictions and test misuse can, however, also serve a rhetorical purpose. The rhetorical logic here dictates that not only are psychopaths dangerous, but so is the tool for detecting them. The rhetorical purpose of the “dangerous knowledge” set of arguments is to communicate the essential seriousness – and the attendant “realness” – of the psychopathy concept: since the consequences of the psychopathy idea are serious for everyone involved, the idea itself must be important. In this formulation, psychopathy is the mental health version of the perennial “loaded gun” concept: a subtle form of reification with built-in deniability. It is true that tests for psychopathy can be misused, and they are justly protected by copyright law. But it is also true that sustained, academic discussion on misuse and copyright contribute to the overall rhetoric of psychopathy’s danger, and, consequently, its ontology.21 Public Emergency As we saw in chapter 4, the case for psychopathy research is often premised on public safety. Psychopaths, we are told, cause untold physical, emotional, and financial harm. The solution to this problem, we also learn, lies at least in part in more research. But what kind of research? Hervey Cleckley had an answer. “An important point to express,” he wrote in 1982 (in a quote already familiar from chapter 1), is that medical attention or any other practical step to help or ameliorate misfortune or pain [caused by psychopaths] must not wait for a threshing out on philosophic, metaphysical, and religious planes of the ultimate whys and wherefores, the final determining of blame or responsibility. It is possible to meet these emergencies at another point.22

This argument is rhetorically effective in two ways. First, if there is an emergency, then surely something should be done about it. The emergency provision shuts down discussion and disguises the tautology –

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bad people do bad things; they always have – at the argument’s core. The request for funds and public attention now seems not only plausible but essential and selfless. Second, Cleckley’s admonition against “threshing out on philosophic, metaphysical, and religious planes” makes a claim for ownership – the problem now belongs to science. Philosophy and metaphysics are too contemplative and slow to be useful in emergencies, and besides, they cannot fix the psychopathy problem in any meaningful way. Another way of putting Cleckley’s argument is what in classical rhetoric is called ethical appeal. The gist of ethical appeal, as David Foster Wallace put it, is “a complex and sophisticated ‘Trust Me’... it requires the rhetor to convince us not just of his intellectual acuity or technical competency but of his basic decency and fairness and sensitivity to the audience’s own hopes and fears.”23 Recalling his visit with Robert Hare, the award-winning Canadian writer Robert Hercz makes the ethical appeal for psychopathy research: Ever since I visited Dr. Robert Hare in Vancouver, I can see them, the psychopaths. It’s pretty easy, once you know how to look. I’m watching a documentary about an American prison trying to rehabilitate teen murderers. They’re using an emotionally intense kind of group therapy, and I can see, as plain as day, that one of the inmates is a psychopath. He tries, but he can’t muster a convincing breakdown, can’t fake any feeling for his dead victims. He’s learned the words, as Bob Hare would put it, but not the music. The incredible thing, the reason I’m yelling, is that no one in this documentary – the therapists, the warden, the omniscient narrator – seems to know the word “psychopath.” It is never uttered, yet it changes everything ... I think of Bob Hare ... and wonder if he’s watching the same show in his hotel room and feeling the same frustration ... After thirty-five years of work, Bob Hare has brought us to the stage where we know what psychopathy is, how much damage psychopaths do, and even how to identify them. But we don’t know how to treat them or protect the population from them. The real work is just beginning. Solving the puzzle of the psychopath is an invigorating prospect – if you’re a scientist.24

The Historical Psychopath Diagnosing psychopathy or individual symptoms of psychopathy is a highly circumscribed act. Psychopathy experts describe the diagnostic



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process of psychopathy in detail, and regularly give warnings about assigning the psychopathy label to people who have not been properly assessed, and about whom not enough is known. Here, for example, is the University of Wisconsin-Madison psychologist Joseph Newman: My main concern is that the label (of psychopath) is applied too liberally and without sufficient understanding of the key elements. As a result, the term is often applied to ordinary criminals and sex offenders whose behavior may reflect primarily social factors or other emotional problems that are more amenable to treatment than psychopathy.25

Robert Hare gives a cautionary tale about “long-distance diagnosis” in Without Conscience. Hare had been contacted by CBS to comment on Saddam Hussein’s possible psychopathy, but he refused, because the long-distance diagnosis of public figures, even by experienced diagnosticians, can easily become a parody of professional procedure. The result can be a form of glorified gossip, lent credence not by the facts but merely by the expert’s credentials ... Not only were biographical materials on Hussein limited, but the highly influential variables of culture, religion, and other components of a belief system profoundly different from ours called for careful study and understanding from anyone attempting a psychological diagnosis.26

Now consider the following statements found in mainstream psychopathy literature: Perhaps the earliest written description of psychopathic traits can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy about 700 BCE. About three hundred years later, one of Aristotle’s students, Theophrastus (371–287 BCE), became the first scholar to write about psychopaths in any detail. He named his prototypical psychopath “The Unscrupulous Man.” Stories of psychopaths pervade literature. Greek and Roman mythology is strewn with descriptions of such characters. Accounts populate the Bible, beginning with Cain – the first murderer ... Psychopaths are typically described in historical texts as monsters, evildoers, people who lack the emotional connections that bind the majority of us, as well as the inhibitions that those connections engage.27 Psychopathy began to emerge as a formal clinical construct in the last cen-

126  The Myth of the Born Criminal tury, but references to individuals we now readily recognize as having been psychopathic can be found in biblical, classical, medieval, and other historical sources.28 Though it would hardly be convincing to claim that we can establish a medical diagnosis, or a full psychiatric explanation, of this public figure who lived almost two and a half thousand years ago [Alcibiades], there are many points in the incomplete records of his life available to us that strongly suggest Alcibiades may have been a spectacular example of what during recent decades we have, in bewilderment and amazement, come to designate as the psychopath.29 Various commentators provide evidence suggesting that psychopaths can be identified in a range of societies and at different points in historical time ... Psychopathic individuals are regarded as distinct individuals; the diagnosis is not, as some would allege, merely a mechanism for identifying those who do not fit with the expectations of modern industrialized societies.30 Some historical figures who, I believe, had the “talent” for psychopathy but who did not develop the full syndrome and achieved great worldly success include Winston Churchill ... the African explorer, Sir Richard Burton ... and Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than sound.31

Clearly these contradict both the letter and the spirit of mental health diagnosis, whether in diagnosing psychopathy or some aspects of it. Although the writers here may be applying the label loosely in some unspecified non-clinical sense, the very practice of identifying historical psychopaths undercuts the legitimacy of the diagnosis. If individuals at any time, dead or alive, with or without the help of protocols can be diagnosed, then surely it must mean that the diagnostic criteria are less than rigorously defined. Carefully considered, this practice also undermines the “dangerous misuse” rhetoric: perhaps the only justification for conceptual looseness here is that the historical psychopath is by definition already dead, and so unable to contradict the diagnosis or suffer any direct consequences from it. The rhetorical purpose of the historical psychopath, however, is easy to see. The case that psychopaths have always existed lends the research program legitimacy, because a disorder that is timeless means that it is also “real” or “true” in the same way as medical or severe psychiatric



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conditions are real. Like cancer and heart disease, the argument goes, psychopaths have always existed. Kevin Dutton unearthed evidence for this in the form of a 36,000-year-old skeleton with what looked like a weapon-inflicted scar on its head. “It’s an intriguing thought” Dutton wrote, “that itinerant Neanderthal psychopaths were doing the rounds of prehistoric Europe some 40,000 years ago. But it’s not all that surprising.”32 Even Richard III, whose bones were dug up in 2012, was a potential psychopath. However, after careful consideration, two British psychologists decided otherwise, though they believed that he may have suffered from what the psychologists termed “control freakery.”33 The same logic governs the discovery of the non-Western psychopath. Some researchers have argued that kunlangeta and arankan – troublemakers in Alaskan Yupik and West African Yoruba, respectively – are local versions of psychopaths. A textbook on abnormal psychology puts it like this: There are parallels between kunlangeta and arankan, and our concept of “psychopath” – someone who consistently violates norms of society in multiple ways. Also, some of the specific acts of wrongdoing which Eskimos and Yorubas recognize might in our society be called evidence of “personality disorders.”34

Rhetorically the argument unfolds as follows: if many cultures have a word for a personality type, that type must be real and concrete. This type of reification is rhetorically powerful as it evokes a sense of reality which the logic of psychopathy – which is non-concrete, and manifests itself only in behaviour – would not otherwise permit. (It is also worth noting that this kind of reification tends to work for socially deviant behaviour only: hardly anyone reifies niceness or honesty.) Here is Kent Kiehl: “Psychopaths also appear in existing preindustrial societies, suggesting they are not a cultural artifact of the demands of advancing civilization but have been with us since our emergence as a species.”35 That is, whatever the differences between preindustrial societies and twenty-first-century America, kunlangeta and arankan are practically indistinguishable from modern psychopaths. Concept Flexibility The idea of the corporate psychopath (see chapter 5) did a number of things to advance the psychopathy concept in general. On the one

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hand, it extended the sense of public emergency by multiplying the number of psychopaths to concern ourselves with. John Clarke, an Australian psychologist and the author of Working with Monsters: How to Identify and Protect Yourself from the Workplace Psychopath, gave public lectures and media interviews explaining how psychopaths “infiltrate companies undetected, the strategies they use to manipulate those around them to achieve power and promotion.”36 He advised companies to screen their employees and to limit psychopaths’ “access to highly vulnerable people or victims.”37 Clarke also added a new form of victimization: suicide. “I have had a number of cases,” Clarke told ABC News in Australia, “where the victim has taken their own life.”38 Paraphrasing Clarke’s key message, ABC News wrote, “The only way to win the war against these psychopaths is to refuse to tolerate their damaging behaviour.”39 Corporate psychopaths also came with a number of unsettling, builtin unknowns: How many of them are there? (Clarke put the number at 1 to 3 per cent of the general population.) How do you detect them? How do they avoid detection? Could someone you know be a psychopath? To complicate things further, Clarke explained that workplace psychopaths can be difficult to identify, because they were often “generally well-liked and competent at their jobs.”40 Clarke’s well-liked monsters owe a direct debt to Cleckley’s classic formulation of the psychopath: “We are dealing here not with a complete man at all but with what might be thought of as a subtly constructed reflex machine,”41 a machine that hides behind “a mask of sanity.” This fundamental vagueness about essences and appearances, of truth and falsehood, reinforces the liminality and mythological appeal of psychopaths. Just as scientists began to demystify the criminal psychopath, a new mystery began to emerge – the corporate psychopath. Furthermore, the concept of the corporate psychopath extends the realm of influence and expertise of research programs, with the attendant demand for increased research funding. They also created a new market for mental health experts and assessment tools, a phenomenon whose justification often came from conceptually slippery research. Consider a 2010 study on corporate psychopaths. The study, described in chapter 5, found a disproportionate number of psychopaths in business organizations. What made the finding possible, however, was the omission of two PCL-R items – revocation of conditional release and criminal versatility – which the authors considered “not applicable” to the sample, presumably since a criminal record and a string of con-



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ditional release revocations would make it difficult to find work in a large business. Besides, the researchers noted, the omissions were done “using the standard procedure as outlined in the PCL-R manual.”42 Logically, and contrary to the study’s authors’ claim, by deleting certain elements of the test to suit the circumstances, the study did not appear to be about psychopathy in the traditional sense of the word, but about something else.43 In other words, the desired result – proof for the existence and high prevalence of corporate psychopaths – could be achieved simply by choosing the diagnostic features to fit the patient group, without apparent loss of meaning. Finally, flexibility in the psychopathy concept allows the researcher to skirt major diagnostic issues. Like most psychological concepts, psychopathy presents the diagnostic dilemma of determining how psychopathy is distributed in the population. There are two competing propositions: psychopathy manifests itself either as a continuum (i.e., we are all psychopathic to a certain extent in the same way as we have blood pressure or intelligence) or as a discrete entity (i.e., you either are or are not a psychopath in the same way as you do or do not have the influenza virus). This results in the problem of a cut-off score. In the case of the PCL-R, the score is set at thirty, but different researchers recommend or use scores ranging anywhere from twenty-three to thirty-four. The corporate psychopath seems to solve both problems. On the one hand, a “formal” cut-off score lends the diagnostic process an air of mathematical certainty; on the other hand, an “informal” cutoff score extends the concept while preserving the overall legitimacy of the diagnosis, simply by adding a prefix (“sub-criminal,” “whitecollar,” “corporate,” etc.). The central problem here is that the cut-off score is a constantly moving target untethered from any evidence that the scores mean anything. Blood pressure and intelligence, for instance, can be given a clinically meaningful cut-off score – blood pressure at level x signifies a health problem called hypertension, and intelligence below level x signifies a mental handicap, which signifies the inability to function independently. Ultimately, Hare argued in 1970, it was perfectly legitimate to sidestep the question of trait distribution altogether. Here is his solution in a nutshell: Perhaps it is so difficult to decide whether psychopathy is best viewed as a typology or as a dimensional concept because both views are appropriate, representing, as it were, different sides of the same coin. Similarly,

130  The Myth of the Born Criminal it is possible that “the conflict between typology and dimensionality is a pseudoconflict dependent upon the state of knowledge of the field” (Zubin, 1967, p. 398), and that research on psychopathy and other disorders of behavior can be fruitfully carried out without formal commitment to a particular view.44

Thirty-seven years later, he concluded, “Clinicians and researchers long have wondered whether psychopathy is better represented as a dimension or as a discrete category, or taxon. I have been more or less neutral on the issue, but my ‘gut feeling’ always has been that it is the latter.”45 Although it is reasonable to reserve judgment on an empirical issue until the issue is settled by science, and while it may well not have been Hare’s intent, it seems clear that express flexibility can also serve an important rhetorical function by rendering a legitimate scientific problem a “pseudoconflict” by fiat. In effect, it solves the trait distribution problem by resolving not to solve it. If psychopathy can, without loss of meaning, be distributed in any number of ways, no empirical result about the distribution can threaten the concept’s viability. Rhetorically speaking, it does not matter that psychopathy can flex and constrict without scientific consequence or strict theoretical rationale, as long as the flexibility is decided in advance to not be a problem. Equivocation The ultimate question about psychopathy is what causes it. It should therefore be surprising that the word “cause” rarely appears in mainstream psychopathy literature. Rather, we read statements like “Accumulating empirical evidence supports Cleckley’s view that an emotional deficit lays [sic] at the core of psychopathy”; “Emotional deviation is central to the clinical conception of psychopathy ... and a growing body of research has focused on the nature and bases of affective anomalies in psychopaths”; “Current findings suggest some specific directions for further study of the mechanisms underlying psychopathy”; “This is not to say that externalizing, defined as the common dispositional factor underlying varying disorders of impulse control represents an imprecise ... entity ... This points to the externalizing construct as a coherent and important target in studies of the neurobiological bases of impulse control problems”; “The relationship between psychopaths’ abnormal asymmetries and task complexity suggests that their performance asymmetries may reflect poor interhemispheric integration”;



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“The current study provides valuable new information about basic affective reactivity differences in psychopathic individuals, and adds to a growing body of data indicating that such differences are uniquely tied to the emotional interpersonal facet of psychopathy”; and “The theoretical importance of the two factors described here depends largely on the degree to which they are derived from the personality structure underlying psychopathy.”46 This kind of equivocation has become increasingly pronounced with time – the more recent the publication, the less likely it is to use the word “cause.” The closest recent literature comes to “cause” is by way of “etiology,” which properly means “the assignment of cause,” “the science or philosophy of causation,” or “that branch of medical science which investigates the causes and origin of diseases,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In psychopathy literature, this term is sometimes used properly, as in “It also remains to be determined what implications these and other linguistic processes might have for the etiology and dynamics of psychopathy,” and sometimes incorrectly, as in “IRT methods are likely to be useful procedures for enhancing not only our knowledge of the functioning of the PCL-R and its constituent items, but also our understanding of the etiology of this important disorder,” or “The advantage of the concept of psychopathy is that it identifies a population who share a common etiology, a dysfunction in specific forms of emotional processing.”47 But why should researchers increasingly opt for these cumbersome, ambiguous, and often incorrect expressions over the straightforward and informative “cause”? Although it may simply be that the art of clear expression – at least in the academia – is difficult to master, it may also be that the ambiguity is intentional and rhetorically useful. What a researcher means by a “cause” is plainly obvious; it is a conjecture that is open to all sorts of critiques and questions about confounds, intervening variables, temporal order between cause and effect, the exact mechanisms of causality, and so on. However, what the researcher means by “mechanisms,” “processes,” “dimensions,” “factors,” or “personality structures” “underlying,” “uniquely tied to,” “reflecting,” “lying at the core,” or at “the bases” of psychopathy is demonstrably unclear. Although unclear, these kinds of expressions are also evocative and open to interpretation, suggesting a great and unspecified range of possibilities. A “mechanism,” “process,” “dimension,” “factor,” or “structure” may be one of many things. These terms may refer to something biological, psychological, or even the currently

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popular “biopsychosocial,” but cannot be pinned down to anything specific. These expressions do not typically come with an explanation of what a psychological process or structure might look like, since of course “psychological process,” “personality structures,” and so forth are metaphors and as such do not strictly speaking look like anything. And, when things of this order “underlie,” “lie at the core” or form the “bases” of psychopathy, one may mean that they actually cause psychopathy, are symptoms of psychopathy, or that they in some way simply exist “below” psychopathic behaviour and feeling without necessarily doing anything other than “lying” there. But since there is no “above,” “at level with,” “below,” at the “surface,” or at the “core” of psychopathy in any material sense, things can only “lie” there metaphorically. To be “uniquely tied to” or “reflecting” something is a condition no less opaque and open to interpretation. The rhetorical purpose of this kind of equivocation is obvious. Metaphorical expressions of the above kind intimate causal-like knowledge, or suggest that a causal picture may be “emerging,” without running the usual risks associated with making explicit causal theories. They serve as provisional theories, which may inspire cautious optimism and some confidence that progress is being made, however vaguely that progress is framed. Should one of these provisional theories fall short under close scrutiny, one can respond that the theory was never intended as “causal” in any strict sense – the reason for avoiding the term in the first place – but only as a cautious hypothesis, an idea, or a suggestion for further research. Paradoxes and Red Herrings Since at least the nineteenth century, thinking about psychopathy has been predicated on an apparent paradox: psychopaths appear normal, yet they do bad things (hence, Pinel’s term “insanity without delirium,” and Cleckley’s title The Mask of Sanity). The logic of psychopathy solves the paradox by framing the problem itself as a partial explanation – it is in the nature of psychopaths to pretend normalcy. As Paul Babiak put it, “They blend in.”48 At the root of the problem is the classic mythological assumption – and the guiding principle of much of Lombroso’s work – about moral deviance and its reflection in outward appearance: the moral deviant should look and sound like a moral deviant, whether by physical deformity or by visible insanity. However, since there is no



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necessary relationship between appearance and evil, there really is no puzzle to solve either. Psychopaths blend in not because they have a superior ability to fake normal, but because they look and sound normal by definition (that is why only trained personnel can make psychopathy diagnoses). The appearance–reality puzzle, in other words, is a pseudo-problem. In rhetoric, it is called a red herring. The herring, in Hare’s words, sounds like this: “Everything about them seemed to be paradoxical. They could do things that a lot of other people could not do, but they looked perfectly normal, and when you talked to them they seemed okay. It was a puzzle. I thought I’d try and unravel it.”49 That is, Hare produced a paradox by looking for obvious signs of evil – as Lombroso had done – but not finding them. Although there is no evidence that evil people look anything but normal, the paradox idea is rhetorically powerful. It reproduces and updates the mythological assumption about signs of evil by framing the signs as real yet subtle, and detectable only through modern scientific instruments. It also frames the old and intractable problem of the causes of evil as an intellectually satisfying, and much smaller and hence solvable, puzzle about appearances and realities. The paradox-as-red-herring argument is evident in all levels of psychopathy discourse, but it is most subtly expressed in causal theorizing. Consider the emotional deficit theory of psychopathy.50 This theory posits that psychopathy is caused by deficiencies in the experience of emotions, whether it be emotions in general or only certain emotions. One group of researchers put it like this in 2002: For the past 50 years, the study of psychopathy has been dominated by the perspective that psychopaths engage in impulsive antisocial behavior and have unstable relationships with others because of a blunted capacity for experiencing and understanding emotion. According to this view, psychopaths are basically rational and cognitively intact but are unable to appreciate the emotional significance of human behavior ... As a result, psychopaths have difficulty anticipating the emotional consequences of their actions, do not learn from punishment, and behave in ways that hurt themselves and others. There is considerable evidence consistent with the proposal that psychopaths have difficulty appreciating emotional stimuli, particularly in the verbal domain.51

Two Vanderbilt University researchers gave a now-famous shorthand for this idea in 1962. According to them, psychopaths “know the

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words but not the music.”52 That is, psychopaths know what emotion words like “sorrow,” “love,” and “fear” mean, but cannot fully experience the corresponding emotions. This linguistic paradox was originally suggested, by way of an analogy, by Hervey Cleckley in 1941, who called the condition “semantic dementia.” Semantic aphasia was an already existing condition in expressive language, which Cleckley used as an analogy to illustrate a core feature psychopathy. Cleckley’s term “semantic dementia” denoted an ability to mimic emotional reactions – just as patients with semantic aphasia had trouble producing meaningful language – but an inability to feel them. The key logical problem with the emotional deficit theory is that much of it is circular – psychopaths by definition have shallow affect, and lack a few specific emotions, namely remorse, guilt, and empathy.53 So, studies showing that psychopaths have less emotional response to emotional words than non-psychopaths can essentially prove one thing: that people who have shallow affect in life also have shallow affect in the laboratory. In other words, an emotional deficit relative to the emotions already contained in the diagnostic features is a partial restatement of psychopathy, not a causal theory. (Empirical proof for abnormal emotion processing in psychopaths is inconclusive).54 The most salient feature about the emotional deficit theory therefore is not its explanatory power, but how good it is at hiding its central tautology. This is worth considering in detail. The obvious clue to a tautology is when a phenomenon’s cause is contained in its definition – low mood causing depression, social isolation causing loneliness, and so on. Usually, the circularity problem is relatively easy to detect. The emotional deficit theory is different, because it introduces the circularity gradually. The theory is usually presented in a two-step sequence. The first step introduces the concept of language – often referencing Cleckley’s semantic dementia – and weaves it into a vaguely causal-like theory. This avoids circularity because nothing in the diagnostic criteria deals with language per se, and the proposed cause (something like semantic dementia) looks qualitatively different from the effect (psychopathy). This first proposition, then, not only appears non-circular, but it also promises to remove the threat of circularity from subsequent causal theories concerning emotion, for the proposition that psychopathy is caused by an emotional deficit can now be understood simply as a development of the original, semantic dementia theory.



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The second step in the sequence removes the language reference as the cause, proposing that the inability of psychopaths to process emotional language is only “a symptom,” “a reflection,” or a “test” of a general emotional deficiency. Rhetorically, then, language processing functions as a red herring. To clarify, consider a group of individuals, let us call them Marvins, who know the basic rules and terms of basketball, but who do not actually play the game very well. You can prove the latter with a measure called the “Basketball Inventory,” an index that is composed of a number of diagnostic criteria for basketball skills, and includes tasks like three-point shooting, jump shooting, dribbling, rebounding, passing, lateral mobility, and one-on-one defence. The Marvins perform very poorly on this test. Metaphorically, we can define a Marvin as someone who knows the words (i.e., the rules and terms), but not the music (i.e., the actual skill) of basketball. Now you want to know why the Marvins are not good basketball players. Researcher A is intrigued by the discrepancy between the Marvins’s basketball knowledge and their skill, and proposes that the Marvins may be poor basketball players because they suffer from semantic dementia, defined in this case as an inability to process the full significance of basketball language (i.e.,“knowing the words but not the music”). Researcher A proceeds to present basketball words to a sample of Marvins and a sample of NBA players. Researcher A then examines whether these groups differ on various reaction measures to the words, and discovers significant differences between the groups on a number of indices. Subsequent studies confirm these findings. A new generation of researchers now proposes an extension to the theory. They propose that the “defects” shown by the Marvins in the language processing tests can be generalized from “semantic dementia concerning basketball language” to a general deficit in basketball skills. Having travelled a full circle, the theory now enjoys wide popularity, and serious theoretical and policy debates erupt over a suggestion that Marvins be excused from all basketball-related activities at school on the basis of their disorder. The red herring here is basketball knowledge. The herring’s function is to create the appearance of a paradox: how can someone know about basketball but not play it well? The analogous psychopathy paradox is: how can someone understand the meaning of emotional words but not feel the corresponding emotions? But of course, we do not really expect

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sports fans to also be elite athletes, or psychopaths to be non-verbal. So, the real questions have nothing to do with basketball knowledge or emotional words, but with actual basketball skill and actual emotional experience. The real questions are, (a) what makes a good basketball player? (b) why do some people not have normative feelings? and (c) how do feelings relate to psychopathy? The rest is rhetoric. A related theory also features the language-processing red herring. Some researchers have proposed that psychopathy is caused by a cognitive deficit in the processing of abstract material (the similarity here to the emotional deficit theory is that emotional material is abstract). While psychopaths appear to understand the meaning of concrete and abstract concepts, they appear to show abnormalities in response time and attendant brain activation while processing abstract concepts. One research team found that psychopaths take longer than non-psychopaths to recognize abstract words, and that while processing abstract and concrete stimuli psychopaths do not show the same brain activity difference as non-psychopaths. Here is their conclusion: For the sake of argument, if we assume that psychopathy is present at an early age and that abnormalities in semantic processes related to conceptually abstract material are also present at that age, then how might these abnormalities lead to psychopathic-like behavior? Perhaps psychopathic individuals have difficulty engaging in cognitive functions that involve material that has no concrete realization in the external world. We might speculate that complex social emotions such as love, empathy, guilt and remorse may be a form of more abstract functioning. Thus, difficulties in processing and integrating these conceptually abstract representations to regulate or modulate behavior would be impaired in these individuals ... Given the growing evidence supporting abnormalities in processing conceptually abstract representations, these data suggest that abstract processing deficits may be a fundamental abnormality in psychopathy.55

The appeal of this theory is obvious. All we have to do is to think of an abstract concept denoted by symptoms of psychopathy, find its opposite concept, and consider psychopaths incapable of processing those concepts. The list might include traits, feelings, and behaviours like patience, humility, honesty, self-control, empathy, sense of guilt, prudence, love, remorse, and so on; that is, a very traditional list of virtues. So, if a psychopath has difficulty processing concepts such as guilt, remorse, and honesty, then he or she might find it easy to lie and not



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feel guilt and remorse. But why end the list here? Since the theory does not restrict the type or number of abstract terms for which psychopaths’ processing falters, we might as well consider psychopaths deficient in the experience of, say, “evil,” “dishonesty,” “crime,” “selfishness,” “money,” and “God.” If the theory holds, a psychopath deficient in the processing of these terms would be a good, honest, law-abiding, unselfish, and poor atheist. Of course, this person would no longer qualify as a psychopath. We can summarize the effect of rhetoric in psychopathy research as follows: First, rhetoric has increased the research project’s appeal by giving it the appearance of cutting-edge science. Second, and more importantly, rhetoric has created diversions from the project’s ultimate and predictable failure to address crime and antisocial behaviour in a new and meaningful way. The central mode of distraction here is data. Many of the rhetorical devices double as data sources – correlations between crime and psychopathy, lives of historical psychopaths, subtypes of psychopathy, language-processing experiments, and so on – and so contribute to the research project’s sheer magnitude. Psychopathy may be a modern rephrasing of Classical and medieval folklore and JudeoChristian morality, but psychopaths really are dangerous, and they process language very oddly. Is it not interesting and counter-intuitive to know that Winston Churchill and Julius Caesar were psychopathic? In this way, the data not only function as a red herring but also contribute new dimensions and levels of abstraction that, curiously, have a solidifying effect. The more numerous and diverse the data, the sounder the concept they are about must be, even though the data may essentially be irrelevant. Another way of putting the point is this: rhetorical data gathering mimics the scientific problem-solving process. In standard scientific work, large problems (such as the cause of cancer) are broken down into smaller and more manageable problems. The distinctive characteristic of rhetorical data gathering is that the smaller problems can be manufactured to supplant larger problems, with the implicit assumption that data – whether or not they are relevant to the main ontological questions – per se are a valuable commodity. The data’s rhetorical power increases when they are derived from cutting-edge technology, as was the case with a 2011 Cornell University experiment which showed that a computer program could identify the speech patterns of psychopaths by looking at words indicative of emotional flatness and lack of

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empathy. The researchers concluded, “These findings on speech begin to open the window into the mind of the psychopath, allowing us to infer that the psychopath’s world view is fundamentally different from the rest of the human species.”56 The inference – that emotionally flat and unempathetic people talk like emotionally flat and unempathetic people – does not itself qualify as an insight. Yet, with the introduction of a piece of technology into the equation, the results suddenly reveal a host of things about “the mind of the psychopath” and “the rest of the human species.” The species reference, of course, was also rhetorical. The title of the article was “Hungry Like the Wolf.”57

8 Neurobiology and Psychopathy

Patient Zero On 13 September 1848, twenty-five-year-old Phineas Gage was laying explosives to clear a railbed in Cavendish, Vermont, when a blast went off, sending an iron bar through his left cheek and out the top of his skull. The rod kept flying, eventually landing about 100 feet away with parts of Gage’s brain still attached. Gage fell on his back, but never lost consciousness. “Doctor, here is business enough for you,” he told the first physician who treated him that day. Within two months, Gage was healed. But the accident had an unpredictable side effect: a previously likeable and morally upstanding man, Gage now became impatient, forgetful, profane, and unreliable. His personality change lost him his job building railbeds. John Harlow, the physician who treated Gage in the weeks after the accident, explained the reasoning behind the company’s decision: The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and his animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned for others appearing more feasible ... Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart business man, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of opera-

