The Psychopathy Checklist lets us discuss psychopaths with little risk
that we are describing simple social deviance or criminality, or that we are
mislabeling people who have nothing more in common than that they have broken
the law. But it also provides a detailed picture of the disordered
personalities of the psychopaths among us. In this chapter and the next, I
bring that picture into focus by describing the more salient features one by
one. This chapter looks at the emotional and interpersonal traits of this
complex personality disorder; chapter 4 examines the unstable,
characteristically antisocial lifestyle of the psychopath.|
A cautionary note: The Psychopathy Checklist is a complex clinical tool for
professional use. What follows is a general summary of the key
traits and behaviors of psychopaths. Do not use these symptoms to diagnose
yourself or others. A diagnosis requires explicit training and access to
the formal scoring manual. If you suspect that someone you know conforms to the
profile described here and in the next chapter, and if it is important to you
to obtain an expert opinion, seek the services of a qualified (registered)
forensic psychologist or psychiatrist.
- glib and superficial
- egocentric and grandiose
- lack of remorse or guilt
- lack of empathy
- deceitful and manipulative
- shallow emotions
- poor behavior controls
- need for excitement
- lack of responsibility
- early behavior problems
- adult antisocial behavior
Also, be aware that people who are not psychopaths may have some
of the symptoms described here. Many people are impulsive, or glib, or cold
and unfeeling, or antisocial, but this does not mean they are psychopaths.
Psychopathy is a syndrome--a cluster of related symptoms.
Psychopaths are often witty and articulate. They can be amusing and
entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever comeback, and
can tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast themselves in a good light.
They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very
likable and charming. To some people, however, they seem too slick and smooth,
too obviously insincere and superficial. Astute observers often get the
impression that psychopaths are play-acting, mechanically "reading their
One of my raters described an interview she did with a prisoner: "I sat down
and took out my clipboard, and the first thing this guy told me was what
beautiful eyes I had. He managed to work quite a few compliments on my
appearance into the interview -- couldn't get over my hair. So by the time I
wrapped things up I was feeling unusually...well, pretty. I'm a wary
person, especially on the job, and can usually spot a phony. When I got back
outside, I couldn't believe I'd fallen for a line like that."
Psychopaths may ramble and tell stories that seem unlikely in light of what is
known about them. Typically, they attempt to appear familiar with sociology,
psychiatry, medicine, psychology, philosophy, poetry, literature, art, or law.
A signpost to this trait is often a smooth lack of concern at being found out.
One of our prison files describes a psychopathic inmate claiming to have
advanced degrees in sociology and psychology, when in fact he did not even
complete high school. He maintained the fiction during an interview with one of
my students, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology; she commented that the inmate was
so confident in his use of technical jargon and concepts that those not
familiar with the field of psychology might well have been impressed.
Variations on this sort of "expert" theme are common among psychopaths....
Psychopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their self-worth
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. "It's not that I don't follow
the law," said one of our subjects. "I follow my own laws. I never violate my
own rules." She then described these rules in terms of "looking out for number
When another psychopath, in prison for a variety of crimes including robbery,
rape, and fraud, was asked if he had any weaknesses, he replied, "I don't have
any weaknesses, except maybe I'm too caring." On a 10-point scale he rated
himself "an all-round 10. I would have said 12, but that would be bragging. If
I had a better education I'd be brilliant."
The grandiosity and pomposity of some psychopaths often emerges in dramatic
fashion in the courtroom. For example, it is not unusual for them to criticize
or fire their lawyers and to take over their own defense, usually with
disastrous results. "My partner got a year. I got two because of a shithead
lawyer," said one of our subjects. He later handled his own appeal and saw his
sentence increased to three years.
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. They appear charismatic or "electrifying" to some
Psychopaths are seldom embarrassed about their legal, financial, or personal
problems. Rather, they see them as temporary setbacks, the results of bad luck,
unfaithful friends, or an unfair and incompetent system.
Although psychopaths often claim to have specific goals, they show little
understanding of the qualifications required -- they have no idea how to achieve
their goals and little or no chance of attaining them, given their track record
and lack of sustained interest in education. The psychopathic inmate thinking
about parole might outline vague plans to become a property tycoon or a lawyer
for the poor. One inmate, not particularly literate, managed to copyright the
title of a book he was planning to write about himself and was already counting
the fortune his bestseller would bring....
Psychopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the devastating effects their
actions have on others. Often they are completely forthright about the matter,
calmly stating that they have no sense of guilt, are not sorry for the pain and
destruction they have caused, and that there is no reason for them to be
When asked if he had any regrets about stabbing a robbery victim who
subsequently spent three months in the hospital as a result of his wounds, one
of our subjects replied, "Get real! He spends a few months in a hospital and I
rot here. I cut him up a bit, but if I wanted to kill him I would have slit his
throat. That's the kind of guy I am; I gave him a break." Asked if he regretted
any of his crimes, he said, "I don't regret nothing. What's done is
done. There must have been a reason why I did it at the time, and that is why
it was done...."
