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Debate Over Psychopathy

Updated April 20, 2022
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Debate Over Psychopathy essay

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Psychopathy has been shown in movies through characters like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men and Hans Beckert in M and represented through serial killers such as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. But what exactly is it? According to researchers Nathaniel E. Anderson and Kent A. Kiehl who conducted the study Psychopathy: Development Perspectives and their Implications for Treatment, psychopathy is a neurological disorder that exhibits lack of emotion, empathy, guilt, and control of behavior. (Anderson and Kiehl, 2015). There has been debate as to what psychopathy actually is through different theories by researchers over time. Psychopathy has been around for a few centuries but has only undergone extensive research and study in the past 20 years. The concept first arose in the 19th century by Philippe Pinel as manie sans délire translating to “insanity without delirium” which he used to describe his patients with and is one of the most popular extracts of what psychopathy is. Since then, many theories and definitions of psychopathy like Hervey Cleckley’s “semantic dementia” have surfaced along with ongoing debate on which accurately depicts it (Hervey, 1943). However, an issue was that psychopath and sociopath started being used interchangeably which caused confusion of the terms. Another issue was that all the theories were made through judgment more than actual clinical experiments and evidence and were debunked. It’s not until Robert D. Hare developed the Hare Psychopathy Checklist adding on hundreds of characteristics to the small list that Cleckley had for psychopathy to become a scientific concept.

These ongoing debates and theories constructed by various researchers in history have shown that both nature and nurture play a role in psychopathy. Psychopathy is a disorder contributed by both nature and nurture which includes developmental factors and genetics. In the last decade, there have been a number of studies that have found that genetics plays a role in psychopathy. In a study done by Pamela R. Perez The etiology of psychopathy: A neuropsychological perspective, it has been found that those who are psychopaths and have antisocial disorders have frontal lobe dysfunction which affects the decision-making process (Perez, 2012). It is a really complicated process to pinpoint which exact functions are affected with many levels considered such as genetic and neuropsychological factors which complicated the process even more. It’s not definitive and there are limitations due to there not being enough repetition in research, but this is a start showing that there is at least some genetics involved in the rendering of psychopathy. There is no easy way to get clear answers for a disorder like psychopathy which is why the etiology of psychopathy isn’t fully established. In psychopaths with criminal tendencies, the lack of behavioral control can be an indication of an imbalance of neurotransmitters (Perez, 2012). The prefrontal region of the brain controls the functions that make decisions and also plays a major part in reasoning. Neurochemistry such as Dopamine levels and other neurotransmitters work together to keep everything in balance. In the brain, these chemicals send impulses for information to be processed.

Neurotransmitter imbalance has shown to be a critical issue in psychological disorders like antisocial disorders. A psychological criminologist found that chemical substances known as pheromones are released that can cause certain behavior depending on the levels. The release of lower serotonin and norepinephrine pheromone levels have been found in those with antisocial disorders and a limited amount of epinephrine have been found to cause high arousal. Psychopaths have an effect on themselves, families, researchers and society. Psychopaths have many characteristics and symptoms that keep them from making proper decisions and reasoning. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist states that psychopaths exhibit twenty traits which include traits like poor behavior control, irresponsibility, juvenile delinquency, etc. (Perry, 2011). Psychopaths lead a life with the lack of some traits that a normal person would exhibit such as emotion. In a study done on psychopaths in Wisconsin, it has been found that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and other sections of the brain have reduced connections which contribute to empathy and decision making. Comparing the brains of prisoners with and without psychopathy, weaker connections between the vmPFC and other sections of the brain were found (Perry, 2011). Without the proper connections between portions of the brain that regulate emotion and behavioral control, psychopaths lead a life with a lack of emotions and reckless behavior. It has been found that individuals have acquired psychopathy due to experiencing abuse while growing up. In a study done by the Department of Psychiatry at University of Wisconsin-Madison, it has been found that childhood maltreatment has led to acquiring psychopathy (Dargis et al., 2016).