140  The Myth of the Born Criminal tion. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was “no longer Gage.”1

Gage’s case became a staple in modern psychology textbooks and, unsurprisingly, in psychopathy literature. Harlow’s description made a number of obvious references to what now seem like psychopathic symptoms, and so it has become standard practice to cite Gage as early proof of the brain bases of psychopathy. In 1994, the University of Southern California cognitive neuroscientist Hanna Damasio and her colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging to reconstruct the physiological damage resulting from Gage’s accident. They concluded that Gage fits a neuroanatomical pattern that we have identified to date in 12 patients within a group of 28 individuals with frontal damage. Their ability to make rational decisions in personal and social matters is invariably compromised and so is their processing of emotion. On the contrary, their ability to tackle the logic of an abstract problem, to perform calculations, and to call up appropriate knowledge and attend to it remains intact. The establishment of such a pattern has led to the hypothesis that emotion and its underlying neural machinery participate in decision making within the social domain and has raised the possibility that the participation depends on the ventromedial frontal region.2

The suggestion that Gage’s personality change may have been related to an emotional deficit fit neatly with classic accounts of psychopathy. Consider, for example, Pinel’s description of patients with manie sans délire, who according to Pinel “at no period gave evidence of any lesion of the understanding but who were under the domination of instinctive and abstract fury, as if the faculties of affect alone had sustained injury.”3 What struck Pinel about these patients was not very different from what struck Harlow about Gage’s new personality: apparent cognitive normalcy coupled with self-defeating impulsivity and disregard for the feelings of other people. Damasio’s team also came close to Cleckley’s description of semantic dementia. Given the suddenness and oddness of Gage’s personality change and its obvious links to psychopathy, Gage soon became patient zero in the search for a neural basis of moral insanity. He became, if not actual proof of acquired psychopathy, then at least a powerful illustration of the biological theory of psychopathy. In short order, neuroscientists began referring to Gage as the “most notable neurological case study”4 of “psychopathiclike”5 traits. His case



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was heralded as “the first clinical evidence showing a link between personality, behaviour, morality, and the frontal lobe.”6 Gage showed that specific regions of the frontal lobes, as well as their connection with a group of other brain structures called the limbic system, played an important role in emotion and social behaviour. It was only natural to speculate that the cold and calculating amorality of psychopaths on the one hand and their impulsivity on the other could be caused by a defect in precisely these areas of the brain. As Kent Kiehl and the Harvard psychologist Joshua Buckholtz put it, “Gage’s story became a classic of neuroscience because it revealed that behavior, which seems a matter of personal will, is fundamentally biological.”7 Neurobiological Theories of Psychopathy

Early Theories The prefrontal–limbic system theory is one of the latest in a long line of biological theories of psychopathy and psychopathy-like conditions. The lineage began with anomia and micronomia in the eighteenth century, and degeneracy theory a hundred years later. In the twentieth century, theories with links to degeneracy continued to surface at irregular intervals. Some early theories connected psychopathy with epilepsy (a line of thought that persists even today).8 Other electrophysiological studies found that a certain proportion of psychopaths consistently showed abnormal brainwave activity, suggestive of “cortical immaturity,” which led researchers to draw – in an inadvertent nod to Lombroso – a connection between the brains of psychopaths and children.9 The development of the prefrontal–limbic system theory of psychopathy began in earnest in the 1950s, when the University of Minnesota psychologist David Lykken decided to study the fear conditioning of psychopaths.10 Lykken hypothesized that since psychopaths seemed to lack anxiety, and since learning to avoid unpleasant things (like punishment) is at least partly a function of reducing anxiety about that unpleasant thing, psychopaths should show both poor avoidance learning and poor conditioning to fearful stimuli. Lykken wanted to test whether psychopaths’ lack of anxiety (a) was physiologically based and (b) had consequences for their behaviour. To test (a), Lykken subjected psychopaths and non-psychopaths to the sound of a buzzer, which was sometimes followed by an electric shock. According to the principles of classical conditioning, the subjects would learn that the buzzer

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predicted pain and would become anxious upon hearing the buzzer. Consistent with Lykken’s prediction, psychopaths showed poorer conditioning and were less physiologically aroused by the buzzer than non-psychopaths. To test (b) – whether these findings had implications for actual behaviour – Lykken had the subjects learn a maze in which some wrong choices were followed by an electrical shock. Psychopaths’ lack of anxiety, Lykken hypothesized, would make them less capable of learning to avoid the shock, and thus less capable of learning the maze itself. This is exactly what happened. One modern criminology textbook asked rhetorically, “Does this provide at least a partial explanation for why psychopaths continue to get into trouble with the law, despite the threat of imprisonment?”11 Though Lykken was reluctant to draw firm conclusions about the explanatory value of his findings, his results influenced the work of many other researchers, including Robert Hare, who in 1966 conducted a study employing a very similar methodology. Hare asked psychopaths and non-psychopaths to define the intensity of electrical shock they were willing to tolerate for six trials, and then to select whether they would be shocked immediately or after a ten-second delay. Non-psychopaths chose immediate shock most of the time, while many psychopaths chose to delay some or all of the shocks. Lykken had stated that a psychopath appeared “defective in his ability to condition the anxiety response.”12 Hare concluded, in the same vein, “The emotional effects and the aversive properties of future pain or punishment are relatively small for the psychopath. Whereas the normal person finds it distressing to wait for some unpleasant event, the psychopath apparently does not.”13 While their findings were consistent, their interpretations were somewhat different. Lykken cautiously suggested “classification [of psychopaths] according to the presence or absence of defective emotional reactivity ... shows the promise of relationship to [its] as yet unknown origins.”14 He believed that the absence of punishment-related anxiety distinguished psychopaths from non-psychopaths, but he was agnostic about the ultimate cause of these deficits. In a 2011 interview with Alix Spiegel of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Hare explained that even at the time of his early experiments he was convinced that criminal behaviour was caused by inborn, biological personality factors. Hare said, “We have individual differences in intelligence. Well, we should have individual differences in the personality traits that are responsible [for] or related to crime.”15 In other words, “criminal” is not a description of your behaviour, it is



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what you are, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to change what you are. At the time he proposed it, Hare’s trait-based explanation for deficient anxiety conditioning contradicted the prevailing psychological wisdom. In the 1940s and 1950s, behaviourism was the dominant explanatory framework for human actions. In its simplest form, behaviourism held that any behaviour leading to pleasant consequences would be repeated, whereas any behaviour resulting in negative consequences would not. Antisocial behaviour was caused by the environment’s (i.e., society’s) response to it – those responses being either the absence of punishment (no chance of being caught) or rewards (the loot) outweighing the punishment (threat of imprisonment). Criminals, in other words, were made rather than born. This is why the idea of fear conditioning and biological abnormalities seemed revolutionary for its time.16 Early attempts during the 1960s and 1970s to evaluate the biology of fear responses in the nervous system often used heart rate, blood pressure, or galvanic skin response as rough indicators of anxiety or arousal level. If psychopaths failed to show normal arousal in the presence of a threat such as an electrical shock, it would indicate their failure to experience fear and, hence, to learn from it. Researchers who found lower heart rates and skin conductance immediately preceding punishment described psychopaths as “autonomically hyporeactive”17 and unable to experience fear or anxiety because of chronic biological deficits. This theory was persuasive because it suggested a stable, traitlike, physiological cause of psychopathy, and it seemed to explain both the deficient fear conditioning of psychopaths and their often-observed sensation seeking. The theory received a great deal of attention. However, empirical support was mixed. Some studies found autonomic hyporeactivity in psychopaths, while others found no differences between psychopaths and non-psychopaths.18 One interpretation of this inconsistency was that it reflected as-yetunrecognized variants of psychopathy. For example, the fact that some psychopaths were neither physically aroused nor concerned about impending punishment, while others were both aroused and anxious about it, meant that there were “distinct subtypes” of psychopathy.19 This was in keeping with Cleckley, who had proposed two psychopathy variants, which he called “primary’ (implying a biological cause) and “secondary” (or acquired) psychopathy, reflecting his assumption that there were divergent causes of intractable criminality.20 The possibility that such inconsistencies and contradictions might indicate a

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problem with the whole idea of psychopathy itself was rarely entertained in any serious way.21

The Advent of Modern Neuroimaging The emerging consensus in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that psychopathy, as measured by the newly developed Psychopathy Checklist (PCL and PCL-R), measured a single, immutable personality characteristic. Psychopathy was a trait of callous and deficient affect.22 This consensus was informed by contemporary neurobiological studies of psychopaths, some of which used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure neural activity through the skull via scalp electrodes. EEG indicates what is happening in the brain at the precise moment when someone is mentally processing an external event. Typically, research participants respond to stimuli (such as visual cues) in very simple ways (yes, that is a circle; no, that is not a circle), while an electrode array measures time-locked neural activity. Often, normal brain responses reflect hemispheric or regional specialization – one region on one side of the brain might be more active during a particular type of event. EEG studies in the early 1980s described, for example, a deficit in this kind of asymmetrical brain response to basic visual stimulation in psychopaths.23 Hare, along with his graduate student Sherrie Williamson and his colleague Timothy Harpur, published a seminal study in 1991 that explored the neurological responses of psychopaths to emotional stimuli. They used what is called a lexical decision task, which required a research subject to read a string of letters and decide as quickly as possible whether the string constituted a word or not, while measuring neural responses via EEG. Noting that most people’s neurological responses were stronger for emotionally laden words (like “fight” or “bullet”) than for neutral words (like “chair”), facilitating faster word identification, they hypothesized that psychopaths would fail to demonstrate this emotional (or affective) facilitation. Relative to non-psychopaths, psychopaths showed smaller neural responses and slower identification for emotionally related words. Williamson, Harpur, and Hare concluded that internalized speech mechanisms and their affective components presumably play an important role in the development of “conscience” and in the self-control of behavior ... in psychopaths these mechanisms may be



Neurobiology and Psychopathy  145 inefficiently distributed across the cerebral hemispheres ... and relatively devoid of affective components; as a consequence, they may not be as effective in controlling behavior as they are in normal individuals.24

In other words, a biologically based emotional deficit may have caused both lack of conscience and poorly controlled behaviour, a conclusion that reinforced the broader notion that psychopathy, as defined by the PCL and the PCL-R, was the end result of brain abnormalities (in possible combination with environmental events). At about this time, multiple strands of research began to form into a unifying neurobiological theory of psychopathy. Psychopathy was increasingly accepted as a bona fide personality disorder, and its proximate cause seemed be a biological deficit in emotion (and hence conscience and behaviour control). This cardinal feature mapped neatly onto the known functions of the amygdalae, components of the limbic system involved in threat perception and fear, and ventromedial prefrontal areas, which are implicated in learning and response selection.25 In 1994, Damasio and her colleagues provided the missing link – evidence that an injury to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex directly caused psychopathic symptoms in Phineas Gage. Just as Gage’s injury caused his varied personality changes, limbic-prefrontal abnormalities provided a clear, compelling explanation for the heterogeneous symptoms of psychopathy. The advent in the 1990s of new technologies that promised to provide a high-resolution window into the brain increased the enthusiasm about the latest biological theory of psychopathy. X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) finally allowed researchers to view the components of the limbic-prefrontal circuit, without having to rely on indirect measures such as skin conductance or EEG. Using such imaging technologies, an abnormality in limbic-prefrontal pathways is generally measured in one of two ways. First, the volume or size of structures and their components is a rough indicator of their integrity. Relative to healthy people, smaller (or in some instances larger) volumes of particular structures are assumed to reflect some abnormality in their formation, an injury, or a degenerative process. Second, the activity of structures shows whether they are under- (hypo-) or over(hyper-)active during mental processing. Hypoactivity could indicate a deficiency in neurological resources for the cognitive task at hand, while hyperactivity may sometimes show cognitive inefficiency (more resources are required to complete a task than a typical person would

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need). Abnormalities in structure and activation often co-occur, but it is also possible for structurally normal brain regions to function in abnormal ways. Evidence of limbic-prefrontal deficits in psychopathy, then, could be structural, functional, or both. Psychopathy researchers have extensively evaluated brain structures in limbic and prefrontal areas. Recent review articles note inconsistent evidence of structural and functional abnormalities in the brains of psychopaths and those with elevated psychopathy scores (i.e., increased and decreased prefrontal and limbic volumes, as well as increased and decreased activation) compared with those of non-psychopaths and those with lower psychopathy scores.26 Despite this, many researchers present the evidence for prefrontal-limbic dysfunction as being more consistent than it actually is. For instance, Kent Kiehl wrote in 2014, “I’d looked at hundreds of psychopaths’ brains in my career, but the consistency of their brain abnormalities never ceased to amaze me.”27 However, even if the evidence of brain abnormalities was entirely consistent, there remain serious interpretive challenges posed by the definition of psychopathy, as we will outline below. Consider the typical neurobiological study, which summarizes evidence that, relative to controls (individuals matched to psychopaths in every way except for psychopathic traits), psychopaths have less prefrontal grey-matter volume.28 In other words, they have fewer neural cell bodies in the prefrontal cortex. Smaller volumes have also been documented – though, again, inconsistently – in the amygdalae, as well as the hippocampi, which are adjacent structures within the limbic system.29 In addition to these structural abnormalities, a number of studies describe underactive prefrontal and/or limbic areas in people with psychopathy. These deficits are particularly evident when psychopaths are asked to make decisions requiring empathy or moral judgment.30 Moral judgments generate atypical patterns of limbic-prefrontal activity in people with psychopathic traits, which, some researchers suggest, also explains the poor decision making of psychopaths and their capacity for cruel and illegal behaviour.31 James Blair, a psychologist and chief of the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and his co-investigators evaluated whether psychopathic traits were related to different brain processes when young people made moral judgments. In their study, participants were asked to identify a series of words (such as “comfort” and “steal”) as either legal or illegal. Relative to young people without psychopathic characteristics, those with psychopathic traits showed



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less strongly connected amygdalae-prefrontal activity when identifying legal words.32 Psychopathy seemed to interfere with the neurological capacity to recognize “bad” actions or choices and organize behaviour accordingly. In fact, theories about brain functioning in psychopathy have evolved as structural and functional imaging has implicated an expanding swath of abnormalities beyond the amygdalae and associated prefrontal areas. Adrian Raine and his research collaborators have published extensively on the neurobiology of psychopathy. Against the backdrop of smaller limbic and prefrontal volumes, Raine and his colleagues reported that psychopaths have longer, thinner, and volumetrically larger corpora callosa than non-psychopaths.33 While not considered part of the limbic-prefrontal circuit per se, the corpus callosum contains whitematter tracts connecting the left and right hemispheres. In the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, Psychiatry, Raine and his co-investigators suggested that this abnormality reflected “reduced lateralization” and might be “significantly related to the deficient affect factor and, to a lesser extent, to the impulsive/irresponsible factor but not to the arrogant/deceptive factor [of psychopathy].”34 Raine’s work is only one example of the accumulating data indicating abnormal structure or function in areas outside the traditional bounds of the limbic-prefrontal circuit being correlated with some (but not all) psychopathic traits. Kent Kiehl, a former graduate student of Robert Hare, has proposed another causal hypothesis, called the “paralimbic system dysfunction hypothesis.”35 According to this theory, the brain-based deficits in psychopathy extend beyond the amygdala, hippocampus, and associated prefrontal areas to include other portions of the temporal lobes, the corpus callosum and regions directly above it (cingulate cortex), and prefrontal regions beyond the ventromedial cortex. This hypothesis stems from psychopathy-related structural and functional abnormalities in these extra-limbic regions, which show varied relationships to symptoms of psychopathy. For instance, portions of (non-limbic) temporal lobe regions specialized for processing facial expressions are sometimes underactive in psychopaths relative to non-psychopaths when they are asked to identify facial displays of emotion.36 Abnormalities in a nonlimbic region, while not supporting the strict limbic-prefrontal explanation of psychopathy, might help to explain the difficulties psychopaths have in experiencing, understanding, and learning from emotions. The main point about Kiehl’s hypothesis here is that, given the heterogene-

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ity of psychopathy symptoms, the locations of potential neurological abnormalities are similarly diverse. Psychopathy researchers now treat psychopathy almost invariably as a disorder of the brain (with, of course, the compulsory though much less thoroughly researched environmental component). Nigel Blackwood, a researcher at King’s College Institute of Psychiatry in London, suggests that brain scans might be used to differentiate intractable psychopaths from other antisocial personality styles. He argued that, identifying and diagnosing this sub-group of violent offenders with brain scans has important implications for treatment. Those without the syndrome of psychopathy, and the associated structural brain damage, will benefit from cognitive and behavioural treatments.37

This neurobiological emphasis is by no means unique to psychopathy, as all psychological disorders are increasingly understood to involve some abnormalities in brain function. The explosion of neuroimaging research into psychological disorders has also produced a more sophisticated appreciation of the shortcomings of such methods, whose limitations are especially relevant to our understanding of psychopathy.

Limitations of Neurobiological Theories cause-and-effect problems in most areas of research, modern neuroscience’s limitations are well understood. Neurobiological studies typically outline abnormalities in brain structure or function of unknown cause that are related to psychological conditions such as depression or schizophrenia. In other words, modern neuroscience can sometimes be causal (brain injury leads to symptoms), but is most typically correlational (brain abnormalities and symptoms present together). Since psychopathy research is part of this tradition, neuroimaging studies of psychopaths almost without exception acknowledge the correlational nature of their findings. Although researchers often state that neurological abnormalities “contribute [or] ... predispose to”38 psychopathy, they occasionally do acknowledge that it is just as likely that psychopathy causes those same neurological abnormalities or that the abnormalities are related to some third factor. This interchangeability of cause and effect is the most significant limitation of clinical neuroscience research in general. Just as brain



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abnormalities can produce behavioural symptoms, behaviour and experiences can lead to changes in brain function. Many studies demonstrate that our brains are shaped by our lifestyle just as much as our neurobiology causes lifestyle choices. For instance, skilled musicians have greater cortical activation than non-musicians when generating internal rhythms,39 cab drivers have larger spatial knowledge centres (right temporal regions) than non–cab drivers,40 and students studying for the LSATs appear to have better developed deductive reasoning circuits (white-matter pathways) than other post-secondary students.41 The recognition of the cause-and-effect dilemma’s true magnitude is relatively recent. In the past, a typical neuroscience article on, say, depression would almost invariably use quasi-causal language to imply that all the neurological correlates of depression – even those found in case studies – were really the causes of the condition. For example, a 1997 review of neuroimaging in depression began with the statement “The possibility that the brain abnormalities responsible for depression may be detectable has stimulated structural brain imaging studies.”42 The reason for this quasi-causal language in older research – even up to the early 2000s – is probably partly due to the state of the research, and partly to make a rhetorical point. Rhetorically, as we explained in chapter 7, arguments of this sort create the impression that physiology holds more explanatory power than environmental factors do. This rhetorical technique could be called “correlation masquerading as causation.” To some extent, contemporary neuroscience has moved past the assumption that one must identify a primary or ultimate cause for behaviour. This has allowed modern neuroscience to dispense with the correlation-masquerading-as-causation rhetoric. Most researchers are comfortable accepting that experience has the power to shape the brain, and many see this as an exciting source of individual neurological differences. For example, recent neurobiological studies of depression indicate that individuals whose depressive symptoms lifted in response to treatment also showed an increase in neurotrophins, markers of neural health. As one set of researchers put it, this “neurotrophin hypothesis of depression” suggested that “Major Depressive Disorder [depression] leads to atrophy of specific brain areas, such as amygdala and hippocampus, that is reversed after antidepressant treatment – hence neuroplasticity should occur in these sites.”43 While depression and relief from depression are clearly related to neurobiological changes in the brain, we are not entirely certain what specific mechanism (biological or otherwise) causes the depression in the first place. In the late 1990s,

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the assumption was that brain atrophy led to depression – that there was an as-yet-undiscovered biological “first” cause of the disorder. With an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the relationship between symptoms and biology, the belief in (or need for) any single, “first” cause of psychological disorders is palpably decreasing. An unanticipated benefit of this embrace of causal uncertainty is the corresponding inability of well-executed neuroscience research to act as a foil for poorly defined clinical conditions. That is, a researcher can no longer claim that it does not matter whether observable symptoms are confusing or inconsistent, because there is proof of a unitary, biological cause of them all. Neuroimaging has been demystified and is understood in many cases as an analog (as opposed to the sole explanation) of behaviour; hence, the mere presence of differences in brain function no longer “explains” disparate traits or behaviours. Contemporary neuroscience can add an element of uncertainty to causal theorizing because our theories are revised as new evidence comes to light. This is not problematic when the disorder is conceptually consistent. However, as we outlined in previous chapters, psychopathy as a behavioural disorder is theoretically coherent only insofar as Judeo-Christian morality is a coherent theoretical framework. Unlike other psychological disorders, psychopathy includes not only thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, but also legal sanctions and clinicians’ normative judgments. This conceptual breadth may partly explain why psychopathy research is vulnerable to the correlation-masquerading-as-causation rhetorical style. The search for biological coherence supplants the need for conceptual coherence. This also generates a set of empirical problems. As we will see next, poor definition of a disorder inevitably leads to inconsistencies in empirical findings and, more importantly, makes the meaning of such findings indecipherable. To be clear, the problem with neurobiological research is not in how it is conducted (studies are methodologically sound and often very sophisticated), but in how results are interpreted and how these results inform (or rather, fail to fully inform) theories of psychopathy. correlation masquerading as causation Most contemporary biological accounts of psychopathy argue that psychopathy is a by-product of dysfunctional limbic-prefrontal circuitry. This theory stands on behavioural, neuroimaging, and lesion data, with three central lines of evidence. First, people who are antisocial or psychopathic often, but not always, show impairments on tests of execu-



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tive or “frontal lobe” functions, a general term for an individual’s level of cognitive and behavioural regulation (e.g., working memory, inhibition, and decision making).44 Second, as noted above, psychopaths often (but not always) show lower levels of physiological activity than controls in limbic and prefrontal regions. Third, non-psychopathic patients with prefrontal injuries often (but not always) show increased aggression and difficulties with emotions and/or moral decision-making.45 In the standard presentation of the data, these three lines of evidence are treated as being equally significant proofs of psychopathy’s biological cause. Hence, executive function deficits are really just visible symptoms of the underlying limbic-prefrontal dysfunction that cause them, as evidenced by aggressive, antisocial, frontal lobe–injury patients. Most published studies do include caveats about the limitations of such findings, but these cautionary notes do not tend to make the press releases. Executive Functioning: It is understandable that psychopathy researchers would turn to standardized clinical tests of executive function, because these tests are designed to be sensitive to prefrontal dysfunction. A number of studies have examined executive abilities in psychopaths and have found a small to moderate effect. 46 This executive dysfunction, however, is the least controversial and also the least compelling line of evidence for limbic-prefrontal dysfunction. Tests of executive function are by definition complex and often require the coordination of multiple inputs into a single behavioural output. On one test, a subject might be asked to trace increasingly complex mazes without making errors. He or she would have to visually process the maze, deduce the correct sequence of steps to the end point, hold those steps in mind, and then draw the line. It is this holding-in-mind, integration, and coordination of output that separates executive functions from other cognitive abilities. Thus, executive functions typically involve the synthesis of numerous simpler cognitive skills. In the above example, the subject has to understand the relatively complicated verbal instructions for the task, focus visual attention on a maze, use visual perception to detect blind alleys and open routes in the maze, integrate these perceptions and deduce the correct route to the end of the maze, and then hold the multistage route in mind while tracking the completion of the correct route. Failure to do so might indicate executive function weaknesses. It might also indicate deficiencies in one or more of the basic component skills.

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Either way, the behavioural outcome (failure) is the same, but the probable neurological correlates of different pathways to failure can diverge. In terms of brain activation, problems of visual perception or integration (recognizing a blind alley as a poor route) would “look” different than difficulties focusing on the maze. Without exhaustive testing for impairments in basic component abilities, such weaknesses could just as easily lead to failure on an executive function test as prefrontal dysfunction. Limbic and Prefrontal Activation: In response to the above problem, a psychopathy researcher might note that most neuroimaging studies show that limbic-prefrontal circuits are underactive during these types of tasks. Does this make a more compelling case for the neurological causes of psychopathy?47 Recall “correlation masquerading as causation”: even if the neurological correlate is very specific (amygdala and/ or ventromedial frontal regions), it is still simply a correlate of observable behaviour. We can also ask how surprising it is to find that individuals who are callous, unempathetic, and antisocial have lower levels of activity in brain areas involved in emotion regulation and moral decision-making. What we have is a different description of psychopathy, not an explanation of it. In other words, we do not know whether the activation patterns are inborn or if they are caused by the environment or the choice to engage in repeated antisocial behaviours, nor do we know whether they co-occur with psychopathy as a function of a third variable or if they simply show a coincidental link between behaviour and the brain. The diffuse definition of psychopathy also limits what we can say about its neurological correlates. Psychopathy researchers sometimes have to explain why some structural and functional abnormalities are inconsistent when evaluated across studies. For instance, certain studies report underactivity in limbic regions, while others find normal levels of activity, and still others document hyperactivity.48 Inconsistent structural and/or functional abnormalities themselves are neither unusual nor necessarily problematic in neuroimaging studies of heterogeneous groups, as long as the variables being measured are clearly defined. Take, for example, the case of aging. To achieve the same level of performance on mental arithmetic as healthy young adults, people in their fifties might show the same type of brain activation as the youngsters, those in their sixties might show hyperactivity in “math circuits,” while those in their seventies might show neural underactivity in “math cir-



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cuits” but be unable to achieve the same performance levels. If the criterion for categorizing people is conceptually clear – age, for instance – inconsistent results can be interpreted sensibly. In the example above, compared with young adults, people in their fifties can keep up; people in their sixties can keep up, but only by throwing all their neural resources at the problem; while people in their seventies cannot keep up, because they no longer have the requisite neural resources. Psychopathy is not as clearly defined as age, which makes empirical inconsistencies difficult to interpret. Inconsistent patterns of brain activity could indicate something interesting about brain functions in different subtypes of psychopathy. However, it is just as likely that such inconsistencies reflect a poor classification strategy, which yields a group of people potentially united by nothing but their moral transgressions. Hence, the problem with many neuroimaging studies of psychopathy lies not in the heterogeneity of their findings but in the definition of psychopathy itself. The difficulties in interpreting imaging data reveal the precariousness of psychopathy research and its unwavering assumption that a set of moral contraventions actually reflect a unitary biological trait. As we have noted, there appears to be little appetite amongst researchers to consider whether the idea of psychopathy fits the data. Instead, more data are sought to shore up psychopathy as a biological trait. Brain Injury: In order to move beyond simple correlations and their interpretive challenges, psychopathy researchers have turned to braininjury data, which can show a clear temporal relationship between a causal event (injury to brain) and its effect (such as aggressive and antisocial behaviour). Indeed, there is strong evidence that certain types of prefrontal injuries lead to aggressive outbursts. Other injuries cause empathy failures, or interfere with a person’s ability to resolve moral dilemmas. Some frontal lobe injuries lead to the blunting of emotions, while others release emotional control. This line of evidence, however, comes with its own problems, the most important of which is that the frontal lobes constitute about half of the human cerebral cortex and are involved in most cognitive processes, making dysfunction difficult to interpret.49 With brain areas this large and involved in myriad cognitive or emotional processes, any injury significant enough to cause observable behaviour problems likely also relates to multiple psychological disorders. In other words, frontal areas are excellent candidates for non-specific behavioural problems. In fact, in addition to psychopathy,

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atypical frontal lobe structures and/or functions are associated with disorders as diverse as ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, mood disorders, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and addiction (many of which, incidentally, also show abnormalities in limbic system functions).50 To say that psychopaths have abnormalities in some prefrontal areas amounts to stating that they have a diffuse problem with thinking and emotions. Moreover, when researchers try to explain selected psychopathy symptoms using a prefrontal injury model, they are usually forced to include other potential lesion sites to cover the rest of the symptoms. Kiehl’s paralimbic theory, for one, does exactly this. However, neurological case studies of paralimbic injury usually include cognitive and behavioural issues not observed in psychopathy. Limbic and paralimbic damage typically involves profound memory impairment, a deficit that inspires next to no commentary from psychopathy researchers.51 Finally, consider aggression, which in the psychopathic personality is usually thought to be instrumental, or planned, calculating, and somewhat dispassionate. It is often portrayed as most characteristic of the callous, manipulative, unempathic mindset of the psychopath. However, the PCL-R also includes items assessing impulsiveness and poor behavioural controls – that is, unplanned, passionate, or reactive aggression. Some researchers refer to instrumental aggression as “emotionally cold” and reactive aggression as “emotionally hot.”52 While frontal lobe injuries can result in significant difficulties with impulsiveness, creating a type of “aggressive dyscontrol,”53 such injuries do not cause cold, calculated aggression (or many other diagnostic features of PCL-R psychopathy, such as pathological lying, manipulativeness, grandiose sense of self-worth, and glibness).54 In order to explain instrumental aggression, psychopathy researchers revisit early studies of fear conditioning and the amygdala. As would be expected, some research shows that limbic areas are hypoactive in psychopaths, providing a neurological corollary for empathic and emotional deficits. Underactive limbic areas could indeed explain instrumental aggression. However, other studies report hyperactivity in exactly the same neurological circuitry.55 This is where interpretation of the inconsistency in research findings matters a great deal. Rather than casting doubt on the broader hypothesis that limbic-prefrontal underactivity causes instrumental aggression, and by extension psychopathy, researchers interpret hyperactivity as improving the neurological theory of psychopathy by explaining impulse control problems (such as addiction) that appear sometimes (but not always) in psychopathy.56 Conceptually, being a



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cold and calculating hothead seems to defy logic; empirically, it creates a sort of social-science version of the Barnum effect whereby every possible abnormality – however inconsistent and hard to interpret – is somehow critically important and relevant to psychopathy. Interpreting this type of correlational neuroscience research using the extremely flexible conceptual framework of psychopathy means that no finding necessarily contradicts theoretical predictions. Excessive or too little, in the predicted or an unpredicted location: any combination of these neurological descriptors can be covered by the adjustable psychopathy portfolio. Neurodevelopmental Theories: Some psychopathy researchers acknowledge that their interpretation of contradictory correlational findings is problematic. As Raine and his collaborators point out, “It is difficult to infer causality from cross-sectional studies.”57 To strengthen the neurobiological theory of psychopathy, some investigators are exploring the possibility that psychopathy could be a neurodevelopmental disorder. According to this theory, all the divergent neurological and behavioural abnormalities have a common source early in development. Neurodevelopmental models have long been used to explain well-established neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia; it is perhaps inevitable that psychopathy would fit this model as well. In this approach, genetic predispositions or risks can be triggered by environmental events (e.g., stress, trauma, substance abuse) at multiple stages of development. Neurodevelopmental models have the following implications for our understanding of disorders: (a) genetic and environmental factors are both powerful contributors to the disorder, (b) disorders “begin” in the earliest stages of development but may unfold somewhat heterogeneously, and (c) evidence of atypical central nervous system development will often precede the clinical onset of the disorder. Postulate (b) accommodates heterogeneous and/or contradictory neurological abnormalities – postulate (c) – because postulate (a) prevents us from overinterpreting their causal significance. Abnormalities could indicate genetic causes, environmental causes, or both, and they are therefore cautiously interpreted. Given the first two postulates, proof of atypical central nervous system development – postulate (c) – is usually considered non-specific, which means that it shows some unusual development at some point in time that is probably a risk for any number of disorders involving central nervous system dysfunction.

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Raine and his colleagues have nominated the cavum septum pellucidum (CSP) as proof of the neurodevelopmental origins of psychopathy.58 The CSP appears during gestation in an area of the limbic system (the neurological circuit containing the amygdalae) and fuses early in postnatal development. If the CSP fails to close, it indicates somewhat atypical limbic system maturation. This malformation thus implicates the target circuit for psychopathy researchers, and involves limbic structures specifically related to aggression. The malformation is an early indicator of abnormal maturation in exactly those brain areas whose dysfunction is correlated with antisocial aggression. This would seem to prove once and for all that psychopathy is a brain disorder. But, as Raine and his co-authors acknowledge, the presence of CSP – just like the presence of frontal lobe injury – is not specific to psychopathy. A number of conditions involve higher-than-normal rates of CSP, including developmental delays,59 prenatal alcohol exposure,60 and schizophrenia.61 A further complication comes from meta-analyses of the frequency of this malformation in people with schizophrenia and matched control subjects, which show that small CSP (mild failures to close) are frequent enough in the general population to be considered a normal variation in neurological development.62 At best, CSP is a nonspecific indicator of atypical neurological maturation, which in turn may increase the risk for any number of clinical disorders in some, but not all, individuals with the malformation. That is, CSP does not explain psychopathy any more effectively than the correlational evidence of abnormal brain structure or activity. Genetic Research: Lack of specificity is particularly problematic when researchers use the above kinds of findings as proof “that there is a stronger genetic as opposed to social ultimate cause to this disorder,” as James Blair put it.63 Or, as Robert Hare explained in an interview, “Behavioral genetics has quite a bit to say about the origins of psychopathy and if you’re born with certain propensities they can be shaped by the environment.” When asked whether “psychological trauma rather than genetic determinism” could cause psychopathy, Hare replied, “No, very, very doubtful. There are things that can produce what looks like psychopathy: impulsivity, failure to plan ahead, and irresponsible behavior, and so forth, but this is not full-blown psychopathy. It’s very unlikely that would happen.”64 The assumption that psychopathy has a genetic cause is articulated quite clearly by the criminologist and psychologist Richard Wiebe, who stated that



Neurobiology and Psychopathy  157 psychopathy does seem to be heritable, and appears to have its basis at least in part in “biological” factors linked to basic emotional systems, so that the mature psychopath never develops a complete set of pro-social emotions like empathy, guilt, and the ability to truly care about and for others. In other words, we know that the dependent variable, that is psychopathy, is heritable, but not enough about its causes to say that they are heritable. Nevertheless it is useful to think of psychopathy as mainly the product of genes.65

Psychologists Buckholtz and Meyer-Lindenberg use the following statistic to argue the same case: “It is estimated that in any given community, 10 per cent of the families in that community are responsible for greater than 50 per cent of its crime. Such high familiality suggests heritable factors in the intergenerational transmission of risk for antisocial aggression.”66 To paraphrase: we do not know what causes psychopathy, but we know that parents who appear psychopathic have children who appear psychopathic, therefore the cause of psychopathy must be genetic (with occasional reference to environmental contributions). It is worth outlining, briefly, how this faith in genetic explanations of psychopathy has developed. Genetic determinism – the assumption that genes are the ‘ultimate’ or first cause of behaviour – runs strongly in the psychopathy literature. Most genetic studies of psychopathy involve heritability, which is a statistical estimate of how much of the difference between people on a specific trait can be explained by genetic variation between those same people (these models are discussed in detail in appendix B). In contrast, molecular genetics refers to the examination of physical genes. Molecular genetic studies of human behaviour usually evaluate genetic variants (also called alleles) distributed in varying frequencies throughout the population. Many of these alleles are involved in some type of neurobiological process, such as neurotransmitter function or protein synthesis, and (as opposed to genetic mutations) they tend to be distributed at a relatively high frequency within the general population. Psychopathy researchers have identified a number of alleles of potential explanatory value for psychopathy, including those responsible for dopamine67 and serotonin68 metabolism. One gene of particular interest is located on the X chromosome, and it controls production of an enzyme (monoamine oxidase A) necessary to break down neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Certain MAOA alleles fail to produce adequate enzymes, resulting in higher-than-normal levels of serotonin, which in turn is a well-established correlate of impulsivity.69 Other al-

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leles produce higher levels of enzymes and break down neurotransmitters more effectively; hence there are low-activity MAOA alleles (high serotonin) and high-activity MAOA alleles (normal or low serotonin).70 The story of how psychopathy researchers developed their interest in low-activity MAOA alleles bears an uncanny resemblance to the Phineas Gage case. In 1993, Han Brunner, a Dutch medical geneticist, published what would become a seminal study in the prestigious journal Science. Brunner and his colleagues reported on a Dutch family affected by a point mutation of the MAOA gene on the X chromosome. As with all X-linked mutations, men in the extended family showed the effects most clearly. Brunner described a syndrome in eight males of “borderline mental retardation and a tendency toward aggressive outbursts, often in response to anger, fear, or frustration ... types of behavior that occurred in individual cases included arson, attempted rape, and exhibitionism.”71 Brunner and his colleagues qualified their findings by saying, “It should be stressed that the aggressive behavior varied markedly in severity and over time,” noted that their findings related to “impulsive aggression rather than premeditated aggression,” and suggested that REM sleep deprivation (also a consequence of this particular mutation) could play a major role in this impulsivity.72 Just as Phineas Gage was “fit” to the concept of psychopathy, the Dutch family is often invoked (in the face of these serious qualifications) as proof that psychopathic aggression probably has an analogous genetic basis. The questionable fit of the Dutch family with psychopathy was also obscured by the arrival of a series of other studies marking low-activity MAOA as an “aggression gene.” Inspired by Brunner’s work, animal studies explored the causal role of MAOA in aggressive behaviour. Two years after Brunner’s study was published, a team led by the French microbiologist and neuroscientist Olivier Cases reported on aggression in transgenic mice, which were bred to lack MAOA coding genes. Not surprisingly, these mice were unusually aggressive and showed multiple abnormalities in brain structures related to elevated levels of neurotransmitters. Reflecting the deterministic zeitgeist, the researchers concluded that [since transgenic mice] display enhanced aggression under standard rearing conditions [this] supports the idea that the particularly aggressive behavior of the few known human males lacking MAOA is not fostered by an unusual genetic background or complex psychosocial stressors but is a more direct consequence of MAOA deficiency.73



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Nonhuman primate studies corroborated some aspects of the relationship between low-activity MAOA, elevated serotonin, and aggression. One study, led by Timothy Newman, a primatologist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, related aggression to MAOA alleles in rhesus monkeys. Monkeys with low-activity MAOA were more aggressive than those with high-activity MAOA, unless they were motherless, in which case they showed less aggression than their high-activity MAOA peers.74 The researchers provided a relatively nuanced explanation of their findings, speculating that excess serotonin (caused by low MAOA) might lead to one kind of social behaviour in “normal” rearing conditions, but in abnormal, motherless situations it would cause a different behaviour pattern. Hence, they demonstrated the importance of environmental context (being raised by a mother versus other juvenile monkeys) to the relationship between gene activity (MAOA level) and behaviour (aggression). Newman and his co-investigators also pointed out that the aggression they were describing included competition for social dominance and food and, as such “it [was] not necessarily antisocial behavior.”75 Some large-scale human studies have also examined how MAOA alleles relate to aggression. Avshalom Caspi, a psychologist at Duke University, has studied how children cope with early adversity. Caspi and his colleagues found that boys with the high MAOA allele were less likely than those with low MAOA alleles to show aggression after a history of early childhood maltreatment.76 Many researchers, such as Kenneth Kendler, point out that such genetic correlates of behaviour are often non-specific and complex, and should be understood in terms of the environment in which they occur.77 In other words, MAOA is probably related to a wide range of behaviours, and those relationships make little sense if they are considered in isolation from the environmental context.78 This point was entirely lost on the science writer who, in 2004, christened low-activity MAOA the “warrior gene”79 because of its correlation with aggression. The notion of a gene for warrior-like behaviour (without reference to the critical importance of early environment) dovetails nicely with the long-standing assumption that psychopathy is really a genetic condition. Though the notion of a warrior gene has captivated both scientific and public interest, some of its limitations have been noted in the research literature. First, most of the studies of low-activity MAOA involve heterogeneous antisocial behaviours (e.g., substance abuse, anger, conduct disorder), many of which are not even diagnostic cri-

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teria of psychopathy. As a result, it is difficult to determine how most existing research would apply to psychopaths. Second, many researchers do acknowledge that the environment plays a key role in how “risky” genes (including MAOA) are expressed. Third, studies on psychopathy and the low-activity MAOA gene have so far failed to find a link.80 However, even if future studies did correlate psychopathy with the low-activity MAOA gene, two core interpretive problems remain: (a) MAOA is not specific to human aggression, and, more importantly, (b) it makes little sense to discuss genetic determination of the very complex and broad behaviours of psychopaths. MAOA alleles are not specific to human aggression precisely because they are correlates of a general dimension of neurophysiological activity. Hence, the low-activity MAOA allele is distributed quite widely throughout the general population81 (at least one-third of people are thought to carry it). As well, low- and high-activity MAOA alleles, corresponding to reduced or increased neurotransmitter metabolism, respectively, show the expected relationship with a variety of psychiatric conditions. Low-activity MAOA is associated, for example, with alcoholism,82 as well as depression and anxiety symptoms following stressful life events,83 while high-activity MAOA is related to ADHD84 and bipolar disorder.85 However, there are also less intuitive relationships, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which seems to occur more often in babies with low-activity MAOA.86 Moreover, lowactivity MAOA allele types are related to obesity87 and daytime sleepiness.88 Other research has linked high-activity MAOA with financial fraud in young adults, though only in those with delinquent friends.89 Like many of the brain-based anomalies correlated with psychopathy, genetic correlates are non-specific. That is, they indicate that something may be mildly unusual in the mechanics of neurotransmitter metabolism, but the path from allele to neurotransmitter levels to behaviour is unclear and complicated. In fact, the limitations of our understanding of the genetic mechanisms of neurotransmitter regulation exacerbate the interpretive problems outlined in this chapter. If the brain is a different continent, genes are a whole new universe, and our understanding of relationships between single-gene variants and complex behaviour includes as-yet-undetermined gene–gene and gene–environment interactions. The most we can say at present, to quote Kenneth Kendler, is that “the impact of individual genes on risk for psychiatric illness is small, often non-



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specific, and embedded in causal pathways of stunning complexity.”90 There is good reason for caution in concluding that there is “a gene for”91 any psychiatric condition, especially when that condition is as broadly defined as psychopathy. Such molecular genetic studies, if interpreted incorrectly, can appeal to and perpetuate a sense of biological determinism about psychopathy. We discuss these molecular genetic studies not to dispute that the brain develops following a genetic blueprint as we age, but to highlight the fact that environmental (or social) events can also have a profound effect on the realization of the blueprint. For example, the often-implicated paralimbic dysfunction in psychopaths is assumed to be largely genetic. However, studies of the long-term effects of child maltreatment report abnormalities in prefrontal–amygdala connections.92 Some areas related to the candidate circuit in psychopathy, assumed to be abnormal from the earliest stages of life, also seem to develop atypically in abused children. Psychopathy researchers suggest that child maltreatment leads to a very different pattern of abnormal brain activity (for instance, amygdala hyperactivity) than psychopathy (amygdala hypoactivity).93 In other words, atypical brain structure and function in psychopathy cannot be explained by early life adversity. However, the fact that psychopathy has been associated with both amygdala hypo- and hyperactivity – as well as normal activation patterns94 – suggests that the potential effects of early adversity cannot be dismissed so easily. Overlooking or minimizing the role of the environment has profound consequences when it comes to dealing with psychopathic behaviours. Norwegian psychologist Aina Gullhaugen and her co-author, psychiatrist Jim Nøttestad, point out that because we assume psychopathy is biological, and because psychopaths fail to show normal emotional responses, we assume that their emotional lives never were and never will be normal. But what if we are wrong? What if, Gullhaugen and Nøttestad ask, early life experiences play an important role in shaping the barren emotional life of psychopaths? Gullhaugen and Nøttestad reviewed all case studies of psychopaths published in the last thirty years, and analysed childhood experiences in each case.95 In a July 2012 interview, Gullhaugen stated, “Without exception, these people have been injured in the company of their caregivers ... and many of the descriptions made it clear that their later ruthlessness was an attempt to address this damage, but in an inappropriate or bad way.”96 This type of explanation does not tend to be considered in mainstream psychopathy research because, as Hare stated, a traumatic environment can lead

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to interpersonal problems “but ... not full-blown psychopathy,” which, according to mainstream opinion, is most likely genetic.97 Gullhaugen and Nøttestad did not uncover new or previously inaccessible information about psychopaths. All the material was readily available in case reports, providing clear documentation of abuse, neglect, and parental psychopathology in the early lives of psychopaths.98 One wonders why such childhood experiences are of so little relative value in our attempt to understand the origins of cruel and antisocial behaviour. For example, one study found that adults with documented histories of child abuse had higher PCL-R scores than a comparison group without abuse histories. These higher PCL-R scores, in turn, predicted higher rates of violence in adulthood. The authors stated, Although our findings are consistent with a model in which childhood abuse and neglect increases psychopathy which, in turn, increases violence in a sequential-causal fashion, yet another … very provocative explanation [exists]. What if all three [childhood victimisation, psychopathy, and violence] are the result of some other factor? It is also possible that parents’ abusive behaviour, offspring scores on the PCL-R and offspring violent acts may be related to some other characteristics, such as a biological predisposition or genetic factor.99

That is, even when environmental factors such as childhood abuse and neglect are related to later psychopathy, they can be discounted as ultimately genetic in origin. Perhaps this is because we believe, intuitively, that biological causes are the only ones that matter. As Phineas Gage’s injury seemed to prove to a generation of psychology students, personality is brain and, as Brunner’s family seemed to establish, brain is genes. Patient Zero Revisited Once Phineas Gage had entered the psychopathy lexicon, it was difficult to understand him as an entity separate from his brain injury. Gage’s injury and subsequent personality change seemed to be all we needed to know to understand him. However, closer examination of his post-injury activities began to cast doubt on this assumption. Although John Harlow (one of the physicians who treated Gage after the injury) wrote what has become the definitive account of Gage’s injury and personality, the extent of his face-to-face interactions with Gage is unknown, and he treated Gage only briefly after the accident. Also,



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Harlow’s later accounts of Gage derive from his correspondence with Gage’s family, not from medical examinations. Others involved in the case gave a more complex picture of Gage's injury. For example, Gage is reported to have “entertain[ed] children with made-up stories, dr[iven] heavily laden coaches with six horses, and ma[de] transatlantic crossings” following his injury. Henry Bigelow, a Harvard surgeon who evaluated Gage in person some time after the incident stated that Gage was “quite recovered in his faculties of body and mind,” and that, as before his accident, he was “shrewd and intelligent.”100 The psychologist and medical historian Zbigniew Kotowicz points out that long after his accident Gage maintained close family relationships, was consistently employed, liked hard work, and had no difficulties with the law. Why, then, does Gage’s case recur in psychopathy literature? Kotowicz gives a plausible answer: It seems that the reasoning is as follows: with this kind of damage to the brain Gage must have been emotionally affected. Once this is accepted, the search for the precise localization of the damage begins. The face disappears. Here is a man finding it difficult to adjust after half his face has been blown away, [and] the neuroscientist sends him to have his brain scanned to pinpoint the exact reason for his difficulties. To put the matter succinctly and perhaps a little unpalatably ... neuroscience breeds clinical insensitivity.101

That is, Gage’s case lends itself to a superficial reading because it confirms exactly what the psychopathy research project requires: a patient zero whose existence supports a contemporary leading theory. This negates other possible explanations for Gage’s behaviour, one candidate for which might be, as Kotowicz argues, social rejection stemming from his visible disfigurement. What this negation does is similar to what happened in the aftermath of the Russell Williams murders. Within days of his confession, Williams became an object of science onto whom any number of theories and impressions could be projected. Very few who commented on the case had ever laid eyes on Williams, and very few, incidentally, had much to say beyond whether or not Williams fit the profile of a standard murderer. In other words, Gage and Williams became little more than scientific types whose essence hung on their verification of contemporary theory. And contemporary popular theory, by virtue of being popular, found what it was looking for, and so became even more popular.

9 Conclusion: The Parlour Game

On Sex and Litigation In 2007, after decades of research between them, the University of California, Irvine psychologist Jennifer Skeem and the Scottish psychologist David Cooke decided to publish a critique of the PCL-R in the journal Psychological Assessment. Their main argument was that it would be a good idea to remove criminal behaviour from the PCL-R as a diagnostic feature of psychopathy. The PCL-R, they argued, had become synonymous with psychopathy, hindering efforts to refine the disorder in light of new data and theories. One symptom of this stagnation was the insistence that crime was key to understanding psychopathy, a critical error that conflated personality pathology with how the criminal justice system responded to it. Skeem and Cooke’s case was standard academic fare: very technical, and hardly revolutionary. The psychopathy concept had, after all, pre-dated the PCL-R by more than two centuries; between the late eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the disorder had undergone about as many name changes and revisions to its diagnostic features as there were major writers on the subject. As of this writing, both the DSM and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases continue to exclude psychopathy as defined by the PCL-R. So why not change the disease definition now? By standards of academic publishing, Skeem and Cooke’s paper was likely to generate one of two responses: a polite back-and-forth between supporters and critics, or equally polite silence. Instead, even before the paper made it to publication, Robert Hare’s attorney sent a letter to Skeem, Cooke, and the publishing journal’s editor stating that the article would “constitute defamation on the part of the authors, and



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also Psychological Assessment,” and that Hare would “have no choice but to seek financial damages from your publication and from the authors of the article, as well as a public retraction of the article.”1 Although Hare did not follow up on his threat, and the article eventually appeared in 2010,2 many commentators noted that the damage to academic freedom and the progress of science was already done. Several news outlets, including the New York Times, Science, Scientific American, and the Chronicle of Higher Education covered the case. The New York Times suggested that original article had “raised questions of censorship, academic fraud, fair play and criminal sentencing — and all them well before the report ever became public.”3 Two University of South Florida researchers warned in an article published by the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health that lawsuit threats might effectively discourage researchers from proposing alternative models and theories of psychopathy.4 Karen Franklin, a forensic psychologist and a critic of psychopathy, outlined on her blog three specific effects of defamation threats against researchers: 1. Researchers avoid conducting critical research out of fear of lawsuits. 2. Academics decline to serve as volunteer peer reviewers for academic journals due to loss of anonymity in defamation suits. 3. Journal editors self-censor on controversial topics.5 Franklin also wondered whether the suppression of critical literature of the PCL-R might reduce psychopathy’s usefulness in court. Lawyers whose clients were prejudiced by a psychopathy diagnosis, she argued, might be able to discredit the diagnosis on the basis of Hare’s attempt to suppress critiques of it. But whatever the eventual effects of the case, one thing was certain: there was now a potential extra cost to consider in publishing critiques of the PCL-R and the psychopathy concept in general (the latter because it is difficult to discuss the modern psychopathy concept without reference to the PCL-R). If Hare’s tactics troubled many in the research community, what Lombroso did to his critics in the nineteenth century was worse. He and his followers sustained the positive school’s dominance over criminological thought by launching intense, systematic, and public attacks on the theory’s critics. At times the attacks were personal, while at other times they were sweeping and transparently suppressive (the Italian sociologist Napoleone Colajanni, who proposed a sociological explanation of

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crime in contrast to Lombroso’s biological one, was a notable victim).6 One of Lombroso’s followers once remarked, “The criminal type is a definite fact, acquired by science. On this point no further discussion is admissible.”7 Lombroso frequently betrayed his dogmatic adherence to his theory. He famously, and disingenuously, once said “What do I care whether others are with me or against me? I believe in the type. It is my type; I discovered it; I believe in it and I always shall.”8 Skeem and Cooke’s argument about the PCL-R, though modest, was also flawed. The central problem in their case was that it did not go far enough. The psychopathy research community had clung to the PCLR definition of psychopathy despite accumulating evidence that one of the fundamental premises behind the idea that psychopathy was a unitary personality disorder did not hold true. According to the common theory (see appendix B for a more detailed discussion), a disorder reveals an underlying “construct” if its symptoms yield a single factor in factor analysis. However, PCL-R items never actually formed a single cluster, but anywhere between two and seven clusters.9 The most common PCL-R item solutions were two, three, and four factors. Even more tellingly, in the early stages of the PCL and PCL-R construction, three items failed to consistently load onto any factor: promiscuous sexual behaviour, many short-term marital relationships, and criminal versatility – a finding replicated in later studies as well.10 While there are many ways beyond factor analysis to determine an item’s fit with a measure, the important thing here is that the findings did not trigger any serious discussion about removing promiscuous sexual behaviour or short-term relationships from the PCL-R list of diagnostic features. Why, then, did the PCL-R retain references to sex and marriage preferences if by the research program’s own criterion they were an awkward fit? Why was there controversy over the conflation of psychopathy with criminality, but not sexual immorality? One potential explanation is that the reflexive link between psychopathy and sex is as much a cultural tradition as the belief in the biological cause of evil is. Tradition, in predictable combinations with local concerns, is the reason why masturbation, pornography, prostitution, and vagrancy were once symptoms of degeneration. Tradition explains why homosexuality was included in the DSM until 1973, why the FBI concentrated on sexually motivated serial murder at the expense of other kinds of serial murder, why Gall and Spurzheim located the moral faculty at the top of the head, why homosexuality was regularly cited as a symptom of psychopathy throughout the first part of the twenti-



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eth century, and why, until the 1920s, female psychopathy tended to be diagnosed mainly in young women whose sexual conduct violated middle-class norms.11 The same tradition led a team of Canadian researchers to find, in 2007, by way of a statistical study of sex offenders, a naturally selected psychopathy sexuality taxon. The researchers argued that a certain group of sexually coercive psychopaths were a unique human type, whose behaviour was determined by Darwinian evolution, a conclusion the researchers reached by simply examining covariation among PCL-R items and sexual behaviour.12 Sexual behaviour was nearly inseparable from psychopathy from the start, a practice that continued in the pre-psychometric era because sexual immorality was what clinicians looked for, and found, in their patients. This “clinical tradition” then became the starting point for the construction of the modern psychopathy concept. Hare described the process in a 1980 paper as follows: The first step was to list all of the traits, behaviors, indicants and counterindicants of psychopathy that we felt were explicitly or implicitly used in making an assessment. We ended up with over 100 of these items. A series of statistical analyses was carried out to determine which of these items best discriminated between inmates with low and high ratings of psychopathy ... we found that our clinical judgments of psychopathy could be represented effectively by 22 items ...13

That is, test construction began as an exercise in representing tradition as accurately as possible, with “clinical” practically becoming synonymous with “tradition” (“tradition” alone, of course, is rhetorically weak, hence the emphasis on the qualifier). Since clinicians had habitually linked low sexual morals with psychopathy, the PCL and the PCLR did so too, even when those items later performed poorly in factor analysis. The clinical-tradition fall-back strategy was part of a larger problem. The research program’s rigidity about a few core assumptions – psychopathy was a mental disorder, it was instantiated by immoral behaviour, and it had a biological cause – tended to generate research whose primary objective was simply to reinforce these assumptions. This resulted in largely uncritical data production with little regard for what the data actually meant. Consider the following study: A 2012 Carleton University master’s thesis titled Backstabbing Bosses and Callous Co-workers studied the effects of working with psycho-

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paths. The research, supervised by a leading psychopathy researcher, asked participants to identify psychopathic bosses, co-workers, or subordinates, fill in several questionnaires about themselves and the psychopath, and to describe what it was like to work with the psychopath. The participants were recruited from a number of sources, including Robert Hare’s website and those of the Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation and Lovefraud.com. The questionnaire was to be completed online, with the instructions to do so in a safe place (that is, away from the psychopathic co-worker). Along with the mandatory anonymity and confidentiality protections, the study’s website had security features to prevent the newly diagnosed psychopaths – or “ascribed” psychopaths as the author called them – from accessing the participants’ responses. The experience of working with a psychopath, the instructions further explained, “may have been traumatic or stressful for you and you may experience distress when answering these questions.”14 The Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation website described the foundation’s purpose as providing “information and support to those whose lives, health, and/or careers have been placed at risk or negatively impacted by psychopathy.”15 The website also stated that the impact of psychopaths on the people around them was often traumatic. Lovefraud.com was run by Donna Andersen, who according to her website was “not a licensed therapist” and whose qualifications consisted of having been married to a sociopath and having “heard from more than 2,800 other victims about their experiences” (a phone consultation with Andersen cost $65 per hour). “If you only know one thing about psychology,” Andersen wrote on her website, “you should know about sociopaths [whom she also called psychopaths]. Being aware of sociopaths could help you avoid emotional trauma, ruined finances, even an untimely death.”16 According to Andersen’s calculations, 12 per cent of the population was “disordered,” which meant that there were 37 million people to avoid when seeking romance – once again reinforcing the traditional link between sex, marriage, and psychopathy.17 The Carleton study’s results – released on a Canadian Psychological Association’s newsletter and on Robert Hare’s website, among others – showed that the “experience of working with a psychopath is negative and has the potential to be very emotionally harmful to victims.”18 More than half of the respondents reported “physical and mental health problems (e.g., hair loss, lack of sleep, weight gain, depression, anxiety, and paranoia).”19 All this, the study’s author emphasized, had



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“implications for human resource personnel as they emphasize the consequences of employing an individual with psychopathic traits.”20 The author directed interested parties to the Aftermath and Lovefraud websites for more information about the survivors of psychopaths. If the study’s contribution to science was unclear, its contribution to the psychopathy research program was not.21 The study tried, in its own way, to confirm the point the research program had tried to make for decades: psychopathy was a real thing with real-life consequences, and it was therefore worth studying. In that role the study was no different from, say, ones that show a correlation between psychopathy and crime, or those showing that psychopaths commit more varied crimes than non-psychopathic offenders. One significant contribution of this type of research is that it reinforces a growing disconnection between meaning and implication. No matter how circular and derivative the data were, they were produced because they had – or at least the researchers insisted they had – conceivable application in some critical context such as criminal justice, human resources, or scam avoidance. (The assumption here, of course, was that intended audiences would actually find the research helpful: that HR staff, for example, had not considered the downsides of hiring psychopaths.) In other words, the data meant little, but they implied urgent action, and urgent action was what sustained the production of more data. What allows researchers to compromise meaning for the benefit of implication is basic certainty about psychopathy’s ontology, as calculating the social effects of psychopaths already means accepting that psychopathy functions as a cause (estimates about the social costs of psychopaths are often framed as estimates of the social costs of psychopathy). While these certainties are typically implicit in scholarly work, they are more explicit in public commentary. Here is an example of how the process works for one researcher in the span of a few minutes: In 2008, Adrian Raine spoke at a University of Pennsylvania media seminar about neuroscience and its role in the criminal justice system. He began by describing a 1997 study that showed lack of activation in prefrontal cortices of murderers, but advised caution in interpreting the findings, noting that “actually, you know, there is a lot of problems in neuroimaging research. There are issues in drawing causal conclusions from for example something that’s just a correlation. And also another complexity is that not all murderers are alike.” Raine proceeded to discuss research on psychopaths, and a murder case in which he had

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appeared as an expert witness to argue for sentencing leniency based in part on neuroimaging data. He concluded, five minutes later, that “yes, there is a biological basis to crime and violence, at least in part,” and went on to describe the violence-reducing effects of giving fish oil to prisoners and aggressive children, eventually leaving the audience with the question of what to do with “individuals who have all the biological, genetic, and social boxes checked ... if they lack the neural circuitry underlying appropriate moral decision making?”22 Raine’s talk not only encapsulated the logical drift from uncertainty to near-certainty, but also a compelling case against critiques of his theory. The biological theory of psychopathy, just like Lombroso’s theory in the nineteenth century, was essentially progressive. Raine in his presentation emphasized treatment over detention, and sentencing discretion over harsh and mandatory prison terms. He promoted fish oil and defended a murderer’s right to life. Lombroso was similarly a humane reformist, arguing that since many criminals were driven to crime by biological and social causes, they should not be held morally responsible for their behaviour. He opposed the death penalty, at least in his early writings, and argued that punishment should be determined by individual needs rather than as a deterrent to future crime. And, like Raine, he proposed alternatives to prison. So, what non-regressive alternatives are there to the medical model of psychopathy? None, it seems. The case for psychopathy appears, even if wrong in some details, essentially progressive. It is therefore fair to ask whether there is anything wrong with trying to understand the psychopathic brain. Modern psychopathy research may be weakened by a series of conceptual confusions, but what exactly is the harm done by the research itself? Are the potential benefits of the research not obviously great enough to justify a certain laxness around its edges? If by a simple stretch of the imagination we can muster funds and public interest to study and find a neurobiological cause of psychopathy – however remote that possibility may in reality be – everyone benefits. The reverse is also true: failure to find anything is hardly a major problem; at best it is a waste of money. Kent Kiehl, who now runs a $2-million mobile MRI unit to study inmate’s brains, made the point in an interview with The New Yorker: “Think about it, crime is a trillion-dollar-ayear-problem. The average psychopath will be convicted of four violent crimes by the age of forty. And yet hardly anyone is funding research into the science. Schizophrenia, which causes much less crime, has a hundred times more research money devoted to it.”23