They found the PCL-R scores of 127 inmates from prisons. The score can be from 0 to 40. Those with a score of 30 or higher being diagnosed as psychopaths. 51 of those prisoners were diagnosed with psychopathy. Based off of all the results, it was found that those who experienced abuse growing up were more likely to be psychopaths than those who did not experience abuse growing up. One of the psychopathic characteristics acquired when abused or in grown up in a negative environment as a child is abusing other once older such as partners and children. Most likely due to experiencing trauma and abuse, psychopaths are not healthy partners because of their lack of care for others and their proneness to abuse. Many of their relationships lead to abuse, violence, and aggression. Their brains aren’t wired to properly care for their partners or their children. Psychopaths target their power and battle them constantly in the name of power. The relationship starts out fun and romantic until they become tired and bored of the partner. This then leads to abuse and constant manipulation. This causes the partner to be emotionally abused and traumatized. Using insults to attack their partner’s emotional health such as “No one else would ever want you” to emotionally abuse (Stages of the Psychopathic Bond, 2013). Partners begin to try and accommodate to keep tranquility and to prevent additional abuse (Freeman, 2013). Psychopathy has been around for about a few centuries; however, extensive research only dates back a couple of decades. There has been a quite a bit of research done, however not enough for a cure. In the early 90s, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) was created by Robert D. Hare and it is a test used to measure one’s psychopathic tendencies (Hare Psychopathy Checklist, 2008). It includes 20 traits that a psychopath is said to exhibit and an interview about the individual’s background.

Some characteristics include charm, lying, manipulation, lack of remorse, etc. (Hare Psychopathy Checklist, 2008). Those with a score of 30 or higher are diagnosed as a psychopath or with psychopathy. This has been being used to diagnose psychopaths for years now, but the research not transcended anywhere. New theories or research to extend the PCL-R have not arisen due to so much debate. Additionally, researchers are studying the condition, however, they’re focused on traits rather than finding an actual cure. There’s been minimal research on psychopathy as it is, but only a small fraction has focused on finding a cure. Psychopaths affect victims. There have been many instances where a psychopath’s actions have led to abuse and even death. An example of a criminal case of psychopathy is John Wayne Gacy who raped, tortured and strangled 33 young men in the 1970s. He scored a 28 on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R). He is seen as a secondary psychopath due to his ability to develop emotional bonds with others such as his family. He strangled those young men due to his greed for power. As a young child, he was abused by his father and molested by a family friend. He wasn’t able to tell his father due to the fear of being blamed. He channeled all that abuse toward young men for that reason and also to reject his homosexuality. Domestic violence by psychopaths is another example mentioned in one of the previous paragraphs. However, psychopathy is not synonymous with criminality (Theodorakis 2013). It is important to keep in mind that many psychopaths aren’t affiliated with crime. 1% of the US population are psychopaths and even a smaller percentage of that are psychopaths affiliated to crime (Daniel, 2015). In society, psychopaths have been viewed as if they are all criminals and violent due to television and movies. However, a lot of psychopaths are quite normal and lead regular lives with a job and a family.

In an interview with James Fallon who is a neuroscientist who also happens to be a psychopath, he explains that he is a neuroscientist, who has a family and lives a normal life. He didn’t find out he was a psychopath until he saw a scan of his brain during his Alzheimer’s research. Fallon started asking those who have known him for a long time if he had shown psychopathic characteristics and they’ve all made it clear to him that yes, they have and told him many times also. Fallon came to notice that he indeed does exhibit characteristics of a psychopath. However, he explains that he doesn’t exhibit everything because of the positive environment he was grown up in. The positive environment instead of an abusive environment resulted in him leading non-violent and crimeless life. In conclusion, psychopathy is both nature and nurture. There is evidence for both it being genetic and acquired later on due to developmental factors such as abuse and neglect. Stakeholders of psychopathy include psychopaths, family, researchers, victims, and society. Psychopathy causes the brains of psychopaths to be wired differently which results in a lack of emotions and the ability to not make proper decisions. Psychopaths don’t have healthy relationships. They yearn for power and tend to be emotionally and physically abusive towards their partners. Researchers have been researching for about the last two decades, however, much more research is needed to further understand psychopathy and perhaps find a cure.

There are victims in regard to criminality, however, the number is minimal. There are more victims of unhealthy relationships than there are with cases such as murder. Most psychopaths lead normal lives. Psychopaths don’t have a distinctive difference when seen. They are like normal people with regular jobs and are able to display fake emotion in front of others. There needs to be more research done in the future to validate theories. Without repetition, there is no telling how accurate a theory is. With such studies, a cure can even be developed, but currently there isn’t enough information to develop one (Daniel, 2015). By conducting multiple studies on similar theories can make studies much more reliable for further research, criminology, and psychiatry.

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