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The Harm The problem with the proposal above – that psychopathy research may be flawed in details but right and good in principle – is that it conflates idea with practice. Of course it would be good to find a neurobiological cause to psychopathy, if for nothing other than scientific curiosity. What makes the probability of such a discovery vanishingly small, however, is the way in which much of mainstream psychopathy research is actually carried out. Unexamined assumptions about morality have led to an unwieldy and empirically indefensible disorder definition, and to research that does not advance the scientific aims it purports to advance. Such research is at once dogmatic and impressionistic, ambitious and stifling, with the overall effect of doing tangible harm to the research program’s otherwise laudable goals. With every attempt to fit data into theory, the program’s goal of finding a cause for human destructiveness becomes a little harder. This is roughly the situation the positive school found itself in at the peak of its popularity. In their introduction to one of the works co-authored by Lombroso and his colleague Guglielmo Ferrero, Nicole Hahn Rafter and Mary Gibson correctly described Lombroso as “one of the most fertile, if uncritical thinkers, in nineteenthcentury Europe.”24 Corrected for time and place, Rafter and Gibson’s description comes dangerously close to capturing much of modern psychopathy research. Consider also the biological theory’s effect on the non-biological research of psychopathy. With the increasing popularity of the biological theory of psychopathy, public funding of research on environmental correlates has received little attention. Although the standard causal explanation of psychopathy references both biology and environment, the field’s attachment to the former has meant that research funds, publications, and career advancement are harder to come by if one studies the environments of psychopaths rather than their brains. (In comparison to environmental studies, brain imaging also minimizes time investment and some obvious drawbacks – such as reporting biases on the part of the subjects).25 In other words, exaggerating the significance of brain imaging data does more than elevate the biological theory’s status; in practice, it also detracts from complementary theories. But science is not the only, or even the most significant, casualty of the psychopathy dogma. The application of neuroimaging research to criminal law may be well intentioned, but it is – to put it mildly – premature. The essential problem in linking neuroimaging data with

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criminal responsibility is that the two, given the state of scientific knowledge, bear no logical relation to one another. Neurobiological differences between psychopaths and non-psychopaths (or murderers and non-murderers) contain no information about their relevance to criminal and moral responsibility. As we have already seen, a growing body of data shows that nearly any human characteristic – from socioeconomic status26 to religious affiliation27 and political orientation.28 – has neurological correlates. Furthermore, as we discussed in chapter 8, it is becoming increasingly clear that brain function and structure are altered by experience. Consider the following small sample of activities and experiences that have been shown to correlate with changes in brain structure or function: • • • • • • • •

Culture29 Driving a taxi in London30 Psychotherapy31 Juggling32 Living in a city33 Meditation34 Stress35 Listening to music36

As we saw, neuroimaging data of this sort may signify cause, effect, or a confound (It would be harder to make the case that, say, a larger right temporal lobe would cause a person to drive a taxi in London than to suggest that driving in London builds spatial memory and right temporal circuits.) Data on psychopathy are also of this sort, which means that neuroimaging results used in court may be (a) measures of causes of psychopathic behaviour, (b) measures of effects of psychopathic behaviour, or (c) irrelevant to psychopathic behaviour. In other words, the reasons why some expert witnesses choose to present (a) rather than (b) or (c) in their legal arguments is not answered by data; their choice is rather about data interpretation, about going beyond data, another name for which is metaphysics. Whether these witnesses are right about the defendants’ mental states is beside the point, because their arguments are by definition beyond their capacity to make them. The Emory University neurologist Helen Mayberg accurately called Kent Kiehl’s defence of the serial murderer Brian Dugan “a dangerous distortion of science that sets dangerous precedents for the field.”37



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Logically, the most significant real and potential misuses of psychopathy in the criminal justice system hinge on how well judges, juries, defence counsels, prosecutors, and expert witnesses understand the difference between description and cause. Psychopathy is a personality description, with no built-in explanatory power. The cause of psychopathy, furthermore, is a matter of theory. When psychopathy is taken as an explanation, and theory as fact – as sometimes happens – the system of justice runs the risk of delivering something less than justice. It is not difficult to find examples of the conflation between description and cause in criminal – and even civil – cases. They sound like this: He [Dr. Hector] was also asked whether he could be confident that the appellant would be able to follow probationary conditions that might afford some assurance of public safety. He responded: “No, I’m afraid my answer to that question has to be, no, no, and a categorical no. The reason for that is the underlying personality disorder psychopathy ... [T]hat disorder is a serious handicap because of what it does ... is limit the individual’s capacity to contain their behaviour ...” Dr. Hector’s view is that the appellant acts impulsively and unpredictably. He has an anti-social personality disorder and suffers from sexual sadism, as well as a substance abuse condition ... The appellant requires protective custody until such time as there is available the knowledge and capacity to treat one or more of the conditions that led to this present situation. (R. v. Saddlemore, 2007)

And like this: The appellant ... pleaded guilty to two counts of pointing a firearm and one count of possession of a rifle for a purpose dangerous to the public peace ... On the basis of the psychiatric report the trial judge said that the answer to [the appellant’s] behaviour that day was very simple. The accused did it because he was very nearly a psychopath with a long record of violence and intimidating behaviour. (R. v. Forsythe, 1994)

Confusions like these are easy to understand in light of how psychopathy has historically been defined in legal dictionaries and legislation. The 2004 edition of the Dictionary of Canadian Law, for example, gave the following definition: “Psychopathic disorder: A persistent disorder or disability of mind other than mental illness that results [emphasis added] in abnormally aggressive or serious socially disruptive conduct on the part of a person.” The British Mental Health Act

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1983 read, “Psychopathic disorder: a persistent disorder or disability of mind, irrespective of intelligence level, which also results [emphasis added] in abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct.” Often, psychopathy experts were complicit in the conflation, as was the case with the editors of an influential 1998 book on psychopathy, who bluntly stated that “psychopathy is often the primary cause of physical and sexual abuse as well as being present in all kinds of criminality.”38 Death sentence deliberations in American courts give a concrete example of this kind of thinking and its consequences. The York University sociologist Richard Weisman has analysed a number of cases in which juries, charged with the task of deciding between life without parole and the death sentence, were led by prosecutors and expert witnesses to believe that, as a matter of fact, psychopathic defendants (or ones suffering from antisocial personality disorder) could not experience remorse.39 Since a defendant’s remorse is a critical factor in the sentencing decisions of juries,40 the instruction effectively increases the likelihood of a death sentence. When framed in this way, a psychopathy diagnosis also nullifies any attempts by the defendant to actually show remorse: since psychopaths cannot feel remorse, and since they are natural manipulators, any show of remorse by a psychopath must therefore be faked. Here is how one prosecutor put it to a jury: But, ladies and gentlemen, his act is transparent to the neutral and critical observer such as you are and you all know that no matter what words may be used to try to convince us that this defendant feels remorse and cares for others, et cetera, et cetera, those are words ... the sadism, premeditation, and ritualistic repetition shown in these crimes are the classic trademark of the psychopath who feels no remorse and has no concern for anyone outside of himself. He’s the beast that walks upright. You meet him on the street. He will seem normal, but he roams those streets, parasitic and cold-eyed, stalking his prey behind a veneer of civility.41

On the other end of the spectrum are psychologists like Adrian Raine and Kent Kiehl who have argued against the death penalty on the basis of defendants’ psychopathy and/or related neurobiological defects. Yet, Raine and Kiehl subscribe to the same, unproven premise as their opponents: they too believe that psychopaths cannot feel moral emotions. The only point of real divergence between these two camps is a disagreement over what to do with this supposed fact. The question of



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whether psychopathy should be the “kiss of life or the kiss of death,” in other words, is already based on a false premise. Since psychopathy is nothing more than a description of personality, and since data do not tell us whether psychopaths will not or cannot feel remorse, or whether they do not know how to show it (at least one recent study, as we have already noted, suggests that psychopaths have voluntary control over their empathic responses),42 the diagnosis should logically not be the kiss of much anything. The central question here is whether, by inflating the value of their construct, social scientists have removed a viable option from defendants who have been diagnosed as psychopaths to express genuine remorse, or whether the theory is correct and such defendants are in fact incapable of remorse. The scientifically irresponsible and ethically dubious thing to do is to claim that the question is already settled. The Reptilian Stare The least appreciated damage from modern scientific psychopathy discourse is both aesthetic and intellectual. Consider the standard massmarket book on psychopathy. These books typically offer case vignettes on psychopathic behaviour, followed by an analysis of the underlying pathology. Snakes in Suits offers a number of them – one of them about the length of a short story – under such headings as Grand Entrance, Plucking the Apple, and Panic Time, featuring characters with names like Dave, Frank, Jack, John, Ron, Al, Ted, Fred, and Ed. Grand Entrance opens like this: “One could imagine he was arriving at a GQ photo shoot, judging by his smooth, strong, and confident entrance. As interview suits went, his was the finest. His smile was broad and toothy, his shirt crisp and white, and, well, the whole package was perfection.” Dave is a psychopath. Here is an exchange between Dave and another character, Dorothy: “I would line up a few more ducks before I float anything to Jerry,” Dave suggested in a paternalistic tone Dorothy had heard that Dave sometimes used with others. “So I guess Frank hasn’t liked any of your ideas yet,” she said pointedly. “You’ve been here a long time by Garrideb standards; what’s your track record?” “Boy, you get feisty at times, don’t you,” said Dave, diffusing the growing tension in the room.

176  The Myth of the Born Criminal “Sorry, it’s just that I’ve been working on this for over a month now, and I don’t want to think that politics is going to stand in the way.” “This is a big company now, Dorothy. There’s going to be politics. And,” he said interrupting her before she could respond, “you’re not very comfortable with things political, I’d say.” “We’re not all big shots like you, Dave. I’ll get this through on my own.” “I’m just suggesting that sometimes it’s wise to work with others. One hand washes the other, you know.” “Please,” she said dragging the word into two syllables and rolling her eyes. “I know, you’re going to make me an offer I can’t refuse, right?” she said, turning back to her computer screen. “Well, maybe...”43

And here is M.E. Thomas, the author of Confessions of a Sociopath, on herself: Ruining people. [emphasis original] I love the way the phrase rolls around on my tongue and inside my mouth. Ruining people is delicious. We’re all hungry, empaths and sociopaths. We want to consume. Sociopaths are uniformly hungry for power. Power is all I have ever really cared about in my life: physical power, the power of being desired or admired, destructive power, knowledge, invisible influence. I like people. I like people so much that I want to touch them, mold them or ruin them however I’d like. Not because I want to exercise my power. The acquisition, retention, and exploitation of power are what most motivate sociopaths. This much I know. What do I mean by ruining someone? Everyone has their different tastes in regards to power, just like everyone has their different tastes for food or sex. My bread and butter is feeling like my mind and my ideas are shaping the world around me, which is of course why I bother writing the blog. It’s my daily porridge; it keeps me from starvation. But when I indulge – when I am hungry for the richest, most decadent piece of foie gras – I indulge in inserting myself into a person’s psyche and quietly wreaking as much havoc as I can. To indulge in malignity ... There is a special pleasure in destruction because of its rarity – like dissolving a pearl in champagne.44

The reason these stories are not compelling as literature is that they straddle two narrative conventions without mastering either. On the one hand, they follow the enforced obviousness of clinical vignettes



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(such as the DSM-5 Clinical Cases)45 that connect diagnostic labels with their real-life manifestations. On the other hand, they deploy standard creative writing strategies the effect of which, presumably, is to make the stories more interesting. But the overall effect is not interesting reading, because the dramatic effects come off as strictly superfluous and discordant. What makes traditional clinical vignettes “clinical” is, aside from their depiction of pathology, the fact that they do not make an emotional appeal on the reader; they illustrate and educate without calling on the reader to witness just how bizarre and terrible the disorder in question really is. These studies stand in contrast to the pathos and voyeurism of psychopathy vignettes, whose educational point becomes progressively less clear as the thrills increase. If the cover of a book reads “1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. Who is the devil you know?” – as Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door does – what are the odds that a reader will form an objective picture of psychopathy? What is more, the thrills are brief and shallow, which in turn is simply the function of what the vignettes try to dramatize. The psychopaths in the vignettes are pure types who move about the world for no other purpose than to illustrate a point. The psychopaths may not reach Tolstoyan depths, it can be argued, because psychopaths are supposed to be superficial, but this does not explain why nobody else in these stories – such the psychopaths’ victims – has any depth either. In short, the narratives solicit a reader’s emotional investment without providing any characters worth investing in. Or perhaps the vignettes are true to life after all; perhaps psychopaths are unvaryingly bad in bland and predictable ways, and their victims truly, straightforwardly decent in the damsel-in-distress way of being decent. But even this turns out to be wrong: many of the case vignettes are not actually about real people. As Babiak and Hare explain in their preface to Snakes in Suits, The “snakes” we describe are not based on actual persons, and any resemblance to such persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Rather, they are profiles of generic psychopaths based upon composites of psychopathic characteristics derived from published reports, the news media, and our own research about such personalities.46

The operative word here is “generic.” The vignettes are composites and therefore essentially fictional. These mash-ups of real people have be-

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come common in the psychopathy non-fiction genre.47 Robert Hare’s 1993 Without Conscience describes cases “taken from published reports, the news media, and personal communications, and I cannot be sure that the individuals in question are psychopaths.”48 (This is nowhere more obvious than in Hare’s reliance on Joe McGinniss’s account of Jeffrey MacDonald in the book Fatal Vision, a book whose veracity – along with the actual guilt of Macdonald itself – has been repeatedly brought into question.)49 James Blair, Derek Mitchell, and Karina Blair’s The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain opens with four case vignettes, which are “amalgamations of individuals with whom we have worked.”50 The Columbia University forensic psychiatrist Michael Stone for his part consulted “a few hundred true-crime biographies,” which he explained were “the ones found in the true-crime section of a bookstore,”51 in writing his 2009 The Anatomy of Evil. Why would a book about psychopathy discuss people who may not actually be psychopaths? Have the writers not met real psychopaths worth writing about? Are there undisclosed legal reasons for doing this, or are actual psychopaths simply not very interesting? Does this creative licence exist to improve psychopathy discourse in some way? The meshing of fact and fiction is more than an aesthetic problem. The flatness of the psychopath’s character on the page is a symptom of a widespread aversion towards psychological understanding. Psychopaths are essentially crude, semi-human cut-outs with no histories, advancing from infancy to mature evil without passing through the usual stages of personhood. Researchers and mental health experts convey this point with surprising candour. Psychopaths are “intraspecies predators,” “reptilian,” “chameleonlike,” an “alien subset of humanity,” “like the emotionless androids depicted in science fiction,” “like Amyciaea lineatipes, a species of arachnid,” “snakes,” “animals,” “parasitic predators,” and “less human than the rest of us.”52 Martha Stout saw “a gaze of a leopard” in a psychopath’s look, and wondered at the “deep and yet strangely invisible dividing line across the human race.”53 It is not surprising that such allusions would become literal in the public mind. “Psychopaths have no empathy and as a result they are neither truly human nor truly alive,”54 wrote the author of a book titled The Art of Urban Survival: A Family Safety and Self Defense Manual. Behind the animal imagery lies a more profound truth about the limits of knowledge. Since the serial killer and the psychopath seem at first hard to understand, we tend to approach them in terms we understand better. Just as physical deviations stand for moral deviations in



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traditional monster folklore – a moral monster looks like a monster as well – modern scientists rely on the animal metaphor to indicate psychopaths’ lack of morality and human emotion. In a sense, the folkloric animal imagery is the moral equivalent of diagnostic jargon – both aim to familiarize the unfamiliar. If morality is human, immorality is not human. So, a serial killer is knowable because he has a certain PCL-R score, and he is reptilian because he is immoral. But why offer metaphors at all? Does the animal metaphor actually help us to understand the psychopath? On closer examination, the animal metaphor of psychopathy is informationally void. If psychopaths are more like, say, reptiles than humans, then what are reptiles like? Since we know practically nothing about the psychological lives of snakes, the metaphor’s effect here is a cognitive dead end. Rather than showing what psychopaths are like, the metaphor confirms the negative: this is what psychopaths are not like. Psychopaths in the standard narrative have no human psychological life at all; they are depthless and blank, alien and unknowable, a mystery not worth investigating. The popular psychopathy narrative’s point, then, is to reinforce incomprehension. Consider Snakes in Suits, which includes a chapter titled “Who Are These People?”55 Or consider expert commentary on Russell Williams. Within a five-and-a-half-minute interview, one psychologist called Williams, “a black hole,” “a mystery,” “intriguing,” “from another planet,” “like a tomb,” and “psychopathic.”56 Clearly, the familiar routines, anecdotes, and metaphors of the psychopathy story are borrowed from older narrative conventions. In monster mythology, a hybrid beast threatens an innocent population. The beast’s nature is to be unknowable, and the victims’ nature is to be innocent, trusting (they do not lock their doors, etc.), and knowable. The hero (the police, the scientist) is meant to outwit and unmask the monster. The psychopathy story simply updates this lore for modern, scientifically minded audiences. The problem with this updating is that popular books on psychopathy do not fulfill the twin tasks of folklore: to entertain and inform. The science is inconclusive, and occasional flashes at folkloric insight have built-in implausibility. A good example of the latter is the “psychopathic stare” idea, which now circulates in popular and, to a lesser extent, academic literature. Here is criminal profiler Robert Ressler invoking it in the standard fashion while discussing the serial killer Richard Chase: “It was his eyes that really got me. I’ll never forget them. They were like those of the shark in the movie Jaws. No pupils, just black spots. These were evil eyes that

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stayed with me long after the interview.”57 The forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy encouraged his readers to “study newspaper and magazine photographs of such contemporary sexual psychopaths as Charles Manson, Theodore Bundy, and Richard Ramirez,” because this would, according to Meloy, reveal “the reptilian, predatory, and emotionless stare of the psychopath.”58 Robert Hare commented at length on the possibility that psychopaths had “the eyes of a goat,” concluding, Can the eyes reveal the devil incarnate ... ? In cases where a real or fictitious serial killer – a Ted Bundy or a Hannibal Lecter – commits unspeakable crimes it may be difficult to believe otherwise. However, it is likely that the behaviour of psychopaths ... stems more from a total indifference to the feelings or welfare of others than from sure [sic] evil. Their eyes are those of an emotionless predator, not those of satan.59

The tell-tale psychopathic eyes are in the same category of folklore as some experts’ exhortations to “listen to your gut feeling” when dealing with psychopaths. Here is the forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes on her psychopath-detection strategies: The pointers ... should help you to identify if you’re dealing with a psycho but I’d also advise using your gut instinct. If a date makes you feel uncomfortable – in other words, in the very scenario in which they should be trying to put you at ease – then take note. Even I still use the unscientific “hairs on the back of my neck” scale to alert me to danger in an interview scenario.60

The gut-feeling idea evokes the human–animal dichotomy again, only this time in reverse. If psychopaths are too much animal and not enough human, the rest of us are too human and not enough animal, particularly when it comes to detecting psychopaths. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police psychologist Matthew Logan has explained that “the first thing I’d say to people is pay attention to your gut. I think a lot of people ignore the gut feeling, the instinct ... you know human beings may be the only animal species that will ignore that gut instinct.”61 According to J. Reid Meloy, the psychopath-triggered gut feeling is actually a biologically imprinted survival strategy. Meloy tested his theory by asking hundreds of mental health experts and criminal justice personnel about their reactions to interviewing psychopaths. He found that almost 80 per cent “reported a physical reaction ... most often der-



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matological and least often pulmonary, due to likely sympathetic activation of their autonomic nervous system,” a finding he took to mean that the reaction was an evolutionary “defense against an interspecies or intraspecies threat.”62 The problem with all this, of course, is that psychopaths are also by definition charmers and manipulators who lure their victims to all manner of physical, emotional, and financial harm, and then convince judges and parole boards to get them out of serving long sentences. Most of those who knew Ted Bundy before his murders seemed to notice his apparent normalcy and attractiveness, not the strangeness of his eyes. The eyes became an issue only once the true horror of his crimes became evident, and when J. Reid Meloy had had the opportunity to study them in newspaper photos. And how can white-collar psychopaths do so well if their eyes constantly betray them, and their victims keep having bad gut reactions to them? Hare himself reports having been duped by a psychopath into giving a conference talk for free. He writes, “Ironically, I had spent quite a bit of time with this man, at a luncheon held just before my talk and later in a bar. I detected nothing unusual or suspicious about him; my antenna failed to twitch in his presence.”63 It was left to the baseball analyst and true crime enthusiast Bill James to make the obvious point: “If you could look at a guy’s eyes and see that he was a serial killer, women wouldn’t get into the car with them.”64 On Making Too Much Sense The reason why these folkloric fringe claims thrive in psychopathy discourse is that every single one of them makes some sort of cultural sense – to be evil is to be not human, eyes are a window to the soul, gut instincts signify deeper truths hidden to reason, and so on. They make sense in the same way the entire research program does: both have the appearance of explaining things. And herein lies the problem. The idea that evil is reducible to a score, to neurobiology, or to degeneration has the common-sense ring of a standard medical discovery, and it comes with the extraordinarily attractive assumption that evil is essentially not a mystery but a puzzle. The puzzle metaphor is what the medical journal The Lancet referred to in this 1996 editorial: Is it too fanciful to suggest that we will soon know what evil is, if only to accept its existence as something beyond the reach of forensic psychiatry

182  The Myth of the Born Criminal and outside the safe boundaries of nosology[?] ... To deny the possible existence of evil is as scientifically arrogant as claiming that no new phylum of living things could be discovered ... All we can hope is for serendipity – that a scientist ... will come across evil, maybe from the preserved brains of those afflicted, and recognize it for what it is, something no-one has ever seen before.65

The editorial’s conceptualization of evil – that somehow it possesses material qualities, and can in principle be found, by lucky coincidence no less – is what drives the psychopathy research program’s gradual shift from theory to common sense. This shift, which has been the theme of our book, is ultimately a story about a very human wish to believe in an orderly universe. In this universe, evil is its own biological category, readily set apart from the rest of humanity, and revealed in human tissue. The scientific mind in this respect is as loaded with cultural assumptions and imagery as the lay mind is, willing to reach for conclusions well beyond physical data. To sum up this point – and roughly our entire argument so far – consider this one last story: The University of California, Irvine neuroscientist James Fallon, who had been studying criminal and psychopathic brains for a long time, was looking at random brain images his colleagues had given him. Without knowing anything about the people the scans came from, Fallon was blindly looking for patterns that might be scientifically useful. One group of images stood out for low orbital frontal cortex and amygdala activity, and Fallon wanted to know if anything tied them together. Something did – they all belonged to murderers. This made sense to Fallon, since his findings confirmed exactly what previous research had found out about the brains of murderers and psychopaths. But then things began to go wrong. One of the slides with low orbital cortex and amygdala activity belonged to Fallon himself. Worse, when he studied his own DNA he discovered that he had the genetic makeup of a psychopathic murderer. The gene in question was the low- activity variant of the MAOA gene, which is transmitted through the X chromosome, and therefore inherited from your mother (see chapter 8). “You see,” Fallon told a reporter later, “I’m 100 percent. I have the pattern, the risky pattern. In a sense, I’m a born killer ... You start looking at yourself and you say, ‘I may be a sociopath.’”66 He was rightly disturbed; the results undermined not only his own mental health, but also the entire idea of a psychopathic brain. (In a statistically unlikely coincidence, Adrian Raine discovered that he too had a “brain scan ...



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that looks like a serial killer’s” and other biological markers of violent criminals.)67 But then things began to make sense again. Fallon’s mother told him that one of his great-grandfathers from his father’s side (never mind the warrior gene’s maternal transmission) had murdered his own mother in the seventeenth century. This side of the family had eight murderers, one of whom was Lizzy Borden (again, never mind that Borden was acquitted twice, once at her trial in 1893, and once at a 1997 mock trial presided over by the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor). The murderers may or may not have been psychopaths, they may or may not have had the warrior gene, and their number out of the family tree’s total may or may not have represented historically average homicide rates, but none of this mattered, because it all made for a very good story. What is more, on reflection, Fallon’s personal story fit the prevailing interactionist model, according to which psychopathy was caused by the joint effects of genetics, brain dysfunction, and environment. Since Fallon was not abused as a child, he only had two thirds of the equation. In other words, Fallon’s brain actually supported the prevailing theory (never mind, again, that had his brain functioned normally, this would also have supported the theory). Putting it all together in a TED talk, Fallon explained that “How you end up with a psychopath and a killer depends on exactly when the damage occurs. It’s really a very precisely timed thing.”68 Fallon’s own timing was off, which made him a luckier man than Muammar al-Gaddafi and the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, both of whom Fallon diagnosed as psychopaths. “I would like to have scanned the brain and tested the DNA of Osama bin Laden,”69 he went on in an apparent contradiction to his own theory, given that bin Laden, the son of a billionaire and a devout Muslim with connections to the Saudi Royal family, does not seem to have suffered childhood abuse. Gathered around the dinner table, Fallon’s family began to make sense of his situation. “I always knew there was something off. It makes more sense now that it’s clear that he has the brain and the genetics of a psychopath. It all falls into place as it were. He’s got a hot head and everything you’d want in a serial killer he has in a fundamental way,” said his son. Here was his wife: “It was surprising but it wasn’t surprising, because he really is in a way two different people. Even though he’s always been very funny and gregarious and everything else, he’s always had a standoffish part to him.” And here was Fallon himself,

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flashing an enigmatic smile: “I have characteristics or traits some of which are psychopathic, yeah. I could blow off an aunt’s funeral if I thought there was a party that day ... I know something is wrong but I still don’t care.”70 What emerged from all of this was essentially an extreme version of the Barnum effect:71 Fallon was gregarious and standoffish, impulsive and meticulous, a deeply uncaring family man, a benign crypto-psychopath who studied murderers. Finally, Fallon took the logical step of analysing his family’s brains and genes, and compared them to his own. Fallon’s brother John who according to the Wall Street Journal works for the New York State education department, used to get into fistfights as a youth and still describes himself as a fighter. His other brother, Pete, owns a pharmacy in Albany, but likes to dive off tall cliffs and is, according to his family, a risktaker.72 Yet only James’s brain and genes fit the psychopathic pattern; the rest of the family was entirely normal. “It became a parlour game,” he explained, inadvertently capturing the nature of modern psychopathy research; “I wanted to see,” he continued, “who had the high-risk genes, who the ‘evil’ one was lurking in our midst. The kids, my brothers, my wife, my mom – everyone was buzzing about it. It was a new thing for us to argue about.”73

Appendix A: Morality and Psychopathy

The following is a sample of PCL-R items, mostly as described by Robert Hare in his 1993 book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us. Copyright laws prevent us from quoting directly from the PCL-R manual or using the entire set of PCL-R items. We have eliminated from this list items that are obviously about morality, including items dealing with dishonesty, delinquency, and crime. Glib and superficially charming. Morally speaking, the first item in the PCL-R is also the most interesting and philosophically vexing. Why should superficial charm be a symptom of a mental disorder? Why is glibness a problem? Moral concern with glibness and superficial charm dates at least to Socrates’s admonition that the unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates’s insight was a quintessential moral insight. For him, shallowness was a moral failure. Since Socrates, selfknowledge has become a cornerstone of Western religiosity and moral philosophy (most famously advanced by St. Augustine, the Stoics, and the Romantics). But glibness and superficial charm are more than failures of personal insight – they constitute a form of deception. The idea here is that every person possesses an authentic self; a sincere, profound person acts in accordance with his or her true self. A glib and superficially charming person, on the other hand, constructs an inauthentic social self for the purpose of some material or social benefit. Hare describes such people as “insincere” and “too slick and smooth,”1 and contrasts them with introverted and immature types. In typical clinical practice, immaturity and extreme introversion may be a sign of mental health problems. In

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the psychopathy lexicon, they are the opposite. This reversal is intelligible only in the context of the religio-moral concept of authenticity, according to which the true self is imperfect, awkward, sensitive, and precious. Slickness and smoothness are antithetical to it. The reasoning for this view is far from clear, but we – and the PCL-R – tend to accept it as fact. Egocentric and grandiose. This item’s moral overtones are obvious. Hare’s description reads, Psychopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their selfworth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement, and see themselves as the center of the universe, as superior beings who are justified in living according to their own rules ... Psychopaths often come across as arrogant, shameless braggarts – self-assured, opinionated, domineering, and cocky. They love to have power and control over others and seem unable to believe that other people have valid opinions different from theirs.2

Aside from word choice (“grossly inflated,” “truly astounding”), consider the early Christian church and what it considered the deadliest of the seven deadly sins: pride. The Oxford English Dictionary defines pride as “a high or overweening opinion of one’s own qualities, attainments, or estate, which gives rise to a feeling and attitude of superiority over and contempt for others; inordinate self-esteem.”3 Lack of remorse or guilt. Remorse and guilt are consummate moral emotions, and as such form the basis of conscience. Lack of moral feeling (especially in the negative direction, as in not feeling badly about committing a bad act) indicates lack of conscience. Lack of conscience is morally wrong in two ways. On the one hand, it indicates non-participation in the moral world, which itself is immoral. On the other hand, a person’s lack of remorse or guilt is impossible to establish without there being something he should feel remorseful or guilty about. That is, guilt and remorse imply an immoral act. Christian theology links the concept of guilt with the concept of sin. Here, the solution to sin lies in part in repentance, and the emotional aspect of repentance is remorse. Shallow emotions. This item is worth quoting at length:



Appendix A: Morality and Psychopathy  187 Psychopaths seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feelings. While at times they appear cold and unemotional, they are prone to dramatic, shallow, and short-lived displays of feeling. Careful observers are left with the impression that they are playacting and that little is going on below the surface. Sometimes they claim to experience strong emotions but are unable to describe the subtleties of various affective states. For example, they equate love with sexual arousal, sadness with frustration, and anger with irritability.4

Without the accompanying item description, shallowness of affect in itself is morally irrelevant. A person may simply not feel very strongly or deeply about anything, and yet be moral. We describe such persons as “casual” or “laid-back.” In another sense, a person may demonstrate flat affect in a psychiatric sense if his facial expressions and tone of voice are limited in range, and he appears withdrawn. These may be diagnostic of such things as depression or schizophrenia. However, this item is not about either of these senses. The psychiatric sense is ruled out by the fact that a person who matches this description does show emotion, however “dramatic, shallow,” and “short-lived” it may be. What, then, is the item about? The answer is threefold. First, it is about pretence (“they are play-acting”), which is in the same moral category as lying, conning, and manipulating. Second, while the item description suggests shallowness in the experience of all normal emotions, the item description only mentions the experience of one category of emotion – love and affection (for instance, showing emotion when discussing a friend’s death). That each scoring example is about a pro-social emotion is probably not coincidental. If a person could not feel any emotions, he could also not feel such things as grandiosity, a need for excitement, frustration and anger, or whim, all of which are diagnostic of psychopathy. In other words, without emotions he would most likely not be a psychopath. Third, the item is less about emotion than it is about the absence of pro-social behaviour. If a person behaves in loving and caring ways, that person’s depth of emotion should not raise concern with regard to the item. That is, the item is as much about moral behaviour as it is about moral emotion. In Christian theology, religious feelings like compassion, joy, fear, awe, remorse (or contrition), absolute dependence, and gratitude are essential components of religious tradition, both as pure emotions and as motivators for Christian action.

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Lack of empathy. This item implies both non-participation in the moral world (lack of feeling for the suffering of others), and morally reprehensible behaviour (meaningfully applied, “callousness” describes only antisocial acts). Also, lack of empathy runs counter to the central Christian emotion of compassion. Poor behaviour controls. Since this item does not refer to all types of behaviour – such as poorly controlled philanthropy – but only to acts of an antisocial nature, it is clearly about morality. Hare writes: Psychopaths are short-tempered or hot-headed and tend to respond to frustration, failure, discipline, and criticism with sudden violence, threats, and verbal abuse. They take offense easily and become angry and aggressive over trivialities, and often in a context that appears inappropriate to others.5

Theologically, this item is a close match with the deadly sin of wrath, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “vehement or violent anger; intense exasperation or resentment; deep indignation.”6 It is also the reverse of such virtues as patience and self-control. Promiscuous sexual behaviour. The term “promiscuous” has a derogative connotation, suggesting reduced moral worth of the person to whom the term applies as well as those things or acts which he so indiscriminately chooses. Promiscuous sexual behaviour, more specifically, runs counter to the myths, prohibitions, institutions, and legislation that most if not all societies erect to limit the number and character of human sex acts (consider, for instance, the institution of marriage, the Roman Catholic virtue of chastity, and the richness of derogatory expressions for those who are indiscriminate in their sexual practices). Here is a description of this item in a textbook on psychopathy: Hare (1991) describes promiscuous sexual behaviour as constituting a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners. This aspect of promiscuity reflects a lack of conscientiousness, particularly a hedonistic lack of self-discipline, deliberation, and moral dutifulness.7

Also, it depends not only on the quantity of a person’s sex acts, but also on their emotional quality. Hare describes psychopaths’ sex lives



Appendix A: Morality and Psychopathy  189

as impersonal and casual, the high frequency of actual sex being merely a reflection of this quality. Traditional Christian theology’s abhorrence of loveless and non-procreative sex is well known. Lack of realistic, long-term goals. Hare describes psychopaths as generally aimless, with no other conceivable goal than to live on the “easy-street.” The assumption here is that we should do certain things and lead our lives in certain directions. The foundation for this awareness is, at least in part, moral judgment about the respective value of different life paths. But where might the clinician find guidance for such judgments? She might try for example Proverbs 28:20, which says, “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” This admonition is well in keeping with the Protestant ethic of earning one’s living by honest labour. Impulsivity. Hare writes, Psychopaths are unlikely to spend much time weighing the pros and cons of a course of action or considering the possible consequences ... More than displays of temper, impulsive acts often result form an aim that plays a central role in most of the psychopath’s behavior: to achieve immediate satisfaction, pleasure, or relief ... they do not modify their desires; they ignore the needs of others.8

Lack of consideration for the consequences of one’s actions – regardless of the actual consequences – is grounds for moral condemnation, and implies such vices as recklessness, imprudence, and selfishness, and lack of such Christian virtues as moderation. Lack of responsibility. Since it is evident that this item applies only in one moral direction (it does not deal with failure to accept responsibility for good behaviour), a person characterized by it faces moral censure on two counts. First, a person must have acted immorally for the item to be relevant. That is, there must be something to take responsibility for. Second, in attempting to reduce demands on his or her moral character for the sake of personal benefit, the person undermines the social foundation of morality. The Old Testament has this to say on the matter: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

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Many short-term marital relationships. On the one hand, this item is in the same moral category as lack of responsibility. The breaking of marital vows here is simply an instance of failed commitment. Singling out marital commitment, though, is an obvious nod to the traditional Judeo-Christian ideal of a lifelong intimate bond (two leading personality researchers describe this item as a “reflection of low conscientiousness, particularly dutifulness”).9 The PCL-R implies that marriage is more than a purely pragmatic contract; a failure to properly observe and honour the institution of marriage here constitutes nothing less than a symptom. Another way of putting this is that any disagreement on the purpose and the ideal length of marriage – as, say, a financial contract, a form of filial rebellion, an impulsive Las Vegas wedding, each with easy opt-out clauses – potentially instantiates a psychiatric disturbance.

Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy – On Factor Structures and Heritability Coefficients

A basic goal of psychopathy research is to prove the existence of an entity called psychopathy. If psychopathy is to be more than merely a description of people, it must be a thing that produces effects, and it must in turn be the effect of something else. The supposed “it” – the psychopathy entity – goes by many different names in mainstream research, including “disease,” “disorder,” “psychiatric condition,” “underlying structure,” “clinical construct,” and “taxon.” But of course psychopathy is not a disease in the standard medical sense, because its symptoms are not physiological. Psychopathy is, at best, a personality disorder, and as such, proving it to be an entity requires something other than observing and manipulating a disease process in human tissue. The psychopathy entity is by its nature subject to several layers of mystery. It, for example, is not directly observable; it is thought to follow as-of-yet undiscovered laws (if they exist at all); it may or may not be divisible into smaller units; and it may or may not operate differently in different populations.1 The greatest mystery, however, is how we even know “it” exists. If there is an “it,” there are good grounds for looking for its causes and treatments; if not, the empirical basis for studying it would be about the same as searching for the general cause of pain. Our question in this appendix is whether or not psychopathy is an entity, and whether the tools we use to study this question are even capable of giving us a definitive answer. The two central ways of addressing the problem of psychopathy’s existence are neuroimaging and psychometrics. As we explained in chapter 8, psychopathy research draws its legitimacy largely from neuroimaging studies, but as we will see next, psychometric and biometric studies have played a strong secondary role. Medical imaging and

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psycho- and biometrics share another key element: both are highly technical enterprises which, by virtue of their technical complexity (a) tend to confer credibility on their users and (b) create ample room for data interpretation and misinterpretation. In what follows we show how certain statistical procedures – whose actual mechanics remain something of a mystery to many who use them – have convinced a generation of researchers that psychopathy is a bona fide entity. The quantitative procedures that have played the largest role in legitimizing psychopathy research, and which have been most commonly cited in support of psychopathy’s status as an entity are (a) latent variable modelling investigations into what is often called “the structure of psychopathy” and (b) biometric twin studies into, supposedly, the genetic basis of psychopathy. What follows is a description of latent variable modelling and biometric research in the service of psychopathy research, and an explanation of common errors in the interpretation of data derived from these procedures. These errors, we will show, have allowed researchers to draw inflated and logically dubious conclusions about the existence of psychopathy as a disorder. Our discussion is at times technical because the procedures themselves are technical. Whenever possible, we have attempted to put the points in terms meaningful to the general reader. This, however, is difficult to do. The fundamental reason for including such complex material in this book is that the book is intended for both professional and non-professional readers. We do not want professional readers to dismiss the rest of our arguments because, based on their understanding of psycho- and biometrics, the data suggests that psychopathy is, after all, a real disorder entity. However, we also do not want the non-professional reader to assume that the central ontological questions are too complex to make sense of. We have tried to find a middle ground between being accurate and generally comprehensible. The Structure of Psychopathy A number of researchers, beginning around 1990, have made claims about the “structure of psychopathy,”2 its “dimensionality, superordinate nature,”3 “dimensional nature,” or reality as a “taxon,”4 the “coherence” or “viability” of the construct or syndrome of psychopathy,5 and the like. Generally, this research has employed statistical technology called latent variable modelling (for example, linear factor analysis, an item response theory technology, or a particular taxometric procedure) to analyse sample data on psychopathy measures like the PCL-R.



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  193

A latent variable model is a statistical model that makes reference to two types of variables: manifest and latent variables. The manifest variables are thought to be observable or measureable, and the latent variables unobservable or unmeasureable. In psychopathy research, a particular latent variable model, of particular dimensionality m (the number of latent variables that appear in the model’s defining equations), is fit to a particular set of data. If, based on one or more criteria of model fit, the model in use is deemed to provide an acceptable approximation to the data, then the model is taken seriously as a description of reality, and estimates of its parameters are employed to interpret (name, identify) the m (unobservable) latent variables, or constructs. The oldest latent variable model – and the one most frequently employed in psychopathy research – is the linear factor model. Factor analysis was initially developed by the British psychologist and statistician Charles Spearman for the study of mental abilities. In the early twentieth century, Spearman noticed that scores on mental ability tests he was studying were positively correlated. That is, a person’s good performance on one test tended to coincide with good performances on other tests of mental ability as well. To explain the correlations, Spearman postulated the existence of a factor, “general intelligence” or g. In particular, he suggested that his mental tests were correlated because they shared a dependency upon g. They were not perfectly correlated because each test also depended upon what Spearman called a “specific factor,” a factor that was unique to the test. This basic idea that a test is the sum of a common (or shared) factor and a specific (or non-shared) factor is the basis of factor analysis. Spearman thought of his factor analysis to be primarily a test of the hypothesis that g existed. Secondarily, should g be proven to exist, it would provide – in the form of g itself – an objective definition of the difficult-to-define concept “intelligence.” Spearman’s linear factor analysis has gone on to become the most frequently used multivariate technique,6 and has been used for many purposes, including personality and attitude research, and disease classification; as a foundation for test theory; and as a means for studying the correlation structures of any number of variable sets. In psychopathy research, the most notable use of latent variable models has centred on the issue of the “correct model” for the PCL-R. Here, researchers have employed linear factor analysis,7 the organizing principle of which one team of researchers summarized like this: “The viability of a psychopathological construct is based on a range

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of evidence,” a prerequisite for which is “the existence of a coherent syndrome, that is, a cluster of symptoms, signs, and traits that occur together.” According to the researchers “considerable debate surrounds the core features of this [psychopathy] construct,” but “factor analysis ... can inform our understanding, given its explicit recognition that all measures are fallible indicators of constructs.” 8 In a seminal 1988 analysis, a team of University of British Columbia researchers factor analysed PCL-R data from a large sample of male inmates, and concluded that the PCL-R was two-dimensional. They named the dimensions “selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others,” and “chronically unstable and antisocial lifestyle.”9 In another widelycited study, the Glasgow Caledonian University psychologists David Cooke and Christine Michie factor analysed an even larger sample, and showed that the dimensionality of the PCL-R was in fact three.10 In 2008, Robert Hare and his colleague Craig Neumann summarized empirical support for the position that the PCL-R was, in reality, fourdimensional, and called the dimensions “interpersonal, affective, impulsive lifestyle,” and “diverse externalizing/antisocial tendencies.”11 The two-, three-, and four-factor solutions have by now become the standard ways to understand PCL-R’s dimensionality, though other analyses have given as many as seven factors.12 What does this mean? That there are anywhere between two and seven entities, each with a different cause or causes, or that there are no real entities – that is, no signal, only noise? Either way, it might seem obvious that multidimensionality of this sort is proof that there is no single, real, entity called psychopathy. (Should a single factor – something like Spearman’s g – emerge, this would undoubtedly be used to support psychopathy’s realness.) The conviction that psychopathy is a single entity, however, has led researchers to simply reinterpret the two, three, or four latent variables identified in the factor analytic work as “facets”13 of psychopathy. Psychopathy itself was in a sense bumped upstairs, and recast into the role of superordinate construct – that is, a latent variable that underlay the two, three, or four (as the case happened to be) lower-order latent variables.14 On Technique and Metaphysics Only things that exist can have a structure. If it were true that latent variable models such as linear factor analysis allow researchers to study the structure of psychopathy, or come to know something about



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  195

“its core features,” then it would seem that psychopathy must be a real, existing, thing. However, logically there is nothing about latent variable modelling that allows the researcher to make discoveries about any unobservable entity, let alone an entity called psychopathy. Unlike tools such as the metal detector, the bubble chamber, the neutrino detector, and so on, latent variable modelling is not a test of existence of an entity or class of entities, nor does it allow its user to draw inferences about the structure, or the nature, of any such entities.15 Let us begin with a simple example. Consider the variables height and weight and imagine that it happened to be the case that they were unidimensional in a principal component analytic sense: a sense of unidimensionality distinct from, but closely related to, linear factor analytic unidimensionality. This would be the case only if the variables were perfectly correlated, or, in other words, had a correlation of one (in reality, the correlation between height and weight is large and positive, but less than one). And the variables would be perfectly correlated only if, in a scatterplot of height and weight, all the people, each with a height and a weight, were arrayed along a line (a single dimension). And the people would be arrayed along a line only if there existed only certain types of people (those who were tall and heavy, short and light, and of average height and weight), and not others (those who were, for example, tall and light, or short and heavy). The point is that the result of unidimensionality here means that only certain types of people exist. If the composition of the population were to change, so too would the dimensionality result. Now, ask yourself, “Is knowing that there exist certain types of people and not other types the same thing as knowing why there exist these types and not other types?” Of course not. Equivalently, then, to know that a set of items is unidimensional is not the same thing as knowing why it is unidimensional. Unidimensionality (more generally, m-dimensionality) in a linear factor analytic sense is a more complicated result, but is still equivalent to a particular pattern of correlations. As such, it is equivalent to a claim that certain types of people exist, and others do not. If we cannot explain why these certain types exist (and others do not) then we cannot explain why the variables are unidimensional in a linear factor analytic sense. The point is that a unidimensional (or m-dimensional) result does not contain its own explanation, and so does not contain within it an explanation of any entity or entities. The explanation, instead, lies in the soberingly old-fashioned question: why are there different types of people? Since we already know

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that there are different types of people – and factor analysis merely reflects this fact – the empirical questions about the reasons for any given type’s existence turn out to be mind-numbingly complex. Take a tiny sample of such questions inspired by an imaginary one-factor solution to the PCL-R items: • Why does superficial charm correlate positively with revocation of conditional release, but not with monogamy? • Why are there relatively many people who have a grandiose sense of self-worth, and who have many short-term marital relationships, but relatively few people with a normal or low sense of self-worth and many short-term marital relationships? • Why are some people promiscuous, lying criminals with no sense of remorse? • Is there a single thing that causes (a) pathological lying and (b) the correlation between a parasitic lifestyle, early behavioural problems, and impulsivity? How are these and countless other relevant questions to be answered? They are, quite simply, to be answered by the disciplines designed to answer “why” questions, including biology, psychology, sociology, and so forth – whoever supplies the best answer wins. The winner cannot, however, rely on statistical methodology such as factor analysis, since questions about the existence and nature of causes are outside its purview. Now let us consider, from a technical angle, the issue of what the m-dimensional linear factor model does. As for each and every latent variable model, this model is specified as (a) a set of equations that link p manifest variables, X (say, the p = 20 items of the PCL-R), to m latent variables, x; and (b) a set of side-conditions. The equations of the m-dimensional linear factor model are as follows, X = τ + Lx + d,

(1)

wherein (a) d is a set of p variables called uniquenesses; (b) L is a p × m matrix (set of) “factor loadings” (actually, the slopes or regression coefficients that would be used in predicting the manifest variables on the basis of the latent variables); (c) and τ is a set of parameters that are intercepts (interpreted in the standard linear regression sense as the value of X to be predicted when x is equal to zero). The side conditions are,



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  197

on the other hand, as follows: (a) the p by p covariance matrix of d, Q, is diagonal and containing only positive elements; (b) E(d) = 0; (c) E(x) = 0 and C(x) = I; and (d) C(x, d) is a null matrix. Now, it is well known16 that the m-dimensional linear factor model describes a particular set of manifest variables, say, X*, distributed in a particular population P, if and only there exists a p × m matrix L*, and a p by p diagonal, positive definite matrix Q*, such that Σx*, the covariance matrix of the manifest variables, is equal to L*L*’ + Q*. The researcher is, of course, not in possession of the population covariance matrix Σx*. Thus, in practice, he must estimate Σx* using a sample drawn from P, and make an inferential decision as to whether or not the model holds (i.e., whether or not Σx* can be decomposed as L*L*’ + Q*) in P. If he decides that the model does hold in P, then he has decided that the p manifest variables X* are m-dimensional in a linear factor analytic sense.17 So, for example, in claiming (rightly or wrongly) that the PCL-R was two-dimensional, researchers claim (rightly or wrongly) that, within whatever population of individuals they were investigating, there existed a p × 2 matrix L*, and a p by p diagonal, positive definite matrix Q*, such that the covariance matrix of the twenty items of the PCL-R was equal to L*L*’ + Q*. But where does the idea come from that such a finding has a bearing on the structure of an unobservable entity, or construct, called psychopathy – for example, that the number of facets or constituent parts it possesses happens to be two? Similarly, let us pretend that the PCL-R is, within the population investigated, three-dimensional, and that these three factors were unidimensional (the entire structure called a hierarchical structure or model).18 Then it would be the case that (a) X* = τ* + Λ*ξ* + δ*, in which L* was a p × 3 matrix; (b) ξ* = Γη + ε, in which E(η) = 0, E(ε) = 0, V(η) = 1, C(η, ε) was a null matrix, and the 3 by 3 covariance matrix of ε, Ψ, was diagonal and positive definite. From (a) and (b) it would, then, have followed that Σx* = C(τ* + Λ*ξ* + δ*) = C(τ* + Λ*[Γη + ε] + δ*) = Λ*Φ*Λ*’ + Q* = ΩΩ’ + Q*, in which Ω was simply a p × 3 matrix (once again, definitionally indicative of X* being three dimensional in a linear factor analytic sense). Where, from this, do the researchers get the idea that the variables ξ* are facets of psychopathy, and that the variable η is an extant, unobservable superordinate construct called psychopathy? To put it simply, these ideas derive from an extra-scientific story19 that has been routinely attached – so routinely, in fact, that it has achieved the status of an unquestioned urbild or mythology – to latent variable

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modelling technologies since at least the mid-nineteenth century, and under which the following set of correspondences are tacitly, and in the absence of any logical justification, asserted: (a) the m latent variables ξ are m real, unobservable constructs or causal entities20; (b) the p manifest variables X are p observable indicators of (are causally dependent upon) the m constructs ξ; and (c) the defining equations of a particular latent variable model are a description of the causal dependencies of the observable indicators on the unobservable constructs (estimates of the parameters of which are employed to infer the identities of the unobservable constructs, a task known as factor interpretation). Researchers who employ linear factor analysis (or any other latent variable modelling technology) in their researches tacitly act as though a wand has been passed over the model equations, magically transforming these humble mathematical equations (which can be written onto the paper as effortlessly, and with as little consequence, as the letters of which these words are made) into features of nature, and forging a link between the symbol ξ and existing entities in nature.21 In other words, linear factor analysis here functions along alchemical principles, according to which simple ingredients can be transformed into complex and powerful substances by way of a metaphysical process. It is not an exaggeration to say that the social scientists’ conception of the role of latent variable modelling technologies in science has been corrupted by dependency on mythological accompaniments to the actual techniques. Even the ubiquitous practice of describing the manifest variables X as “observable” and the latent variables ξ as “unobservable” is mere supporting mythology; variables are functions, and functions cannot, of course, be said to be either observable or unobservable.22 What can be said about the distinction between the variables X and the variables ξ that are referred to in the defining equations of a latent variable model, is that it is only on the manifest variables X that realizations are taken, the consequence being that the data to be analysed in a latent variable modelling exercise are scores on these variables only. Scores on ξ are not part of the data. There is no basis, and no sense, in claiming that ξ is unobservable, let alone that it stands for a set of unobservable entities, the elements of which just happen to be constituent parts of some ineffable entity called psychopathy. Linear factor analysis does reveal something about structure, just not the structure of unobservable, existing, entities. It reveals, instead, something about the correlation structure of a set of variables, a fact that social scientists ignore because it does not square with the mythologies



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  199

about unobservable constructs that they prefer. Let us pretend, once again, that the PCL-R is two-dimensional in a linear factor analytic sense. Then there would exist a p × 2 matrix Λ*, and a p by p diagonal, positive definite matrix Q*, such that the covariance matrix, Σx*, of the twenty items of the PCL-R was equal to Λ*Λ*’ + Q*. Each off-diagonal element of Σx* is a covariance, and, as such, quantifies the strength of linear relationship between a particular pair of PCL-R items. The full set of 1 2 p(p – 1) = 190 non-redundant off-diagonal elements of Σx* can, therefore, be thought of as the covariance structure of the items within the population under investigation. Now, if, as we are presuming, the items happened to be two-dimensional in a linear factor analytic sense, i.e., Σx* = Λ*Λ*’ + Θ*, then it follows that Σx* – Θ* = Λ*Λ*’. What this implies is that if the researcher were to create a twodimensional plot in which each item j (j = 1..p) were positioned in accordance with the two values located in row j (j = 1..p) of Λ*, she would have created a plot in which the angular separations between items displayed therein were equal to the covariances contained in Σx*. Here lies the true (non-mythological) power of linear factor analysis: it is a tool that can produce, when certain empirical conditions obtain, low-dimensional graphical representations of the covariance structure of a set of variables. With respect to the current example, the fact that Σx* happens to equal Λ*Λ*’ + Θ* implies that it is possible to represent in a (scientifically very useful) two-dimensional graphical display, the 190 pieces of information that jointly constitute the covariance structure of the items of the PCL-R. Once again, however, the technology is mute with respect to the existence and structure of unobservable entities, such as those supposedly underlying psychopathy. The genetic basis of psychopathy A large body of psychopathy literature now makes references to genetic factors, genetic components, genetic effects, genotypic PD symptom data, genetic determinants of psychopathy, heritability, and the like. These references derive from twin studies, that is, quantitative investigations in which data are collected on each member of a set of mono- or dizygotic twins, raised either together or apart. For example, a study conducted by a British-Swedish team of researchers and published in the journal Psychological Medicine, explained that “a number of twin studies have examined the importance of genetic, shared environmental and non-shared environmental factors for

200  Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy

psychopathic personality traits and for antisocial behavior,” and that “these studies overall suggest that psychopathic personality is highly heritable and that environmental factors are of subordinate importance.”23 The authors applied structural equation modelling techniques to a sample of 1,480 teenage twin pairs in order to estimate certain heritability correlations. Their conclusion: “The genetic overlap between psychopathic personality traits and antisocial behaviour may reflect a genetic vulnerability to externalizing psychopathology.”24 Another team of researchers, whose 2011 study focused on what are known as the fearless-dominance (FD), and impulsive antisociality (IA), factors of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI), concluded that heritability coefficients calculated for these factors are typically in the .4 to .5 range. In this study, data from a large sample of adolescent twin pairs was analysed by structural equation modelling, the aim being to “extend current etiological models of psychopathy variants by incorporating mechanisms of gene-environment interplay.”25 Yet another research team heralded their 2005 study by suggesting that very little was known about the “genetic and environmental structure” or “underpinnings” of psychopathy,”26 a gap they aimed to fill by employing structural equation modelling to a sample of 626 seventeenyear-old twin pairs in order to estimate various “genetic associations,” and “genetic and environmental contributions to psychopathy personality traits.”27 Only a thing that exists can have a genetic basis. All of these references to genetic effects, genetic influences, and genetic correlations might well give the impression that a great deal is known about the genetic basis of psychopathy, hence, by implication, that psychopathy does in fact exist. So, is it true that researchers have made impressive advances in understanding the genetic basis of psychopathy? First, these references rest not on research into the operation of genes, but rather, on heritability coefficients calculated on the basis of data from twin studies. As we will explain, heritability and genetic determination are not at all the same thing. Second, the calculated heritability coefficients have no bearing on a thing called psychopathy, but rather on various composites of the items of psychological inventories such as the PCL-R. Let us consider these points in turn.

1. Heritability is not the same thing as genetic determination. The psychopathy researcher’s allusions to the genetic basis of psychopathy rest on calculations of heritability coefficients (and related correlations). But



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  201

if, by genetic basis, one means genetic determination, or something of that sort, then heritability is not at all the same thing as genetic basis. Here, in technical terms, is why: Let there be a quantitative trait, T, or in other words a trait on which each individual i in a particular population P receives a score. Examples include IQ, VO2max, height, and weight. Individual i’s value on T, say, Ti, is jointly determined by the individual’s genotype,28 Gi, and a vast array of environment factors,29 Ei, in accordance with a (virtually always unknown) function F(Gi, Ei). If it is a disease trait B that is in question (i.e., a binary [Y,N] trait for which a Y is indicative of an individual having the disease, and an N, not having it), then B can be treated as a threshold process wherein, if a corresponding quantitative trait T exceeds a threshold value, τT, B is equal to Y; else B is equal to N. By genetic basis (genetic determination) of Ti (Bi, if we are dealing with a disease trait), we mean nothing more or less than the particular, specific role that Gi played in determining, or bringing about, Ti. Analogously, by environmental determination, it is meant the specific role Ei played in bringing about the value Ti. Clearly, then, genetic and environmental determination has to do with the causal forces responsible for an individual’s phenotypic expression of a trait. Now, consider the distribution of T in population P. Let σT2 be the variance of this distribution, define σE2 to be E(V(T|G)), and σG2 to be σT2 – σE2 = V(E(T|G)). The parameter σT2 quantifies the dispersion or variability in the set of scores Ti over the population P. What, then, are the meanings of σE2 and σT2 ? Let us begin with σE2 . For each subpopulation, G = G*, of individuals possessing of highly similar genotypes, there will be a (conditional) distribution of scores on T, and, for each of these distributions, there will be a conditional mean, E(T|G*), and a conditional variance, V(T|G*) The conditional mean, E(T|G*), is simply the mean, or average, value of T for all of those individuals belonging to G*. That is, it is the average phenotypic expression, apropos trait T, of these genetically similar individuals. The conditional variance V(T|G*), on the other hand, quantifies the degree to which these genetically similar individuals vary with respect to their values on T (i.e., in respect to their phenotypic expressions). If, for a particular subpopulation G*, V(T|G*) happens to be equal to zero, the individuals who belong to G* have identical phenotypic expressions with regards to T (i.e., they do not vary with respect to their values Ti). On the other hand, because, within each subpopulation, G*,

202  Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy

individuals are genetically similar, a positive value of V(T|G*) can only be the result of the impacts upon these individuals of environmental factors E. Because the parameter σE2 is simply the average, over all subpopulations G*, of the conditional variances V(T|G*), it is called the variance in T due to environment. The parameter σG2 = σT2 – σE2 , on the other hand, is the complement of σE2 , and quantifies the degree to which the average phenotypic expressions E(T|G*) vary over all distinct subpopulations G*. It is, therefore, called the variance in T due to genotype. In contrast to the notion of genetic determination (that is, the role that an individual’s genotype plays in determining his or her value on T), heretability is a population level, or aggregate, quantity defined to be the proportion of the variance of T that comes from variability (over the individuals that comprise P) in genotypes. Heritability is, in other words, defined as σG2 /σT2 . Although, within the population of humans, the trait number of legs is almost entirely genetically determined (for, indeed, each individual’s full genotype contains genes that determine the number of legs that he will have to be two), the heritability of this trait is pretty much equal to zero.30 It is informative to consider why this is the case. Essentially, (a) σT2 is, in this case, a small, nonzero, number (humans do exist whose leg counts are less than two); (b) σT2 = σG2 + σE2 , hence, σT2 is determined by σG2 and σE2 , two non-negative numbers; (c) σE2 is positive, due to the fact that there is variability, within genetically similar subpopulations G*, a consequence of environmental factors such as amputation because of accident or for medical reasons; and (d) σG2 is essentially zero, because E(T|G*) varies only very little over distinct subpopulations G*. Let us pretend, for a moment, that there was a quantitative trait Tp, the scores on which quantified the amount of psychopathy possessed by each individual i in a particular population P.31 Then psycho­pathy research which calculated heritability coefficients with respect to Tp would have nothing at all to say about the genetic determinants, or basis, of the scores individuals receive on Tp. To know the genetic basis of scores individuals receive on Tp would require undertaking a program of genetic research, that is, an investigation whose aim is to reveal the loci harbouring the genetic variants that determine an individual’s standing with regards to Tp. A heritability coefficient in the .4 to .5 range, as mentioned before, would for example in no way mean that 40 per cent to 50 per cent of an individual’s standing on Tp was determined by his genetic makeup.



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  203

The calculation of heritability coefficients (and related correlations) of this sort would, at best, make a contribution to the estimation of the population-level quantity σG2 p/σT2 p known as the heritability of the trait Tp. We say “at best” because, as we will now argue, there are very sound reasons for believing that such heritability coefficients (and correlations) are virtually meaningless.

2. The calculated heritability coefficients are virtually meaningless. Let us pretend, once again, that there is a quantitative trait Tp, the scores on which quantify the amount of psychopathy possessed by each individual i in a particular population P. Although heritability is not the same thing as genetic determination, it might yet be a useful thing to estimate the heritability of Tp. For one thing, it is, as a geneticist would point out, “the relevant quantity for clinical risk assessment, because it measures our ultimate ability to predict phenotyope from genotype.”32 Now, geneticists possess methods for estimating heritability via a direct estimation of σG2 that rests on what they know about the genetic architectures that underlie certain, particular quantitative traits. Psychopathy researchers, on the other hand, are not in possession of any such knowledge. As we explained before, they have not found a gene or genes for psychopathy, and so they are not in possession of knowledge of the genetic architecture that underlies any such a putative trait Tp. Instead, they calculate heritability coefficients (and related correlations) derived on the basis of what is known as the standard biometric model, a model which goes all the way back to the early-twentieth century work of the British statistician R.A. Fisher (with contributions by, among others, Holzinger, Falconer, Jinks and Fulker, and Mather and Jinks).33 The standard biometric model portrays a quantitative trait T as a linear combination, or sum, of four (latent or unmeasured) variables, T = D + A + C + U,

(2)

in accordance with the following clarifications and side conditions: a) D stands for dominance genetic component, A, for additive genetic component, C, for common or shared environmental component, and U, for unique environmental component,34 b) E(D) = E(A) = E(C) = E(U) = 0;

204  Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy 2  σD   0 c) C(D, A, C, U) =   0  0 

0

0

σ2A

0

0

σC2

0

0

0   0   . 0  2  σU 

What side-condition (b) asserts is that the mean of each of the four latent variables is equal to zero. In (c) it is asserted that the latent variables are uncorrelated, and that each has a variance, as symbolized; i.e., 2 is the variance of the dominance genetic component, σA2 , the additive σD 2 genetic component, σC2 , the shared environmental component; and σU , the unique environmental component. 2 2 On the basis of the variance parameters [σD , σA2 , σC2 , σU ] defined under the standard biometric model, two distinct senses of heritability have traditionally been defined. The first is called broad heritability, is 2 defined to be σD + σA2 /σT2 , and is analogous to σG2 /σT2 .35 The second is called narrow heritability, is defined to be σA2 /σT2 , and is said to be scientifically important as a consequence of its role in the prediction of the response of an organism to selection.36 Imagine, now, that a researcher were in possession of the entire set of scores Ti, one for each individual belonging to population P. In this case, she would be able to calculate the population mean, µT, and variance, σT2 , of trait T. What would be needed, in order to calculate either 2 broad or narrow heritability, is an estimate of each of σD and σA2 [broad 2 heritability] or σA [narrow heritability]. The biometric model implies 2 2 that σT2 = σD + σA2 + σC2 + σU , and it follows that there is no way to recover the four variance parameters to the right of the equals sign on the basis of the single known parameter, σT2 , to the left. This, then, is the point at which twin data makes its entry onto the scene. Imagine that the researcher considers, instead, a population P of twins, either (a) monozygotic and reared together (MZT); (b) monozygotic and reared apart (MZA); (c) dizygotic and reared together (DZT); or (d) dizygotic and reared apart (DZA). Then the biometric model becomes T1 = D1 + A1 + C1 + U1 T2 = D2 + A2 + C2 + U2,

(3)

in which the subscripts identify the members of each twin pair, and in



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  205

respect to which the following additional side conditions are asserted: 2 2 2 2 2 2 d) σA2 1 = σA2 2 = σA2 , σD = σD = σD , σC2 1 = σC2 2 = σC2 , σU = σU = σU ; 1 2 1 2

e) The, now eight latent variables are uncorrelated except as follows;

C(D1, D2) = 1 (if MZ) = .25 (if DZ)



C(A1, A2) = 1 (if MZ) = .5 (if DZ)



C(C1, C2) = 1 (if T) = 0 (if A)

The biometric model – that is, the two linear equations (3) paired with side conditions (b) to (e) – implies certain, very particular things about the form of the two by two covariance (correlation) matrix of T1 and T2, under each of the four scenarios MZT, MZA, DZT, and DZA. It is these implications that lead to the various heritability coefficients that have been derived, and that are calculated and published by empirical scientists as estimates of broad or narrow heritability. In the first place, there are in circulation various traditional, heuristic coefficients, each of which is a function of the four correlations ρT1T2|MZT, ρT1T2|MZA, ρT1T2|DZT, and ρT1T2|DZA, (i.e., the correlations between T1 and T2 under each of the four scenarios). Thus an estimator of narrow heritability sometimes credited to Nichols,37 and derived under 2 the assumption that σD = 0, is 2(ρT1T2|MZT – ρT1T2|DZT).

(4)

Another, derived under the assumption that σC2 = 0, is 4ρT1T2|DZT – ρT1T2|MZT.

(5)

A commonly employed estimate of broad heritability is simply ρT1T2|MZA. Recently, these traditional, heuristic estimators have given way to estimation schemes that rest on the employment of structural equation modelling, and, as we saw, the heritability coefficients (and related correlations) calculated in the studies summarized earlier in this chapter were calculated as the outcomes of such modelling exercises. There is not, in any case, a need to become involved in the details of these various estimation strategies. The relevant point is that the heritability coefficients that have appeared in psychopathy research have been based on the standard biometric model.

206  Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy

It follows, then, that the heritability coefficients one encounters in the empirical work of psychopathy researchers are meaningful, and can be taken seriously as estimates of heritability, only to the extent that the standard biometric model is a reasonable approximation to nature, that is, to the function F(Gi, Ei). But it is clear that the standard biometric model is, in fact, wildly incorrect. Evidence of the model’s infelicity was originally piecemeal and anecdotal. In particular, (a) it was noted that the various heuristic coefficients that should have, under the model, yielded similar values of heritability, did not do so,38 and (b) heritabilities calculated for poorly understood psychological inventories were often suspiciously large and, even more suspiciously, larger than those of well-understood biological variables such as pig body weight, chicken egg production, and cow milk production.39 More recently, experts in quantitative genetics have spelled out in detail the ways in which the model misrepresents nature (by implication, the reasons why heritability coefficients derived from it cannot be taken seriously). We note several of these: (a) though the model is linear, F(Gi, Ei) is typically nonlinear. That is to say, as one team of researchers put it, “biology is filled with nonlinearity,”40 (b) side condition (d) is a mathematical expedient with no basis in reality, and (c) the model omits many factors now known to be important to the phenotypic expression of traits, including, but by no means restricted to, gene–environment correlations, gene–environment interactions, maternal effects, and epistatic (cross-loci gene) interactions. The psychopathy researcher’s employment of structural equation models to estimate heritability coefficients and related correlations is, in fact, a step more dubious, since in order to identify (render estimable) these models, she must drop one or more terms (typically, either D, C, or both) from the already inadequate standard biometric model.

3. Psychopathy ≠ psychological inventory. Up to now we have spoken about pretending that there was a quantitative trait Tp, the scores on which quantify the amount of psychopathy possessed by each individual i in a particular population P. We spoke in this way because there is in fact no such trait. What do exist are different psychological inventories that are purported, by the inventories’ developers and publishers, to scale individuals in respect to psychopathy. That is, if an entity called psychopathy existed, it would be possible to test people on the possession of that entity, in the same way it is possible to measure, say, the size of a tumour. In this case, there would be criteria against which



Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy  207

one’s measures could be tested – the tumour actually is of specific size, and it is possible to measure that size wrongly and be corrected by better evidence. In contrast, there is no benchmark against which to test one’s level of psychopathy (or any other personality trait for that matter); a person’s PCL-R score simply reflects multiple layers of convention: this is what psychopathy is, according to this measure, and these scores indicate this, etc., but of course there could be other definitions and other measures with different cut-off scores, and so on. As for the published literature on the genetic basis of psychopathy, one would do well to remember that, so long as the data has been collected on twins, a heritability coefficient can be calculated for any scored variable whatsoever, including those of absolutely no scientific merit, such as “length of left shoelace” or “number of times per month the word apoplexia is uttered.” To calculate a heritability coefficient for, say, the PCL-R is an unexceptional accomplishment, and the meaning of the coefficient itself is completely uncertain.

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Notes

Introduction   1 McCord & McCord (1964), p. 3.   2 Hare (1993), p. 1.   3 The highest population estimate is based on Martha Stout’s 2005 estimate that 4 per cent of the population was psychopathic. Paul Babiak and Robert Hare (2006) write that “They [psychopaths] are responsible for at least half of the persistent serious and violent crimes committed in North America” (p. 18). The economic cost of psychopaths is estimated by Kiehl & Buckholtz (2010).   4 Ronson (2011), p. 118.   5 Raine, quoted in Fischman (2011).   6 Robert Hare, quoted in Hercz (2001).   7 Stout (2005), p. 2.   8 Raine (1993), p. 292.   9 Quoted in Hergenhahn & Henley (2014), p. 305. 10 Kahn (2012), pp. 57, 35. 11 A 10 June 2014 PsycINFO gave 12,265 references to antisocial personality disorder, and only 5,099 to psychopathy. 12 Hare (1996b), p. 40. 13 Hare (1996b), p. 39. 14 A 10 June 2014 PsycINFO and Medline search with the search terms “psy­ cho­pathy and neuro*” and “antisocial personality disorder and neuro*”. 15 A 10 June 2014 PsycINFO search with the search terms “psychopathy and law” resulted in 657 citations, 13 per cent of all psychopathy citations. Six hundred and twenty eight citations referenced APD and law, making up 5 per cent of overall APD citations. (A Medline search resulted in 4 per cent

210  Notes to pages 15–21 law references for psychopathy, and 2per cent for APD. Medline gave far fewer law references for both psychopathy and APD). 16 See, for example, Pemment (2013). 17 Contemporary measures of psychopathy include the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (SRP-III), the MMPI Psychopathic Deviate (Pd) scale, the Psychopathic Personality In­ ventory (PPI-R), the Levenson Primary and Secondary Psychopathy Scales (LPSP), and different derivatives of the PCL-R. 18 Edens, Skeem, Cruise, & Cauffman (2001), p. 54; Fulero (1995), p. 454; Cooke & Michie (2001), p. 171; Meloy (2000b), p. 43. 1  The Moral Foundations of Psychopathy   1 Based on 4 July 2014 PsycINFO searches for “psychopathy” and “psycho­ pathy or antisocial personality disorder.”   2 Figures based on search of NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools with term search “psychopathy” on 13 January 2013. Note that psycho­ pathy may not be the primary focus of research in each study.   3 Figures based on SSHRC site search with “psychopathy” as project   keyword.   4 The researcher is Kent Kiehl. Kiehl’s mobile MRI unit was described in Hagerty (2010). Kiehl, a University of New Mexico researcher, also holds nearly $6.8 million in grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health alone for psychopathy research. These figures are based on an NIH Re­ search Portfolio Online Reporting Tools search with search term “psycho­ pathy” and principal investigator “Kiehl, Kent” for fiscal years 2005–10.   5 Hare (2003).   6 Forth, Kosson, & Hare (2003).   7 Hart, Cox, & Hare (1995).   8 Hare & Hervé (1999).   9 http://www.hare.org/training/workshops.html 10 Lilienfeld & Widows (2005). 11 Andershed, Kerr, Stattin, & Levander (2002). 12 Frick & Hare (2001). 13 Lynam (1997). 14 Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick (1995). 15 Paulhus, Hemphill, & Hare (2009). 16 Kreis, Cooke, Michie, Hoff, & Logan (2012). 17 Hare (1998b), p. 189. 18 Blair, Mitchell, & Blair (2005), p. 12.



Notes to pages 21–33  211

19 Lykken (1995), p. 113; McCord (1982), p. 4; Skilling, Quinsey, & Craig (2001), p. 450; Harris, Rice, & Quinsey (1994), p. 387; Richards (1998),   p. 69. 20 Gagono (2000), p. xviii. 21 Standard narratives of psychopathy can be found in for example Arrigo & Shipley (2001); Maughs (1941); McCord & McCord (1964, 1982); Millon, Simonsen, & Birket-Smith (1998); and Werlinder, 1978. 22 Cleckley (1976). 23 Hare (2003). 24 The diagnostic features are under copyright and cannot be described here. However, the items can be freely accessed in, for example, Hare et al. (1990); Hare (1998c); and Kiehl (2014). See our discussion on copyright issues in chapter 7. 25 Hare & Neumann (2008). 26 Quoted in Mukherjee (2010), p. 40. 27 Cleckley (1982), p. 264. 28 Rush (1839), p. 1. 29 Quoted in Spiegel & Suskind (1995), p. 587. 30 Rush (1839), p. 1. 31 Carlson, Wollock, & Noel (1981), p. 461. 32 Rush (1839), p. 27. 33 Rush (1839), p. 475. 34 Quoted in Ewen & Ewen (2006), p. 51. 35 Quoted in Ewen & Ewen (2006), p. 48. 36 Quoted in Ewen & Ewen (2006), p. 101. 37 Quoted in Belkin (1996), p. 607. 38 McCord & McCord (1964), p. 3. 39 The mind (2002). 40 Stockley (2011). 41 Stout (2005), p. 12. 42 Stone (1993), p. 451; Rieber & Vetter (1994), p. 13; Pethman & Erlandsson (2002), p. 35; Hare (1993), p. 9; Meloy & Gacono (1998), p. 95; Simon (1996), p. 46. 43 Cleckley (1955), p. 414. 44 Cleckley (1955), p. 23. 2  The First Golden Age: Degeneration   1 Quoted in Maughs (1941), p. 339.   2 Quoted in Pick (1989), p. 12.

212  Notes to pages 34–45   3   4   5   6   7   8

  9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

Quoted in Burrow (2000), p. 99. Quoted in Poole (2011), p. 97. Leps (1992). Asma (2009). Hirsch (1896); Gelb (1995); Nye (1984). From Criminal Man According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso (1911/1972), pp. 135–6, a summary translation of Lombroso’s work by his daughter Gina Lombroso-Ferrero. Quoted in Hirsch (1896), pp. 118–19. Lombroso-Ferrero (1911/1972), pp. xxiv–xxv. Darwin (1871), pp. 326–7. Starr (2010). Lombroso (1884/2006); Horn (2006). Burrow (2000). Quoted in Horn (2006). Quoted in Hacking (2001), p. 148. Lombroso (1884/2006), p. 221. Quoted in Pick (1989), p. 28. Quoted in Maughs (1941), p. 466. Hirsch (1896), p. 130. Quoted in Millon et al. (1998), p. 9. Lombroso (1884/2006), p. 218. Robins, Tipp, & Pryzbeck (1991); Smith, Golding, Kashner, & Rost (1991); Swanson, Bland, & Newman (1994); Dahl (1998); Knop, Jensen, & Mortensen (1998); Vaglum (1998); Dorr (1998); Williamson, Cooper, Howell, Yuille, & Paulhus (2009); Spidel et al. (2006); Patrick (2007). Ragatz, Fremouw, Thomas, & McCoy (2009). Dahl (1998), p. 292. Vaglum (1998), p. 338. Lindner (1944), p. 10. McCord & McCord (1964), p. 14. Hare (1970), p. 32. Grisolía (2001), p. 79. Meloy (2002), pp. 68–9. Robinson (2010). Rieber & Vetter (1994), p. 1; Rieber & Vetter (1994), p. 7; Hare (2001), p. 21; McCord & McCord (1964). Hare (1993), p. 113. These suggested diagnoses have been made by Paul Babiak & Robert Hare



Notes to pages 46–56  213

(2006), Hervey Cleckley (1976), David Lykken (2007), McCord & McCord (1964), David Henderson (in McCord & McCord, 1964), and W. LangeEichbaum (in McCord & McCord, 1964). 36 Hacking (2001), p. 145. 3  The Second Golden Age: Psychopathy   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9 10 11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20 21 22

23

McArthur & Freeze (2010). Austen & Carey (2010). Faubert (2010). Rankin & Contenta (2010). Simpson (2011). Babiak, quoted in Votruba & Dejcmar (2011). Adapted from Gibb (2011), p. 180 McIlroy & Anderssen (2010), p. F1. What makes a psychopath? (2010). Patriquin et al. (2010). Faubert (2010). Booth (2010). Schug (2011). The Simon Fraser University psychologist Stephen Hart in an interview with CTV on 19 October 2010. Klismet, quoted in Gibb (2011), p. 519. Klismet did go on to say “and, in reality, he didn’t want [emphasis original] to do anything about it.” This, however, is so logically baffling that it merits no further analysis here. Hazelwood, quoted in Gibb (2011), p. 482. Klismet, quoted in Gibb (2011), p. 499. Quoted in Robinson (1986), p. 372. Robinson (1986), pp. 372–3. McIlroy & Anderssen (2010), p. F4. Meffert, Gazzola, den Boer, Bartels, & Keysers (2013). A 6 June 2014 Medline search with search terms “psychopathy” and “neu­ ro*”. A PsychINFO search shows 55 per cent of the publications occurring since 2000. We have chosen to report Medline results, since Medline gives significantly more total hits (1,202) than PsycINFO (473). A 5 December 2012 NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools search of active funded projects, project term: psychopathy. In 2011–12, NIH funded thirty such projects. Not all were relevant to either neurobiological or environmental/social correlates, and were excluded from our analysis.

214  Notes to pages 56–62

24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

48

49 50 51

Research on 6 June 2014 research found twenty NIH-funded research stud­ ies for 2013–14. Not all of these studies were relevant to either environ­ ment or neurobiology. Evenson (2003), Henderson (2009), Brain imbalance (2010). Blair, quoted in Purdie (2002). Lehrer (2010). Singer, quoted in Hingston (2012); Taylor (2011). Ray (1838/1962). Quoted in Belkin (1996), p. 594. Quoted in Belkin (1996), p. 594. Quoted in Belkin (1996), p. 603. DeMatteo & Edens (2006); DeMatteo et al. (2013). Otto & Heilbrun (2002). DeMatteo & Edens (2006); DeMatteo et al.(2013). Viljoen, MacDougall, Gagnon, & Douglas (2010). Aspinwall, Brown, & Tabery (2012). Aspinwall et al. (2012), p. 847. Glenn, Raine, & Laufer, (2011), p. 303. McIlroy & Anderssen (2010), p. F4. Hagerty (2010). Raine (2008). Murphy (1972), p. 293. Fine & Kennett (2004), p. 440. Levy (2010), p. 224. Duff (2010), p. 209. Gillett (2010), pp. 295, 296. The most commonly cited experimental evidence includes psychopaths’ performance in the moral/conventional distinction task, fear conditioning, and facial affect recognition tasks. Contrary to what a number of philoso­ phers have claimed, the data from these experiments is inconclusive, and do not support the theory that psychopaths suffer from cognitive, rational, or emotional impairments. For a review of the data and their relevance to the responsibility discourse, see Jalava & Griffiths (in press). To be fair, some philosophers came to the opposite conclusion, usually because psychopaths (or people with antisocial personality disorder) show intact reasoning. See, for example, Campbell (1992); McSherry (1999); and Schopp & Slain (2000). Hare (1996a), p. 49. Hare (1993), p. 22. Hare (1998b), p. 205.



Notes to pages 62–75  215

52 Others promoting this distinction include Shoemaker (2011) and Litton (2008). 53 Levy (2011), p. 1302; pp. 1305–6. 4  The Politics of Psychopathy   1 Hare (1993), p. 2.   2 Youth violent crime in Canada, though, declined at slower rates than in the U.S. Between 2001 and 2011, youth crime severity in Canada decreased a modest 3 per cent, and actually saw some increases since the 1990s (Bren­ nan, 2012).   3 Douglas & Olshaker (1998), p. 35.   4 Aamodt (2012).   5 Ressler, Burgess, & Douglas (1988).   6 Jarvis (2007).   7 Douglas & Olshaker (1995), p. 23.   8 Freedman (1987).   9 Quoted in Freedman (1987), p. 94. 10 Levin & Fox (1985), pp. 229–30. 11 Meloy (2000a), p. 7. 12 Ressler, Burgess, & Douglas (1995), p. ix. 13 Ressler et al. (1995), p. 123. 14 Hauser (2006), p. 234. 15 O’Toole (2007), p. 322. 16 U.S. Department of Justice (2012). 17 Rafter (2008), p. 203. 18 MacMillan & Kofoed (1984). 19 Mealey (1995). 20 Serin et al. (2011), p. 60. 21 Lalumière, Mishra, & Harris (2008). 22 Whitfield (2011). 23 Daly & Wilson (1988). This study, though, did not reference psychopathy. 24 Krupp, Sewall, Lalumière, Sheriff, & Harris (2012). 25 Roth (2009). 26 See, for example, Judt (2010). 27 Gallup (2014). 28 Waiton (2008). The preceding discussion on community safety and anti­ social behaviour is also mainly based on Waiton. 29 Gould (1996), p. 28. 30 Gould (1996), pp. 31–2.

216  Notes to pages 76–84 31 32 33 34

Herrnstein & Murray (1994), pp. 22–3. For example, Hare (1993). http://www4.parinc.com/Products/Product.aspx?ProductID=PPI-R Babiak & Hare (2006), see p. 199, and pp. 192–3. According to Hare, some critics of psychopathy believe that just by giving criminals “a hug, a puppy dog, and a musical instrument … they’re all going to be okay” (Hercz, 2001).

5  The Adjustable Psychopathy Portfolio   1 MSNBC (6 June 2006).   2 Babiak, Neumann, & Hare (2010). Note that this was not exactly a study of corporate psychopathy, as the researchers omitted two PCL-R items (revo­ cation of conditional release and criminal versatility), and prorated the remaining items.   3 Cangemi & Pfohl (2009).   4 Christopher Bayer, quoted in Decovny (2012).   5 Hare (2012).   6 British research suggests (2007).   7 Board & Fritzon (2005).   8 Wilson & McCarthy (2011).   9 MacDonald (2002); Utton (2004); Hogben (2004); and George (2006). 10 Morse (2004). 11 Stout (2005); Kantor (2006); Daynes & Fellowes (2011); Boddy (2011a); and Schouten & Silver (2012). 12 Cleckley (1941), p. 136. 13 Hare (1993), p. 113. 14 For example, Yang, Raine, Colletti, Toga, & Narr (2010). 15 See, for example, Hervé (2007b). 16 Quoted in Votruba & Dejcmar (2011). 17 Creswell & Thomas (2009). 18 Quoted in Deutschman (2005). 19 For example, Hall & Benning (2007); Skeem, quoted in Rico (2012); and LeMon (2012). 20 Babiak & Hare (2006). 21 Quoted in Utton (2004). 22 At the time of writing (April 2014), the B-Scan Purchase website (http:// www.b-scan.com/Purchase.htm) contains the following notice: “A com­ mercial version of the B-Scan is not available for purchase at this time. If you are interested in being contacted when the B-Scan is available, we will gladly add your email to our follow-up list.”



Notes to pages 84–93  217

23 All of this is available on Babiak’s website www.hrbackoffice.com 24 Quoted in Achbar & Abbott (2003). It should be noted that this was not the first time someone diagnosed corporations as psychopaths. At least one writer, the Oregon State University psychologist Michael Levenson (1992), has made the same diagnosis. 25 Quoted in Achbar & Abbott (2003). 26 Boddy (2011b) p. 257. 27 Boddy (2011b), p. 258. 28 Carozza (2008). 29 Babiak & Hare (2006), p. 90. 30 Cangemi & Pfohl (2009); Sanford & Arrigo (2007). 31 Quoted in Beveridge (2003), p. 603. 32 Hartley (n.d.); Jonason, Webster, Schmitt, Li, & Crysel (2012). 33 Posner (2012), p. F3. 34 Lilienfeld et al. (2012). 35 Whittell (n.d.). 36 Quoted in Ronson (2011), p. 113. 37 Kouri (2009). 38 Seabrook (2008). 39 Ronson (2011). 40 Daynes (2012). 41 Woodworth et al. (2012), p. 31. 42 One study found no difference in subjects’ ability to detect lies in face-toface and computer-mediated communications. See Hancock, Woodworth, & Goorha (2010). For criminal profiling and social networking see, for ex­ ample, Woodworth et al. (2012). 43 Florida Atlantic University (n.d.). 44 Is not joining (2012). 45 Daynes (2012). 46 Hare (1993), p. xii. 47 Stout (2005). Stout estimates are difficult to evaluate, since she uses psychopathy synonymously with sociopathy and the more prevalent anti­ social personality disorder. 48 For example, Ogloff (2006). 49 For example, Hare (1993); Dutton (2012); and Kiehl (2014). 50 Douglas & Olshaker (1998), p. 37. 51 The debate over the proper cut-off score for a psychopathy diagnosis is ongoing. Robert Hare discusses the inherent arbitrariness of setting a PCL-R cut-off score, and suggests alternative ways of getting around the problem, such as converting the scores into percentiles or grouping ranges of scores into descriptive categories. This is a step in the right direction. In

218  Notes to pages 94–100

52 53 54

55

56

general, as understanding of psychological traits and disorders increases, their classification moves from dichotomy (you either do or do not have the trait or disorder) to continua (you have more or less of it). For example, the DSM-5 now includes, in section III, a hybrid dimensional-categorical classification system of personality disorders (for extended discussions on personality disorder dimensionality, see volume 19(2) of Journal of Personality Disorders), or http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Personality%20 Disorders%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf for a brief review. We discuss the logic of viewing psychopathy as a categorical entity in chapter 9, and the rhetorical meaning of variable cut-off scores in chapter 7. Wolman (1999), pp. 133, 149, 122. Quoted in Dutton (2012). In Snakes in Suits, Babiak and Hare (2006) attended to the other conserva­ tive mainstay – justice, in the form of tougher punishments – by com­ menting on three corporate psychopaths (Paul Coffin, David Radler, and an unnamed physician) whose sentences the writers thought were too light. The idea that mental illness can be the source of both extraordinary suffering – or in the case of psychopathy, extraordinary suffering of others – and extraordinary achievement is not exclusive to psychopathy. The an­ thropologist Emily Martin notes, for example, that attention deficit hyper­ activity disorder has been cited as the source of success in the lives of such people as Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Bill Clinton. Theodore Roosevelt, Robin Williams, Ted Turner, and Vincent van Gogh have similarly “benefited” from manic depression (Martin, 2006). Dutton (2012), p. 192.

6  The Culture of Psychopathy   1 We are not saying that public misperceptions about psychopathy advance the science of psychopathy. Our argument is simply that public interest – even if public understanding is misguided in some details – is an engine of growth for the psychopathy idea. Interestingly, psychopathy experts very rarely address the many public misconceptions and exaggerations about psychopathy. In fact, as we will show here, they are often encouraged by the experts.   2 Frank (1998), p. 10.   3 Frank (1998), p. 10.   4 Slotkin (1973).   5 Leland (2005), p. 227.

  6   7   8   9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

24 25 26

27 28 29 30

31 32

Notes to pages 101–12  219 Mailer (1957/1969), p. 3, 2, 2–3. Derber (1996), p. 24. Smith (1978), p. 115. Stamos (2011). Levenson (1992), p. 62. Gottschalk (2000), p. 36. Sheridan (2011). Haggerty (2009), p. 180. Cohen (1996), p. 17. Babiak & Hare (2006), p. 46. Stout (2005), p. 2. Daniels (n.d.). Dutton (2012), p. xv, 30. Dutton (2012), p. 4. Seltzer (2007), p. 16. DeFife (2010), p. 5. Michael C. Hall + Kevin Dutton (2012). Jonason, Li, Webster, & Scmitt (2009). A rather unsurprising finding since promiscuous sexual behaviour is already contained in the PCL-R defin­ ition (the present study, though, used a different measure of psychopathy). Wheeler, Book, & Costello (2009). Dutton (2012), p. 30. This is, of course, wrong in a number of ways. An actual psychopath is probably the last person the forum wants to attract. Taxonomic accuracy, however, is not what the forum is about. It is run by Experience Project, and the chat groups are subscriber generated. The groups include “I Am Not a Vampire,” “I’m a Werewolf,” and “I Love Pasta.” Spending time with a psychopath (2010). Thomas (2013), back cover, p. 55, p. 22. Thomas (2013), p. 3. To his credit, Edens conceded this very problem while wondering about Thomas’s motives. Thomas writes, “The diagnostic tests were designed to be administered with a healthy dose of skepticism. But what to do with an individual who seems to have an incentive to be diagnosed a sociopath? Several times he [Edens] noted how I could possibly be tricking him by lying to him to make myself seem more sociopathic than I was, but he had to admit that lying for the purpose of self-aggrandizement was also con­ sistent with sociopathy” (Thomas, 2013, p. 56). The psychopath test (2011). Dutton (n.d.).

220  Notes to pages 115–21 7  The Language of Persuasion   1 Kantor (2006), p. 1.   2 Porter, ten Brinke, & Wilson (2009), pp. 109–10. References given in this passage are omitted.   3 We say “almost by definition” because many of the studies compare psychopathic offenders with non-psychopathic offenders. It is possible to be a violent recidivist without being a psychopath, and it is possible – though difficult – to score above thirty on the PCL-R without an exten­ sive criminal record. Here is, though, an interesting rhetorical technique used by Robert Hare: when it comes to proving the clinical importance of psychopathy, he typically references the criminal proficiency of psycho­ paths. However, when he is challenged on the circularity problem, he em­ phasizes that psychopathy is essentially about personality style and about antisociality in general, with crime merely a byproduct of the two (see Hare & Neumann, 2010).   4 Levenson et al. (1995).   5 In Forth & Burke (1998), p. 213.   6 Recently, however, neuroscientists have begun to criticize their colleagues for exaggerating the significance of their studies. This movement, some­ times termed “neuro-skepticism,” has also spilled onto popular media. See, for example, Gopnik (2013).   7 Hare in Millon, Simonsen, Birket-Smith, & Davis (1998), pp. 188–9.   8 Martens (2000), p. 406.   9 Kishiyama, Boyce, Jimenez, Perry, & Knight (2009). 10 Inzlicht, McGregor, Hirsh, & Nash (2009). 11 Zamboni, Gozzi, Krueger, Duhamel, Sirigu, & Grafman (2009). 12 It can be argued that medical terminology is justified, because psycho­ pathy is a mental disorder, fulfilling the following mental disorder criteria: statistical infrequency; violations of moral and ideal standards; increased risk of disability, dysfunction, or loss of freedom (by way of incarcera­ tion and criminal involvement); and observer discomfort. This argument, however, has two major problems: (1) the above criteria are not strictly about things “mental,” but simply reflect immoral behaviour, its statistical frequency, and society’s responses to it and (2) the fact that psychopathy meets these criteria is simply a definitional matter. The term “psycho­ pathy” merely describes people. In contrast, medical disorders go beyond description, and provide explanations for observed events. For a fuller treatment of this point, see Jalava (2007). 13 Hare (1998a).



Notes to pages 121–3  221

14 Edens (2006). 15 Edens (2006), pp. 1088–9. For similar cases and analyses see, for example, DeMatteo & Edens (2006). 16 Hare (1998a), p. 106. 17 http://www.hare.org/scales/pclr.html 18 The PCL-R publisher, Multi-Health Systems Inc., lists the following re­ quirement for the test’s purchase on its website: “Purchasers of (b) level tests must have completed graduate level courses in tests/measurement or have received equivalent documented training. Purchasers of (c) level tests [the PCL-R is a C-level test] must meet (b) qualifications, and must have training and/or experience in the use of tests, and have completed an advanced degree in an appropriate profession (e.g., psychology, psych­ iatry). Additionally, depending on State requirements, membership in a relevant professional organization (e.g., APA), or a state license/certificate in psychology or psychiatry may be necessary. The Purchaser Qualifica­ tion Form should be completed by the person who will be using the test materials. Graduate students must have this form endorsed by a qualified supervising faculty member, who must also complete a separate Qualifica­ tion Form (c level tests cannot be purchased by graduate students).” 19 Inmate Welfare Committee, William Head Institute v. Canada (Attorney General), 2003, FC 870. 20 Hare (1998a), p. 112. 21 That psychopathy predicts such things as violence and criminal recidivism does not offer proof for the proposition that psychopathy is a biologically based disorder. Poverty, say, is a relatively robust predictor of violence, but such prediction does not say anything about the causes of poverty (see, for example, Loeber et al. [2005], for prediction of violence in young males). Measures of psychopathy, of course, differ significantly from other means of predicting crime. While there is nothing unique about a psychological test that predicts – imperfectly – criminal and violent behaviour (one test publisher, Multi-Health Systems, alone lists fifteen scales that in one way or another predict offending), the other predictive tools do not come with psychopathy’s rhetoric of dangerous knowledge. The difference between these tools and psychopathy is that only the latter presents the level of risk by way of a diagnosis. That is, only psychopathy couches the risk assess­ ment in terms of the client’s central identity; the others typically state only the relative risk of reoffending, sometimes adding recommendations for offender management. Accordingly, these tests are not subject to the same levels of mystique and ontological speculation as psychopathy, nor do they command the same level of research funding and popular interest.

222  Notes to pages 123–33 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43

44 45 46

47 48 49 50 51

Cleckley (1982), p. 264. Wallace (2001), p. 44. Hercz (2001). Quoted in Basu (2006). Hare (1993), p. 185. Kiehl (2014), p. 36–7. Hare (1996a), p. 27. Cleckley (1976), p. 335. Cooke (1998), p. 262. Lykken (2007), p. 11. Dutton (2012), p. 85. University of Leicester (2013). Hooley, Neale, & Davison (1989), p. 29. Kiehl (2014), p. 37. Clarke (n.d.). Quoted in Hall (2012). Quoted in Hall (2012). Hall (2012). Hall (2012). Cleckley (1941), p. 259. Babiak et al. (2010), p. 180. The study’s authors, Paul Babiak, Craig Neumann, and Robert Hare, use the terms “psychopathy,” “corporate psychopathy,” and “psychopathic traits” interchangeably throughout the paper. Only the last two are tech­ nically correct, assuming that “corporate psychopathy” by definition ex­ cludes the omitted items. Hare (1970), p. 12 Hare (2007), p. 11 Day & Wong (1996), p. 648; Levenston, Patrick, Bradley, & Lang (2000),   p. 373; Kosson, Suchy, Mayer, & Libby (2002), p. 409; Salekin & Lynam (2010), p. 32; Hiatt, Lorenz, & Newman, (2002), p. 1266; Verona, Patrick, Curtin, Bradley, & Lang, (2004), p. 107; Harpur, Hakstian, & Hare, (1988),   p. 746. Williamson, Harpur, & Hare (1991), p. 271; Cooke & Michie (1997), pp. 12–13; Blair et al. (2005), p. 12. In Votruba & Dejcmar (2011). Quoted in Hercz (2001). There is no agreed-upon single name for the theory. We use “emotional deficit theory” as a shorthand. Kosson et al. (2002), p. 398.



Notes to pages 134–42  223

52 Johns & Quay (1962), p. 217. 53 This circularity, however, does not apply to emotions not included in the diagnostic features. These proposed emotions include fear and sadness. For a review of research on the emotional deficit theories, see Brook, Brie­ man, & Kosson (2013). 54 See Brook, Brieman & Kosson (2013) for a review of the data. 55 Kiehl, Smith, Mendrek, Forster, Hare, & Liddle (2004), pp. 306–7. 56 Quoted in Steele (2011). 57 The full title is “Hungry like the wolf: A word-pattern analysis of language of psychopaths” (Hancock, Woodworth, & Porter, 2011). 8  Neurobiology and Psychopathy   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9 10

Quoted in MacMillan (2000), pp. 92–3. Damasio, Grabowski, Frank, Galaburda & Damasio (1994), p. 1104. Quoted in Hervé (2007a), p. 32. Kiehl (2006), p. 110. Gao, Glenn, Schug, Yang, & Raine (2009), p. 813. Fumagalli & Priori (2012), p. 2008 Kiehl & Buckholtz (2010), p. 26. See, for example, Kiehl (2006). See, for example, Hare (1970). Lykken (1957). The study divided subjects into “primary sociopaths” (psychopaths with “neither neurotic motivations, hereditary taint, nor dis­ social nurture,” and matched Cleckley’s criteria for psychopathy), “neur­ otic sociopaths,” and “normal” (university and high school students). In our discussion we refer to the first group as psychopaths. 11 Bartol & Bartol (2011), p. 197. 12 Bartol & Bartol (2011), p. 9. 13 Hare (1966), p. 27. After discussing this inability of psychopaths to experi­ ence the negative emotions related to the anticipation of punishment, Hare offered a different explanation for his findings. Noting that almost half of the psychopaths (five out of twelve) chose a mixture of 50 per cent immediate and 50 per cent delayed punishment, he suggested that their responses could have reflected their attempts “to manipulate” or “con” the experimenters. In other words, the psychopath may be able to control the amount of overt and autonomic emotionality displayed in a variety of social situations” (p. 28). So, either psychopaths lack normal fear responses or they have exceptional control over them. This foreshadows the capacity of the psychopathy concept to explain apparently contradictory findings –

224  Notes to pages 142–6

14 15 16

17 18 19 20

21

22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

either deficient or excessive neurobiological activity could be the cause of psychopathy. Hare (1966). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2011/05/26/136619689/can-a-testreally-tell-whos-a-psychopath Hare’s assumption of an untreatable biological trait unique to psycho­ pathy is also inconsistent with how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) describes criminality. While psychopathy is not included in the manual, Antisocial Personality Dis­ order (APD) reflects many of the same characteristics. APD is diagnosed using behavioural criteria, which suggests that it (and other personality disorders) can respond to treatment. In fact, the fifth edition of the DSM, published in 2013, acknowledged that it may be very difficult to distin­ guish between personality disorders and other mental health conditions such as major depression. Hare (1968), p. 14; Hare (1968) also reviews the mixed findings of previous studies. Mawson & Mawson (1977). Aniskiewicz (1979), p. 60. Cleckley (1941). Cleckley connected primary psychopathy with emotional vacancy (which he called “semantic dementia”). Robert Hare himself drew upon the subtyping tradition, making a distinction between two factors or aspects of psychopathy – callous lack of emotion and poor behavioural controls – when he published the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) in 1980. Hare and others (e.g., Harpur, Hakstian, & Hare, 1988) imply that biologic­ ally based, callous lack of emotion is the purest form of psychopathy, and hence it is what we should focus on. Secondary or environmental causes of poorly controlled behaviour are far less important. It should be noted that other psychophysiological measures, such as rest­ ing EEG abnormalities (see Hare, 1970) have likewise defied coherent explanation (Salley, Khanna, Byrum, & Hutt, 1980). Studies of psycho­ physiological responses find abnormalities that are neither consistent nor coherently explicable. Hare, Hart, & Harpur (1991). Shumskaya (1984). Williamson, Harpur, & Hare (1991), p. 271. See Sah, Marek, Strobel, & Bredy (2013) for a recent review. Pujara & Koenigs (2014); Seara-Cardoso & Viding (2014). Kiehl (2014), p. 262. For a review see Weber, Habel, Amunts, & Schneider (2008). For a further review, see Gao et al. (2009).

30 31 32 33 34

35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46

47

48 49 50 51

Notes to pages 146–54  225 Reniers Corcoran, Völlm, Mashru, Howard, & Liddle (2012). Blair (2007); Blair (2008). Marsh et al. (2011). Raine et al. (2003). Raine et al. (2003), p. 1140. He was less cautious in subsequent articles, where he and his co-authors stated that “increased prefrontal white mat­ ter may lead to faster sharing of information, which facilitates lying and malingering” (Gao et al., 2009), p. 815. This interpretation echoes Hare’s theory that psychopaths either lack normal emotional experience or exer­ cise exceptional control over their emotions for nefarious purposes. Kiehl (2006). Deeley et al. (2006). Retrieved from http://www.kcl.ac.uk/iop/news/records/2012/May/ The-antisocial-brain.aspx Gao et al. (2009), p. 815. Grahn & Rowe (2009). Maguire, Woollet, & Spiers (2006). Mackey, Whitaker, & Bunge (2012). Soares & Mann (1997), p. 86. Brunoni, Lopes, & Fregni (2008), p. 1177. See Morgan & Lilienfeld (2000) for a meta-analytic review. Blair, Peschardt, Budhani, Mitchell, & Pine (2006). See Morgan & Lilienfeld (2000), who conducted a meta-analysis of clinical tests of executive abilities in psychopaths and found heterogeneous ef­ fect sizes. Extensively cited studies such as Newman, Patterson & Kosson (1987) have reported striking “response perseveration” (p. 145) in psycho­ paths (i.e., psychopaths persist with an ineffective strategy despite clear evidence of failure). However, their experimental task, tapping the “ability to modulate … response set in accord with changing environmental condi­ tions” (p. 145), was not a standardized clinical test of executive dysfunc­ tion. Hence, it does not provide clinical (i.e., behavioural) evidence of prefrontal dysfunction. We set aside the fact here that hypoactivity is not universally reported in the literature. This question will be answered in the same way whether neurological abnormalities are perfectly consistent or not. Müller et al. (2003); Pujara & Koenigs (2014); Seara-Cardose & Viding (2014). See, for instance, Blair, Peschardt, Budhani, Mitchell, & Pine (2006). See Miller & Cummings (2007) for a review of frontal lobe function and dysfunction. Feinstein, Rudrauf, Khalsa, Cassell, Bruss, Grabowski, & Tranel. (2010).

226  Notes to pages 154–9 52 Steiner, Silverman, Karnik, Huemer, Plattner, Clark, & Blair (2011), p. 21. 53 Brower & Price (2001), p. 720. 54 See, for example, Mitchell, Avny, & Blair (2006) and Barrash, Tranel, & An­ derson (2000). 55 Gao et al. (2009); Buckholtz et al. (2010). 56 Buckholtz et al. (2010). 57 Raine, Lee, Yang & Colletti (2010), p. 186. 58 Raine et al. (2010). 59 Bodensteiner, Schaefer, & Craft (1998). 60 Swayze et al. (1997). 61 Trzesniak et al. (2011); Nopoulos, Krie, & Andreasen (2000). 62 Trzesniak et al. (2011). 63 Blair, Peschardt, Budhani, Mitchell, & Pine, (2006), p. 262. 64 Spending time with a psychopath (2010). 65 Hunter (2010), p. 667–8. 66 Buckholtz & Meyer-Lindenberg, (2008), p. 120. 67 Salekin & Lynam, (2010). 68 Glenn (2011). 69 Buckholtz & Meyer-Lindenberg (2008). 70 See Gunter, Vaughn, & Philibert (2010) for a review of molecular genetic studies in those with antisocial spectrum disorders (a broader category including not only psychopathy but also antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder, substance use disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and assorted measures of impulsivity). In addition to MAOA, a gene controlling a serotonin transporter protein (5HTT) has received considerable attention in psychopathy research. Low-activity short alleles correspond to higher levels of serotonin in the synapse and, as with low activity MAOA, are correlated with impulsivity. 71 Brunner, Nelen, Breakefield, Ropers, & van Oost (1993), p. 579. 72 Brunner, Nelen, Breakefield, Ropers, & van Oost (1993), p. 579. 73 Cases et al. (1995), p. 1766. 74 Newman et al. (2005). 75 Newman et al. (2005), p. 171. Hence, MAOA alleles appear to be related to all kinds of “normal” aggression, not just the impulsive outbursts docu­ mented by Brunner. In this way, MAOA becomes an “aggression gene” that is not necessarily pathological, which parallels the contemporary meme of psychopathy as ubiquitous and sometimes advantageous. The critical importance of environmental context is lost because it is de-empha­ sized in the neurobiological theory of psychopathy. 76 Caspi et al. (2002); Kim-Cohen, Caspi, Taylor, Williams, Newcombe, Craig, & Moffitt (2006).



Notes to pages 159–66  227

  77 Kendler (2005).   78 Merriman & Cameron (2007).   79 Gibbons (2004), p. 818.   80 Stålenheim, von Knorring, & Oreland (1997); Stålenheim (2004).   81 See, for example, Frazzetto et al. (2007).   82 Cerda, Sagdeo, Johnson, & Galea (2010).   83 Cicchetti, Rogosch, & Sturge-Apple (2007).   84 Gizer, Ficks, & Waldman (2009).   85 Preisig et al. (2000).   86 Klintschar & Heimbold (2012).   87 Wallmeier et al. (2013).   88 Ojeda, Nino, Lopez-Leon, Camargo, Adan, & Forero (2013).   89 Beaver & Holtfreter (2009).   90 Kendler (2005), p. 1250.   91 Kendler (2005), p. 1243.   92 For example, see Hart & Rubia (2012).   93 Blair (2008).   94 Literature reviews – Seara-Cardoso & Viding (2014) and Pujara & Koenigs (2014) – fully describe the inconsistencies in psychopathy-related amyg­ dala dysfunction.   95 Gullhaugen & Nøttestad (2012).   96 Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/  120713122925.htm   97 Spending time with a psychopath (2010).   98 Gullhaugen & Nøttestad (2012).   99 Weiler & Widom (1996), p. 266. 100 Kotowicz (2007), p. 124; pp. 123–4. 101 Kotowicz (2007), p. 125. 9  Conclusion: The Parlour Game     1 Quoted in Poythress & Petrila (2010), p. 4.     2 The paper appeared in Psychological Assessment (Skeem & Cooke, 2010).     3 Carey (2010).     4 Poythress & Petrila (2010).     5 Franklin (2010).     6 Hiller (2009).     7 Cited in Starr (2010), p. 129.     8 Quoted in Ewen & Ewen (2006), p. 252.     9 Neumann, Kosson, & Salekin (2007). For non-PCL-R item analyses see, for example, Lilienfeld & Andrews (1996) and Miller, Lynam, Widiger, &

228  Notes to pages 166–72 10

11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

22 23 24 25

26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37

Leukenfeld (2001). Hare and others’ insistence on a “superordinate factor” of psychopathy, as we saw in appendix B, is statistical fiction. See, for example, Hare, Harpur, Hakstian, Forth, Hart, & Newman (1990); Cooke & Michie (2001); and Hare & Neumann (2008). For other psycho­ metric problems with these items, see Cooke & Michie (1997). See, for example, Lunbeck (2003). Harris, Rice, Hilton, Lalumière, & Quinsey (2007). For a cogent critique of the study, read Marcus, Sanford, Edens, Knight, & Walters (2011). Hare (1980), p. 114. Unpublished master’s thesis available on Carleton University’s website at https://curve.carleton.ca/system/files/theses/28331.pdf (p. 153). Aftermath: surviving psychopathy foundation (n.d.). http://www.lovefraud.com/beware-the-sociopath/whats-a-sociopath/ See youtube video embedded in lovefraud.com, titled “love fraud and how to avoid it program.” http://www.hare.org/studyresults.pdf Beaudette, Forth, & Power (2012), p. 13. http://www.hare.org/studyresults.pdf To be fair, the thesis – which is available on Carleton University’s website at https://curve.carleton.ca/system/files/theses/28331.pdf – mentions “the possibility of sampling bias” (p. 112). Raine (2008). Seabrook (2008). Lombroso & Ferrero (2004), p. 4. Note, though, that we do not propose a causal theory of our own here. We do not believe that nurture is more important than nature in determining psychopathy. We simply do not know what, if anything, causes psycho­ pathic behaviour, since psychopathy itself is so poorly defined. Kishiyama et al. (2009). Inzlicht et al. (2009). Zamboni et al. (2009). Park & Huang (2010). Maguire, Gadian, Johnsrude, Good, Ashburner, & Frackowiak (2000). Freyer et al. (2011). Draganski, Gaser, Busch, Schuierer, Bogdahn, & May (2004). Lederbogen et al. (2011). Halsband, Mueller, Hinterberger, & Strickner (2009); Lazar et al. (2005). Mueller et al. (2010). Lahav, Saltzman, & Schlaug (2007). Quoted in Hughes (2010), p. 340.

38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

48 49 50 51 52

53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66

Notes to pages 174–82  229 Simonsen & Birket-Smith (1998), p. vii. Weisman (2008). As demonstrated, most importantly, by the Capital Jury Project’s research. People v. Farnam, 2002. Quoted in Weisman (2008), p. 206. Meffert et al. (2013). Babiak & Hare (2006), p. 83. Thomas (2013), pp. 216–17. Barnhill (2014). Babiak & Hare (2006), p. xv. Another recent phenomenon is diagnosing psychopathy or something like it in oneself or one’s friends and family. M.E. Thomas’s Confessions of a Sociopath and James Fallows’s discovery of his own “psychopathic brain” (see later in this chapter) fall into the first category. Kevin Dutton identified his father and his oldest friend as psychopaths in The Wisdom of Psychopaths. Barbara Oakley discussed her sister at length in her 2008 book, Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. Hare (1993), p. ix. See, for example, Malcolm (1990) and Morris (2012). Blair et al. (2005), p. 1. Stone (2009), pp. 34, 29. To his credit, Stone does also describe a few actual conversations he has had with murderers. Hare (1998b), p. 196; Meloy (2002), p. 69; Hare (1993), p. 2; Oakley (2008), p. 51; Hare (1993), p. 44; Patrick (2007), p. xiii; Babiak & Hare (2006),   cover; Murphy (1972), p. 293; Babiak, quoted in Votruba & Dejcmar (2011); Grisolía (2001), p. 85. Stout (2005), p. 88. Verstappen (2011), p. 6. Babiak & Hare (2006); emphasis in original title. Faubert (2010). Ressler (1992), p. 16. Meloy (2002), p. 71. Hare (1993), p. 210. Daynes (2012). In Votruba & Dejcmar (2011). Meloy & Meloy (2003), p. 21. Hare (1993), pp. 112–13. James (2011), p. 347. Editorial (1996), p. 1. Quoted in Hagerty (2010).

230  Notes to pages 183–94 67 68 69 70 71

Raine (2013), p. 357. Fallon (2009). Fallon (2011). Fallon (2012). That is, make a personality description vague enough (or, in this case, in­ clude both ends of a trait spectrum) and it will apply to anyone. 72 Naik (2009). 73 Quoted in Bold (2010). Appendix A: Morality and Psychopathy   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

Hare (1993), p. 35. Hare (1993), p. 38. Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Hare (1993), p. 52. Hare (1993), p. 59. Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Widiger & Lynam (2002), p. 176. Hare (1993), p. 58. Widiger & Lynam (2002), p. 178.

Appendix B: The Psychometrics of Psychopathy   1 Psychopathy seems to “manifest” itself differently in, for example, men and women, and in Caucasians and African Americans. (See, for example, Jackson & Richards, 2007; and Kosson, Smith, & Newman, 1990.)   2 For example, Cooke & Michie (2001) and Hare & Neumann (2008).   3 For example, Cooke & Michie (2001); Neumann, Hare, & Newman (2007); and Hare & Neumann (2008).   4 Skilling, Harris, Rice, & Quinsey (2002); Vasey, Kotov, Frick, & Loney (2005); Edens, Marcus, Lilienfeld, & Poythress (2006); Guay, Ruscio, Knight, & Hare (2007).   5 Cooke & Michie (2001).   6 McDonald (1975).   7 This literature is voluminous. Landmark analyses include those of Harpur, Hakstian, & Hare (1988); Cooke & Michie (2001); Hare & Neumann (2005); and Cooke, Michie, & Skeem (2007). Hare & Neumann (2008) contains a summary of the literature.   8 Cooke, Michie, & Skeem (2007), p. 39.   9 Harpur, Hakstian, & Hare (1988).

10 11 12 13 14

15 16 17 18 19

20

21

Notes to pages 194–8  231 Cooke & Michie (2001). Hare & Neumann (2008). Neumann, Kosson, & Salekin (2007). For example, Cooke, Michie, & Skeem (2007), p. 49. And it has been done so in a fashion that makes us question whether psychopathy researchers understand the psychometrics of hierarchical factor structures. Cooke & Michie (2001, p. 171), for example, claim in­ correctly that “Mathematically, two correlated factor are equivalent to   two factors and a superordinate factor. The same is true for three correl­ ated factors.” Three correlated factors have a superordinate factor only if their correlation matrix can be expressed as: R = LL’ + Q, in which Q is diagonal, positive definite. Because the squared factor loadings must lie in the [0,1] interval, it follows that if any of the three triads ρ 12ρ13/ρ23, ρ12ρ23/ρ13, and ρ13ρ23/ρ12, lie outside of this interval, then the three fac­ tors do not have a superordinate factor. Although the correctness of the claim that the PCL-R has a hierarchical structure (or any other claim about the linear factor structure of the PCL-R, for that matter) is of no consequence to our case – it resting on our pointing out infelicities in the interpretation given by psychopathy researchers to factor analytic output, as a whole – such convenient sloppiness does seem to be rife within the psychopathy literature. See Maraun (2003) for a more detailed discussion of this point. For example, Wansbeek & Meijer (2000) and Mardia, Kent, & Bibby   (1980). Analogous logic applies to the employment of any and all latent variable modelling technologies. A case made by Cooke, Michie, & Skeem (2007). This story is described in detail in Maraun (2003), wherein it is called The Central Account. Its multifarious linkages to the construct validation con­ ception of science (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955) is discussed in Maraun, Gab­ riel, & Slaney (2007). In the words of Cooke, Michie, & Skeem (2007), p. 39, “factor analytic ap­ proaches assume that latent variables produce the thoughts, feelings and modes of behaviour that are measured or recorded by item scores plus   error.” Magic that is made all the more potent to the social scientist by liberally sprinkled technical locutions, an example of which is Cooke, Michie, & Skeem’s (2007), p. 41, referring to their putative superordinate construct as unidimensional (“… a superordinate construct ‘psychopathy’ that is suf­ ficiently unidimensional to be regarded as a coherent psychological con­

232  Notes to pages 198–206

22 23 24 25 26 27 28

29

30 31

32 33 34

35

36 37 38

struct or syndrome”). It is not a latent variable that can be unidimensional, but, rather, a set of variables. See Maraun (2003) and Maraun & Halpin (2008) for a discussion of this point. Larsson, Tuvblad, Rijsdijk, Andersheed, Grann, & Lichtenstein (2006),   p. 16. Larsson et al. (2006), p. 15. Hicks, Carlson, Blonigen, Patrick, Iacono, & Mgue (2011), p. 5. Blonigen, Hicks, Krueger, Patrick, & Iacono (2005), pp. 637–8. Blonigen et al. (2005), p. 637. The term “genotype” denotes an individual’s “chromosomal complement of alleles” (Neale & Maes, 2004). However, “in respect to T” could, reason­ ably be attached as a rider, for only those loci whose alleles play a role in determining T are truly at issue. Factors which, according to the received account, can be classified, albeit in an exceedingly vague fashion, as either shared (with members of i’s family) or unique to i. Hirsch (1981); Schonemann (1997). Once again, if psychopathy is a disease trait, then it can be treated as a threshold process wherein, if an individual’s value on Tp exceeds a thresh­ old value, τTP, he or she has the disease; otherwise, he or she does not. Zuk, Hechter, Sunyaev, & Lander (2012). Fisher (1918); Holzinger (1929); Falconer (1960); Jinks & Fulker (1970); Mather & Jinks (1971). It is essential to distinguish between these latent variables and the cor­ responding, and like-named, effects defined and quantified by geneticists. In particular, the additive genetic effect spoken of in quantitative genetics has, roughly speaking, to do with the difference between the phenotypic expressions of the two homozygotic opposites, say, for example, in the case of two alleles, AA and aa. The dominance genetic effect, on the other hand, has to do with the degree to which the phenotypic expression of Aa does not lie at the midpoint between the expressions of AA and aa (hence, is a within loci interaction effect). In a nutshell, the labels that have been assigned to these latent variables do not establish their identities. 2 Analogous to, because, once again, σD and σA2 are the variances of latent variables, rather than the variances that the geneticist would deduce in a calculation of σG2 . Zuk et al. (2012). Nichols (1965); see also Zuk et al. (2012). Shalizi (2007).



Notes to page 206  233

39 Falconer (1960). 40 Zuk et al. (2012), p. 6. Also, present simulation studies that leave no doubt as to just how wildly off the mark heritability coefficients calculated under the standard biometric model can be.

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Index

ABC News, 128 Achbar, Mark: The Corporation (film), 84 Adelphia Communications Corporation, 83 adjustable psychopathy portfolio, 82–4, 86, 87–90; the Internet and, 90–2 affinity groups, 87–8 Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation, 168–9 aggression: instrumental and reactive, 154–5; in legal definitions of psychopathy, 173–4; MAOA as an “aggression gene,” 158–60, 226n75; psychopathy as biological and, 151 aimlessness: PCL-R item, 189 All Things Considered (NPR), 142 altruism of psychopaths, 95 American mythology, 99–100 American Psychiatric Association. See Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) American Psycho (Ellis), 6, 67 Andersen, Donna, 168 animals, psychopaths represented as, 178–81

anomia and micronomia, 24–5, 31 anthropology, 38–9 antisocial behavior, 75 antisocial personality disorder (APD, ASPD): in blogosphere, 109; degeneration and, 43; diagnostic terminology, 13, 224n16; distinctions from psychopathy, 21; in popular culture, 14; study of psychopathy compared to, 14–15, 209nn14–15 Appleby, Timothy: A New Kind of Monster, 50 Archer, Lord, 88 art: degenerate art, 10, 39, 104; modern/ist art, 39, 104 The Art of Urban Survival: A Family Safety and Self Defense Manual, 178 Asma, Stephen T., 35 Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, 58 atheists, 103–4 authenticity, 185–6 Babiak, Paul: 80, 87, 132; B-Scan, 84; Snakes in Suits, 79, 87, 90, 105, 175–6, 177, 179, 218n54

266  Index Backstabbing Bosses and Callous Coworkers (MA thesis), 167–9 Bakan, Joel: The Corporation (film), 84 Barnum, P.T., 35 Barnum effect, 155, 184, 230n71 BBC: Are You Good or Evil? 28 bebop, 99 Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 80 Behavioral Sciences Unit (FBI), 67, 69–71 behaviouralism, 54, 143 behaviour as confirmation of psychopathy, 51–2, 188 The Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray), 75–8 Berlusconi, Silvio, 88 Bigelow, Henry, 163 biological determinism, 161–2 biological theories of crime: biology of fear, 143–4; degeneration, 36–7, 41; in late twentieth century, 71–2; in nineteenth century, 33–5. See also degeneration theory biological theories of psychopathy. See under psychopathy, biological theories of black culture, 99 Blackwood, Nigel, 148 Blair, James, 56, 146–7, 156; The Psychopath, 29–30, 178 Blair, Karina: The Psychopath, 29–30, 178 Blair, Tony, 88 Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich, 39 Boddy, Clive: “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis,” 85–6 bohemians (1950s), 99–100 books and reading, 94 Borden, Lizzy, 183

born criminal, theory of: cultural and scientific phenomenon, 6–9, 33; degeneration theory, 37–8 (see also degeneration theory); DSM and, 224n16; fear and, 10–11; law courts and, 57; physical features/deviance and, 37–8, 40–1, 42–3 (see also animals, psychopaths represented as). See also heritability Boston Medical and Surgical Journal: Spurzheim’s death, 27 brain injury, 140–1, 153–5, 162–3. See also neurobiology and psychopathy Brando, Marlon: The Wild One, 99 Breivik, Anders Behring, 91 Brok, Paul, 88 Brunner, Han, 158, 162 B-Scan (Business-Scan), 84 Buckholtz, Joshua, 141, 157 Bundy, Ted, 28, 68, 70, 106, 180–1 Burgess, Ann, 70 Burke, Heather, 116 Bush, George W., 103 Canadian Psychological Association, 168 Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, 19–20 capitalism: postmodern psychopath, 102. See also corporate mismanagement capital punishment. See death penalty Carl, Linnaeus: Systema Naturae, 25–6 Cases, Olivier, 158 Caspi, Avshalom, 159 cause of psychopathy. See under psychopathy, cause of

cavum septum pellucidum (CSP), 156 Central Park jogger case, 66, 101 character, 53–4, 55. See also identity; personality; trait(s) Chase, Richard, 179–80 cheater-strategy argument, 73 child abuse, 161–2, 183 Chomsky, Noam, 85, 117 Christianity: biblical diagnostic rationalizations, 21, 25, 26–8, 95–6, 125–6, 185, 186–90; in marketing psychopathy books, 29–30. See also morality (Judeo-Christian) Cicero, 25 Clarke, John: Working with Monsters, 128 class: fear of the “crowds” or “masses,” 34 Classical School criminological theory, 37 Cleckley, Hervey, 81, 122–3, 123–4, 128, 130; The Mask of Sanity, 22, 30, 49–50, 132; semantic dementia, 134, 140, 224n20; subtypes of psychopathy, 143–4 Cline, Austin, 103 clinical cases: case vignettes compared to, 176–7 clinical tradition in psychopathy concept, 167 cognitive psychologists, 54 Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, 105, 106 Colajanni, Napoleone, 165–6 common sense, 9, 37, 38–9 community safety, 75, 77 comorbidity with psychopathy, 41–2, 43 Confessions of a Sociopath (Thomas, pseudonym), 110–11, 176, 219n26 conformity and the hipster psy-

Index  267 chopath, 98–101. See also popular culture consumerism, 101–2, 103 Cooke, David, 164–5, 166, 194, 231nn20–1 copyright law: PCL-R and, 122–3, 185, 221n18 corporate mismanagement: bosses and co-workers as psychopaths, 167–9; corporate psychopaths, 79–88, 127–8, 222n43; corporations as psychopathic, 84–8, 217n24; degeneration theory and, 6, 10, 46 The Corporation (film), 84 correlation-cause conflation, 13 cost of psychopathy, 4 courts’ use of psychopathy: critique of PCL-R article, 164–5; description and cause conflation, 173–4; harm done by, 171–5; history of, 57–64; misuse of PCL-R, 121–2; remorse and, 174–5; in sentencing, 10, 58–9. See also crime and criminality crime and criminality: criminal profiling, 68, 91; definitions of psychopathy, 122–3, 173–4, 220n3, 221n21; degeneration theory and, 37 (see also degeneration theory); diagnosis as substitute for motive, 52, 55; journalism and, 34–5; misuse of PCL-R, 121–2; neuroscience in criminal justice, 169–70, 171–5; prevalence of psychopathy, 93; psychopathy and language of, 115–18; psychopathy as explanation for, 59; in psychopathy diagnosis, 115–16, 164–5, 224n16; psychopathy diagnosis in, 50–1 (see also courts’ use of psychopathy); psychopathy responsible for,

268  Index 4, 209n3; rise in rates of, 75; successful/unsuccessful psychopaths, 81–2; trait-based explanation, 143; youth violent-crime prediction, 66, 215n2 Criminal Justice and Behavior: “Psychopathy: A Clinical Construct Whose Time Has Come,” 19 Crown, Sidney, 88 Cullen, William, 26 culture: black culture, 99; cultural decline narrative, 94–5; explanations of psychopathy and, 181–4; sexual immorality in PCL-R, 166–7; from theory to common sense, 182; in understanding human beings, 53. See also environment in diagnosis of psychopathy; fear, culture of; popular culture cyberpath, 90 Damasio, Hanna, 140, 145 Darwin, Charles, 53; The Descent of Man, 38; The Origin of Species, 34, 35 data: of Lombroso, 38. See also neurobiology and psychopathy Dateline NBC: Russell Williams’ case coverage, 48 Daynes, Kerry, 92, 180–1; “Is There a Psychopath in Your Inbox?” 90 Dean, James: Rebel Without a Cause, 99 death penalty, 60, 75, 121, 174–5. See also courts’ use of psychopathy defamation threats against researchers, 165–6 deficient anxiety conditioning, 142–3 degeneration theory: adjustable degeneracy theory, 46, 82, 93–4 (see

also adjustable psychopathy portfolio); famous degenerates (list of), 10, 39; genocide justification, 40; origin and explanation of, 36–41; overview of, 5, 6–8, 9; psychopathy and, 41–5. See also deviance Demme, Jonathan: The Silence of the Lambs, 6, 67 democracy: psychopathy’s threat to, 94 Derber, Charles: The Wilding of America, 101 descriptive model of psychopathy, 119–20; psychopathy as description of character, 51, 152, 173, 175. See also medical terminology/taxonomy; trait(s) deviance, 27, 33, 37–8, 127, 132–3. See also degeneration theory Dexter (series), 106, 107 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), 13, 224n16; Clinical Cases, 177; psychopathy not recognized, 20, 63, 164 diagnostic terms: early variations (list of), 32; “psychopath” terminology introduced, 32; psychopathy as focus of study, 13–14. See also anomia and micronomia; antisocial personality disorder (APD, ASPD); dissocial personality disorder; sociopathy diagnostic tests for psychopathy. See under psychopathy, diagnostic tests for Dictionary of Canadian Law, 173 Dilthey, Wilhelm, 53 Dilulio, John, 66 dissocial personality disorder, 20

double life: as rational choice, 55 Douglas, John, 67–8, 70, 93 Duff, Antony, 61 Dugan, Brian, 60, 172 Dutton, Kevin, 94, 106–7, 108, 127; “The Psychopath Challenge,” 112; The Wisdom of Psychopaths, 95 Edens, John, 110, 121, 219n30 The Ed Sullivan Show, 99 egocentrism and grandiosity (PCL-R), 186 Egomania (film), 110 electroencephalography (EEG), 144 electrophysiological studies, 141 Ellis, Bret Easton: American Psycho, 6, 67 emotional deficit theory of psychopathy, 133–6, 139–40, 142, 145–6, 225n34; shallow emotions item in PCL-R, 186–7; terminology, 222n50 empathetic responses, 55, 188 empirical case for psychopathy. See research into psychopathy Enron, 83 environment in diagnosis of psychopathy: early history of, 26; genetic studies and, 13, 26, 161–2, 183, 226n75; loss of interest in, 72, 171, 224n20 epilepsy, 141 equality: culture of fear and, 75, 77 evil, 11, 28–30, 50–1, 85, 103–4, 178– 81, 181–3. See also morality (JudeoChristian) evolutionary theory of crime and psychopathy, 7, 73–4 Facebook, 91 Fallon, James, 182–3

Index  269 Fastow, Andrew, 83 FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S.), 20, 70–1; serial killer cultural phenomenon and, 66–9, 68–9, 166 fear, culture of, 5–6, 10–11, 46, 74–8 female psychopathy, 167 Ferrero, Guglielmo, 171 fiction, crime, 68, 106–7. See also popular culture Fincher, David: Se7en, 67 Fine, Cordelia, 61 Fisher, R.A., 203 Forbes Magazine: Klychopath, 91 Forsythe case (1994), 173 Forth, Adelle, 116 Fox, James: Mass Murder, 69 Frank, Hans, 40 Frank, Thomas: The Conquest of Cool, 98–9 Franklin, Karen, 165 Fraud Magazine, 87 Freedman, Estelle B., 68–9 freedom. See individualism free will, 51, 52–3, 55, 62–3 funding for psychopathy research, 19–20, 72, 98, 124, 170, 171, 210n4 Furnham, Adrian, 88 Gacy, John Wayne, 70, 106 Gage, Phineas, 139–40, 145, 158, 162–3 Gall, Franz Joseph, 26–7, 166 gaslighting, 104 genetic determinism, 157–62; and heritability, 200–1 Gibb, David: Camouflaged Killer, 50 Gibson, Mary, 171 Gillett, Grant, 61–2 Ginsberg, Allen: Howl, 99

270  Index glibness and superficial charm (PCL-R), 185 global recession (2008), 46, 86, 87 Globe and Mail: “Anatomy of Evil: How a Psychopath Is Made” (Russell Williams’ case), 49–50; “How a Psychopath Is Made,” 54, 56; “The Psychology of a Psychopath,” 50 Goring, Charles: The English Convict, 40 Gottschalk, Simon, 103 Gould, Stephen Jay, 31; Mismeasure of Man, 75 grants for psychopathy research. See funding for psychopathy research Gray, John, 58 Gullhaugen, Aina, 161–2 “gut feeling” to detect psychopaths, 180–1 Hacking, Ian: adjustable degeneracy portfolio, 46, 77, 82, 86 Haggerty, Kevin, 104–5 Hall, Michael C., 107 Hare, Robert: affinity groups, 87–8; on behavioural genetics, 156; BScan, 84; checklist developed, 22–3, 28; construction of psychopathy concept, 167; corporate/corporation psychopaths, 45, 80, 82–3, 84–5; EEG study, 144–5; on effect of environment, 161–2; electric shock study, 142, 223n13; in ethical appeal example, 124; “eyes of a goat,” 180; FBI adviser, 71; free will of psychopaths, 62; honours and achievements, 20; increase in psychopathy, 94; on long-distance diagnosis, 125; PCL-R and, 121–2, 164–5, 185–90, 194; prevalence

estimate, 92–3; science rhetoric of, 117–18, 220n3; on trait distribution, 129–30; ubiquitous psychopathic behaviour, 89; on Sam Vaknin, 110; violent crime and psychopaths, 209n3. See also Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) – publications, interviews, etc.: All Things Considered (NPR), 142–3; Backstabbing Bosses and Callous Coworkers (MA thesis), 167–9; I Am Finished (film), 90; “Psychopathy: A Clinical Construct Whose Time Has Come,” 19; Snakes in Suits, 79, 87, 90, 105, 175–6, 177, 179, 218n54; This American Life, 112; Without Conscience, 66, 75–6, 81, 83, 125, 178, 185 Harlow, John, 139–40, 162–3 Harper, Stephen, 103 Harpur, Timothy, 144 Harris, Thomas: Red Dragon, 68; The Silence of the Lambs, 68 Hart, Stephen, 58 Harvard Business Review, 80 Hazelwood, Roy, 51 Hercz, Robert, 124 heritability, 43, 157, 199–207; coefficients of psychopathy, 10, 43, 203–6, 207, 232n40; genetic determination and, 200–3 Herrnstein, R.: The Bell Curve, 75–8 Hickey, Eric, 50, 67 hidden psychopathy, 81 hipster psychopath, 98–101 historical psychopath, 124–7 Hollander, Eric, 79 Holmes, James, 91 homosexuality, 166–7 Hoover, J. Edgar, 69

Howerton, Glen: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (sitcom), 106 humanists: science rhetoric of social scientists and, 117 “Hungry Like the Wolf” (Hancock et al.), 138 Hussein, Saddam, 125 I, Psychopath (film), 110, 111 “I Am a Psychopath” (online chat), 108–9, 219n26 I Am Finished (film), 90 iconography. See popular culture identity: culture and biology, 53–5; the Internet and, 91; online theft of, 92; psychopathy as, 7, 14, 54, 104–12; psychopathy in criminals, 51. See also personality; trait(s) ideology: enemy as psychopath, 103– 4 (see also politics of crime science/ psychopathy) impulsivity: PCL-R item, 189 individualism, 97, 98–101, 101–3, 104–6 inequality: culture of fear and, 75, 77 intelligence measurements, 75–7 interactionist theories (environment and biology), 13, 26. See also under psychopathy, biological theories of; environment in diagnosis of International Classification of Diseases (WHO): psychopathy not recognized, 20, 164 International Congress of Criminal Anthropology (1885), 38 International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 165 Internet, the, 90–2, 94; blogosphere, 103–4, 109, 111; “I Am a Psycho-

Index  271 path” (online chat), 108–9; Psychforums.com, 109. See also media It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (sitcom), 106 Jack the Ripper, 35 James, Bill, 181 James, William, 53 jazz musicians, 99 Jewish Philosopher (blog), 103–4 Jobs, Steve, 95 journalists. See media Journal of Business Ethics, 86 Journal of the American Medical Association, Psychiatry, 147 Judeo-Christian moral order. See morality (Judeo-Christian) justice systems: misuse of PCL-R, 121–2. See also courts’ use of psychopathy Kantor, Martin: The Psychopathy of Everyday Life, 115 Kendler, Kenneth, 159, 160–1 Kennett, Jeanette, 61 Kerouac, Jack: On the Road, 99 Kidman, Nicole: Malice, 68 Kiehl, Kent, 60, 127, 141, 146, 170, 172, 174, 210n4; “paralimbic system dysfunction hypothesis,” 147–8, 154 Kjeldsen case (1981), 63 Klychopath, 91 Koch, Julius Ludwig August, 32 Kofoed, Lial, 72–3 Kotowicz, Zbigniew, 163 Kraepelin, Emil: Psychiatry: A Textbook, 41 kunlangeta and arankan, 127

272  Index Lakatos, Imre, 46 Lancet, 181–2 language: medical terminology, 118–21; metaphors, use of, 179; red herring of language processing, 136–7; rhetoric defined, 118; of science rhetoric, 116; tautologies, 52, 116, 123, 134; of violence and crime, 115–18 latent variable modelling, 192–9, 231n14, 231nn20–1, 232nn34–5 Lavater, Johann Caspar, 26 law courts. See courts’ use of psychopathy Law Enforcement Bulletin (FBI), 71, 90–1 Lay, Kenneth, 83 le Bon, Gustave: The Crowd, 34 Lehrer, Jonah, 56–7 Leland, John: Hip: the History, 100 Levenson, Michael, 103, 217n24 Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, 116 Levin, Jack: Mass Murder, 69 Levy, Ken, 62–3 Levy, Neil, 61 Leyton, Elliott, 50 limbic-prefrontal deficits in psychopathy, 141–2, 145–6 linear factor modelling, 193–9, 231n14 Logan, Matthew, 180 Lombroso, Cesare, 5, 7, 36, 94, 132, 165–6, 171; L’Uomo Delinquente (The criminal man), 37–8, 41; The Man of Genius, 39 Lovecraft, H.P., 34 Lovefraud.com, 168–9 Lykken, David, 141–2, 223n10 Lynch, David: Twin Peaks, 68

Maclean’s: Russell Williams’ case coverage, 50 MacMillan, James, 72–3 Madoff, Bernie, 82–3 Magid, Ken: High Risk, 66 Mailer, Norman, 7; “The White Negro,” 100–1 Mail Online, 91 MAOA. See monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) alleles marriage, short term and many: PCL-R item, 190 master narrative of psychopathy, 65 Maxwell, Robert, 83 Mayberg, Helen, 172 McCord, William and Joan, 3, 28 McCrary, Gregg O., 83 McGinniss, Joe: Fatal Vision, 178 McKelvey: High Risk, 66 Mealey, Linda: “The Sociobiology of Sociopathy,” 73 media: articles on corporate psychopaths (list of), 80–1; biological theories as dominant, 56–7; corporate psychopaths, 79–81; Enron and WorldCom cases, 83; fear, use of, 93; journalistic realism, 34–5; Bernie Madoff case, 82–3; moral panics over sexual crimes, 68–9; PCL-R and, 122–3, 165–6; psychopathy as comedy, 111–12; public emergency of psychopathy, 128; science rhetoric of social scientists and, 117; vampires, witches and werewolves in, 106; Russell Williams’ case coverage, 48–50, 51–2, 54–5, 163, 179. See also Internet, the; popular culture medical terminology/taxonomy, 21,

23–4, 118–21, 220n12. See also science and scientists Meloy, J. Reid, 69, 180–1 memory impairment, 154 Men’s Health, 106 Mental Health Act (U.K.), 63, 173–4 metaphors: of animals, 179; puzzle, evil as, 181–3 Meyer-Lindenberg, A., 157 Michie, Christine, 194, 231nn20–1 military and psychopaths, 95–6 Mitchell, Derek: The Psychopath, 29–30, 178 molecular genetics, 157 monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) alleles, 157–60, 182–3, 226n70, 226n75 monstrosities and monstrology, 6–7, 35, 39, 104–6, 106–7, 108,178–9 morality (Judeo-Christian), 4; born criminal type and, 37–8; in crime explanations, 50–1, 57–8; immorality as not human, 178–9; individual freedom of psychopaths and, 107–8 (see also individualism); “insanity of the moral type,” 41; the Internet and, 91; legal responsibility as distinct from, 62–3; in marketing psychopathy books, 29–30; “moral derangement” diagnosis, 24–5; “moral insanity” diagnosis, 27, 31, 58; normalcy of psychopaths and, 133; in PCL-R items, 185–90; in psychopathy diagnosis, 23–4, 29–31, 150; psychopathy in secular age and, 97; saints as psychopaths, 95; serial killer’s freedom from, 105; sexual psychopaths and panic, 68–9. See also Christianity; evil

Index  273 Morel, Benedict, 5, 36–7, 43 mortgage crisis (2008), 6, 10, 46. See also corporate mismanagement motivation: psychopathy and, 55 MSNBC, 79 Murphy, Jeffrie, 60–1 Murray, C.: The Bell Curve., 75–8 myth of psychopathy: American mythology, 99–100; correcting of, 16; master narrative of, 65; origins of, 3–5. See also psychopathy narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), 109–10 National Association of Chiefs of Police (U.S.), 88 National Institute of Mental Health (U.S.), 93, 117–18, 146 National Institutes of Health (U.S.), 19–20, 56, 210n4 National Public Radio: All Things Considered, 142; This American Life, 111–12 Natural Born Killers (Stone), 67 nature of good and evil, 85. See also evil Neanderthal psychopaths, 127 Neumann, Craig, 80; PCL-R as four dimensional, 194 neurobiology and psychopathy: adjustable psychopathy portfolio, 89; brain injury, 140–1, 153–5, 162–3; cause and effect problems, 148–50; clinical insensitivity of, 163; corpora callosa studied, 147; correlation masquerading as causation, 150–1; criminal justice and, 169–70, 171–5; early theories, 24–5, 31, 141–4 (see also degeneration theory); genetic research, 156–62; limbic and pre-

274  Index frontal activation, 152–3; limitations to neurobiological theories, 148–62; media input, 57; in place of psychology, 55; studies of, 15, 23, 56; tests of executive functioning, 151–2, 225n46. See also under psychopathy, biological theories of – neuroimaging data: activities showing changes in brain structure, 172; advent of, 144–8; for depression, 149–50; early psychopathy data, 9–10; to find evil, 181–3; growth in popularity of, 72; interpretation of, 16, 153; limbicprefrontal abnormalities, 146–7, 150–1; measurement methods, 145–6; mobile MRI unit funding, 20; philosophers’ use of, 62; in proof of psychopathy, 3–4, 5; on psychopathic brain, 56–7, 171–2; rhetoric of science, 117–18, 220n6. See also psycho- and biometrics, in Appendix B, 191–2, 203–6 Newman, Joseph, 125 Newman, Timothy, 159 New Yorker, 89, 170 New York Times, 83; on critique of PCL-R article, 165 New York Times Magazine, 8 non-fiction: featuring serial killers, 68. See also popular culture Nordau, Max, 39, 104 Nøttestad, Jim, 161–2 Obama, Barack, 103 Ordronaux, John, 32–3 O’Toole, Mary Ellen, 71 outlaw culture: American outlaw legends (list of), 100. See also popular culture

Page, Donta, 60 paradox-as-red-herring argument, 133–6 patient zero, 139–41, 162–3 Pauline Christianity, 25. See also Christianity perceptive powers, 108 personality, 21, 119, 91, 175. See also character; identity; trait(s) philosophy/philosophers, 60–4, 117, 102, 185, 214n47–8 phrenology, 27 physical characteristics: animals and, 178–81; degeneration and, 45; deviance and, 37–8, 40–1, 42–3; physiognomy, 26 Pinel, Philippe, 3–4, 21–2, 27–8, 31, 32; insanity without delirium, 3, 21, 132, 140 politics of crime science/psychopathy: culture of fear, 5–6, 10–11, 46, 74–8; incidents of psychopathy in world (list of), 94; left and right support for, 94–5, 218n54; left and right use of, 77–8, 103–4, 216n34; politicians as psychopaths, 88; progressive appearance of, 170; scientific fashions, 71–4 Poole, W. Scott: Monsters in America, 35 popular culture: animal imagery/ metaphor, 178–81; appropriation of psychopathy, 97–8, 218n1, 229n47; case vignettes in mass market books, 175–8; degeneration theory in, 6–7; diagnosing family and friends, 229n47; hipster psychopath, 98–101; marketing psychopathy books, 29–30, 177; postmodern psychopath, 101–3;

psychopath as identity, 104–12; “psychopathic stare,” 179–80; psychopathy and APD/ASPD compared, 13–14; psychopathy as comedy, 111–12; psychopathy personification of individualism, 97–8; serial killer in, 6, 67–8, 104–6 (see also serial murderers/killers); the useful psychopath, 95–6, 218n55. See also culture; media postmodernism, 102–3 postmodern psychopath, 101–3 power: fear of unrestrained, 89 prefrontal–limbic system theory, 141–2, 145–6 presidents (American), 88, 103 Presley, Elvis, 99 Prichard, James, 22 progress, concept of, 33–5, 92 Proverbs, 189. See also Christianity Psychforums.com, 109 psychoanalysis: psychology as social of natural science, 54 Psychological Assessment: PCL-R and crime article, 164–5, 166 psychological inventory, 206–7 Psychological Medicine: heritability of psychopathy (British-Swedish team), 199–200 The Psychology of Dexter (DePaulo), 107 psychology/psychologists: natural or social science, 52–5; terminology, 15. See also psychopathy, biological theories of psychometric and biometric studies. See Appendix B, 191–2, 203–6 psychopath-hero, 100–1 psychopathy: borrowed tenets of degeneracy (list of), 42–5 (see also

Index  275 degeneration theory); caveats to critique of, 12–16; diagnostic terminology, 13, 15 (see also below, diagnostic tests for); examples used to illustrate increase of incidents (list of), 94; famous people claimed to be psychopaths (list of), 10, 45, 88, 95, 103, 126, 183; master narrative of disease model, 118–19 (see also science and scientists); origins of diagnosis of, 3–5, 21–2, 27–8; structure of (see Appendix B, 192–207). See also courts’ use of psychopathy; myth of psychopathy; Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R); research into psychopathy – biological theories of: caveat to critique of, 13; comorbidity and, 43; compared to APD/ASPD, 14– 15, 209nn14–15 (see also antisocial personality disorder); evolutionary throwbacks, 43–5; as heritable (see heritability); MAOA alleles, 157– 60, 182–3, 226n70, 226n75; origins of, 23; popularity of, 56–7, 171; progressive appearance of, 170. See also Cleckley, Hervey; neurobiology and psychopathy – cause of: aggression and, 151, 154– 5, 158–60, 173–4, 226n75; damage to frontal lobe, 140–1, 153; emotional deficit theory, 133–6, 139–40, 142, 145–6, 186–7, 222n50, 225n34; equivocation over, 130–2; etiology terminology, 131; genetics as, 156–62, 182–4, 199–207; language processing deficit, 136–7; limitations to neurobiological theories, 148–62; paralimbic system dysfunction hypothesis, 147–8, 154;

276  Index presence of CSP, 156; subtypes of psychopathy, 143–4 – definitions of: definitions and measures, 15, 22–3, 122–3, 210n17, 221n21, 224n21 (see also Psychopathy Checklist-Revised [PCL-R]); existence of, 12–13; inconsistencies in, 28–9, 127–30, 150–1, 153, 154–5, 156, 171, 217n51, 223n13, 228n25, 230n71; legal, 173–4 – diagnostic tests for: copyright and, 122–3, 185, 221n18; criminality in, 115–16; demand for diagnosis in crimes, 50–2; difficulty/flexibility in defining, 28–9, 127–30 (see also above definitions of); letter versus spirit of, 124–7; list of, 20; longdistance diagnoses, 125; for successful psychopathy, 82–3. See also Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) – environment in diagnosis of: early history of, 26; genetic studies and, 13, 26, 161–2, 183, 226n75; loss of interest in, 72, 171, 224n20 Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R): availability of, 122–3, 185, 221n18; borrowed tenets of degeneracy, 41; brain injury and, 154–5; child abuse effect on scores, 162; compared to IQ test, 76–7; copyright law and, 122–3, 185, 221n18; criminality in, 116, 164–5, 166; lawsuit controversy, 16, 165; manipulation of, 93, 128–9, 217n51; origin and development of, 22–3, 28; revisions and further tests, 20; role in master narrative, 65; sexual immorality in, 166–7; use in justice systems, 58, 121–2; use of, 15; use

of linear factor analysis, 193–4, 231n14. See also Appendix A, 185– 90; Hare, Robert psychopathy portfolio. See adjustable psychopathy portfolio psychopathy trait(s). See trait(s) public safety: case for psychopathy research, 123–4; corporate psychopaths, 127–8. See also research into psychopathy Putin, Vladimir, 88 race: in degeneracy theory, 39; nineteenth-century monster interest and, 35 (see also monstrosities and monstrology) Rafter, Nicole Hahn, 71, 171 Raine, Adrian, 60, 147, 155–6, 169–70, 174, 182, 225n34 Ray, Isaac: Mental Hygiene, 27; A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity, 57 RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police): Hare assisted, 20; Russell Williams’ case, 48 religion: in psychopathy diagnosis, 25, 26–8. See also Christianity; morality (Judeo-Christian) remorse and guilt: death penalty and, 174–5; PCL-R and, 186 reptiles, psychopaths represented as, 178–81 research into psychopathy: biology of fear, 143–4; brain injury, 140–1, 153–5, 162–3; child abuse effect studies, 161–2, 183; core assumptions, 167–9; corporate psychopath and, 128–9; defamation threats and, 164–6; as disorder of the brain, 148, 150–1; early electric

shock studies, 141–3; EEG use in, 144; electrophysiological studies, 141; empirical case for psychopathy, 8, 107–8, 116–18, 120–1; equivocation over cause of, 130–2; funding for, 19–20, 72, 98, 124, 170, 171, 210n4; genetic research, 156–62; genetics and heritability, 200–7; harm caused by, 171–5; into limbic-prefrontal abnormalities, 146–7, 150–1, 152–3; neurodevelopmental theories, 155–6; progressive politics of, 170, 171 (see also politics of crime science/ psychopathy); psychometric and biometric studies (see Appendix B, 191–2, 203–6); publications of (statistics of), 19–20; public emergency and, 123–4, 127–8; rhetoric in, effect of, 137–8; sex offenders study, 167; social costs of psychopaths, 169; technology of, 137–8; tests of executive functioning, 151–2, 225n46. See also neurobiology and psychopathy; science and scientists responsibility, lack of: PCL-R item, 189–90 Ressler, Robert, 67–8, 70; “psychopathic stare,” 179–80 rhetoric: court systems’ use of, 121–2; effect in psychopathy research, 137–8; of equivocation, 132, 220n3; ethical appeal, 124; flexibility of concept of psychopathy, 129–30; of historical psychopath, 124–7; longdistance diagnosis, 125–6; paradox of normalcy red herring, 133–6, 137; of public safety, 123–4; science and medical, 116–21, 220n3, 220n6,

Index  277 220n12; terminology, 118. See also language Richard Dawkins Foundation, 57 Richard III, 127 Riesman, David, 99 Rigas, John, 83 Robinson, Alisa, 45 Robinson, Daniel, 53 Romney, Mitt, 103 Ronson, Jon: Psychopath Test, 111–12 Roth, Randolph, 74 Rule, Ann, 68 Rush, Benjamin, 3–4, 21–2, 27–8, 31, 57, 61; “An Inquiry into the Influence of Physical Causes upon the Moral Faculty,” 24 R. v. Forsythe (1994), 173 R. v. Kjeldsen (1981), 63 R. v. Saddlemore (2007), 173 Saddlemore case (2007), 173 safety and security, 123–4 Saint Paul, 95 Schmid, David: Natural Born Celebrities, 66–7 Science, 158 science and scientists: degeneracy theory claims, 39–40; evil, solving puzzle of, 181–3; measuring instruments, 38; medical rhetoric and psychopathy, 118–21, 220n3, 220n12; psychology as natural or social science, 52–5; religion and morality link, 6, 25, 26–31, 52; rhetorical data gathering, 137–8. See also research into psychopathy scientism: psychopathy compared to, 103 Se7en (Fincher), 67 Seltzer, Mark, 106–7

278  Index semantic dementia, 134–5, 140, 224n20 Semien, Robyn, 112 Serial Killer Database (Radford U), 67 serial murderers/killers: cultural phenomenon of, 6, 66–71, 166; famous murderers (list of), 70; as folkloric monster, 104–6; generational fear and, 46; Internet presence of, 91; psychopathy defence, 172; victims of, 105 serotonin, 157–9, 226n70 sexual behaviour: PCL-R item of, 188–9 sexual homicide: serial murder and FBI, 66–9; Russell Williams’ case, 47–52, 54–5. See also serial murderers/killers Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives (FBI study), 67 sexual online predator, 90–2 sexual psychopath: moral panics and, 68–9; organized offender classification (FBI), 70–1; unique human type theory, 167; use of PCL-R, 121–2, 166–7 Sheridan, Thomas: Puzzling People, 104 The Silence of the Lambs (Demme), 6, 67, 68 Singer, Peter, 57 Skeem, Jennifer, 164–6, 231nn20–1 Skilling, Jeffrey, 83 Slotkin, Richard, 100 Smith, Robert Joseph: The Psychopath in Society, 101–2 Smith, Sharon, 71 Snakes in Suits (Babiak and Hare), 79, 87, 90, 105, 175–6, 177, 179, 218n54

sneaker salmon, 73 social events in psychopathy diagnosis. See environment in diagnosis of psychopathy social networking sites, 91–2. See also Internet, the social scientists: crime–psychopathy studies, 116; degeneration theory and, 37; free will and, 52–3; as influenced by social conventions, 30–1; prestige, gained and lost, 6, 71–2; science rhetoric and, 116–18 Social Text: The Sokal Affair, 102 Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy: Lifetime Achievement Award, 20 SociopathWorld.com (blog), 111 sociopathy: diagnostic terminology, 13, 15, 223n10; modern consumer culture and, 101; sexual predator and, 69 (see also sexual psychopath); sociobiology rise and, 72–3. See also psychopathy Socrates, 185 Sokal, Alan, 102 Spearman, Charles, 193 Spiegel, Alix, 142 Spurzheim, Johann Gaspar, 26–7, 166 Stamos, David: “The Philosophical Significance of Psychopaths,” 103 statistics: corporate/hidden psychopaths, 80–1; courts’ use of PCL-R, 58; crime rates, 75, 209n3; on genetic psychopathy, 157; prevalence estimates, 4, 92–3, 209n3; psychometric and biometric studies (see Appendix B, 191–2, 203–6); publications and grants on psychopathy, 19–20; stranger murders, 67; youth violent crime, 66, 215n2

Stein, Jacob: Jewish Philosopher (blog), 103–4 Stevenson, Robert Louis: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 7, 39 Stone, Michael: The Anatomy of Evil, 178, 229n51 Stone, Oliver: Natural Born Killers, 67 Stout, Martha, 29, 93, 105, 209n3, 217n47; The Sociopath Next Door, 81, 88, 177 stranger murders, 67 subcriminal/successful psychopathy, 81–2 sub-prime mortgage crisis (2008), 6, 10, 46. See also corporate mismanagement suicide, 128 super-predator theory, 66 Supreme Court of Canada: R. v. Kjeldsen, 63 taxonomy/nosology, 25–6. See also medical terminology/taxonomy Telegraph: “Is There a Psychopath in Your Inbox?” 90 Terman, Lewis, 8 This American Life (NPR), 111–12 Thomas, M.E. (pseudonym): Confessions of a Sociopath, 110–11, 176, 219n26 tradition, 167 trait(s): in analysis of psychopathy, 12–13, 20, 125, 140, 157, 167; attractiveness of psychopathic, 108; brain processes and psychopathic, 146–7; fame and psychopathic, 104; heritability and, 73, 200–1; PCLR measurement of psychopathy, 144; psychopathy as a single trait theory, 21, 52, 119–20, 143, 144, 153; distribution in psychopathy, 14,

Index  279 129–30, 217–18n51, 230n71; useful psychopath, 80, 95, 101, 218n15. See also identity true crime literature, 106–7, 178. See also popular culture Trump, Donald, 88 Twilight (series), 106 Twin Peaks (Lynch), 68 Twitter, 91 University of British Columbia: factor analysis of PCL-R data (1988), 194 Vaknin, Sam, 109–11 Waiton, Stuart, 75 Wallace, David Foster, 124 Wall Street. See corporate mismanagement warrior gene, 159, 183. See also monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) alleles Weisman, Richard, 174 Wells, H.G.: The Island of Dr. Moreau, 7, 39 Whitfield, John, 73–4 Wiebe, Richard, 156–7 Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray, 39 Williams, Russell, 47–52, 54–5, 71, 163, 179 Williamson, Sherrie, 144 Wolman, Benjamin B., 93–4 “words but not the music,” 133–4, 135–6 WorldCom, 83 World Health Organization ICD, 20, 164 Wundt, Wilhelm, 53, 54