On the other hand, psychopaths sometimes verbalize remorse but then contradict
themselves in words or actions. Criminals in prison quickly learn that
remorse is an important word. When asked if he experienced remorse over
a murder he'd committed, one young inmate told us, "Yeah, sure, I feel
remorse." Pressed further, he said that he didn't "feel bad inside about
I was once dumbfounded by the logic of an inmate who described his murder
victim as having benefited from the crime by learning "a hard lesson about
"The guy only had himself to blame," another inmate said of the man he'd
murdered in an argument about paying a bar tab. "Anybody could have seen I was
in a rotten mood that night. What did he want to go and bother me for?" He
continued, "Anyway, the guy never suffered. Knife wounds to an artery are the
easiest way to go."
Psychopaths' lack of remorse or guilt is associated with a remarkable ability
to rationalize their behavior and to shrug off personal responsibility for
actions that cause shock and disappointment to family, friends, associates, and
others who have played by the rules. Usually they have handy excuses for their
behavior, and in some cases they deny that it happened at all....
Many of the characteristics displayed by psychopaths -- especially their
egocentricity, lack of remorse, shallow emotions, and deceitfulness are closely
associated with a profound lack of empathy (an inability to construct a mental
and emotional "facsimile" of another person). They seem unable to "get into the
skin" or to "walk in the shoes" of others, except in a purely intellectual
sense. The feelings of other people are of no concern to psychopaths.
In some respects they are like the emotionless androids depicted in science
fiction, unable to imagine what real humans experience. One rapist, high on the
Psychopathy Checklist, commented that he found it hard to
empathize with his victims. "They are frightened, right? But, you see, I don't
really understand it. I've been scared myself, and it wasn't unpleasant."
Psychopaths view people as little more than objects to be used for their own
gratification. The weak and the vulnerable -- whom they mock, rather than
pity--are favorite targets. "There is no such thing, in the psychopathic
universe, as the merely weak," wrote psychologist Robert Rieber. "Whoever is
weak is also a sucker; that is, someone who demands to be
Lying, deceiving, and manipulation are natural talents for psychopaths.
With their powers of imagination in gear and focused on themselves, psychopaths
appear amazingly unfazed by the possibility -- or even by the certainty -- of being
found out. When caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, they are seldom
perplexed or embarrassed -- they simply change their stories or attempt to rework
the facts so that they appear to be consistent with the lie. The results are a
series of contradictory statements and a thoroughly confused listener. Much of
the lying seems to have no motivation other than what psychologist Paul Ekman
refers to as a "duping delight...."
Psychopaths seem proud of their ability to lie. When asked if she lied easily,
one woman with a high score on the Psychopathy Checklist laughed and
replied, "I'm the best. I'm really good at it, I think because I sometimes
admit to something bad about myself. They'd think, well, if she's admitting to
that she must be telling the truth about the rest." She also said that she
sometimes "salts the mine" with a nugget of truth." If they think some of what
you say is true, they usually think it's all true."
Many observers get the impression that psychopaths sometimes are unaware that
they're lying; it is as if the words take on a life of their own, unfettered by
the speaker's knowledge that the observer is aware of the facts. The
psychopath's indifference to being identified as a liar is truly extraordinary;
it causes the listener to wonder about the speaker's sanity. More often,
though, the listener is taken in....
"I'm the most cold-blooded son of a bitch that you'll ever meet.''
So Ted Bundy described himself to the police following his final arrest.
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 play-acting 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. "I
believe in emotions: hate, anger, lust, and greed," said Richard Ramirez, the
The apparent lack of normal affect and emotional depth led psychologists J. H.
Johns and H. C. Quay to say that the psychopath "knows the words but not the
music." For example, in a rambling book about hate, violence, and
rationalizations for his behavior, Jack Abbott made this revealing comment:
"There are emotions -- a whole spectrum of them -- that I know only through words,
through reading and in my immature imagination. I can imagine I
feel these emotions (know, therefore, what they are), but I do not.
At age thirty-seven I am barely a precocious child. My passions are those
of a boy...."
 The Psychopathy Checklist is published by Multi-Health Systems (908
Niagra Falls Blvd, North Tonawanda, NY 14120-2060; in Canada, 65 Overlea Blvd,
Toronto, Ontario, M4H1P1) and is available to qualified users. The items in the
Psychotherapy Checklist are scored by combining interview, case-history,
and archival data. However, some investigators have obtained valid scores
solely from extensive, good quality file and archival information (e.g., G.T.
Harris, M.E. Rice, & C.A. Cormier. Psychotherapy and violent recidivism.
Law and Human Behavior, 1991, 15, 625-637).
 Robert Rieber (in press). The Psychotherapy of Everyday Life amd the
Institutionalization of Distress. New York: Basic Books.
 Paul Ekman (1985). Telling Lies. New York: Norton.
 Michaud and Aynesworth (1989). p. 3.
 From the television program A Current Affair, October 10, 1991.
 J. H. Johns and H. C. Quay (1962). The effect of social reward on verbal
conditioning in psychopathic and neurotic military offenders. Journal of
Consulting Psychology 36, 217-20.
 Jack Abbott (1981). In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison.
New York: Random House. p. 13.
Excerpted from WITHOUT CONSCIENCE: THE DISTURBING WORLD OF THE
PSYCHOPATHS AMONG US by Robert D. Hare, pp. 33-53. Reprinted with
permission of Guilford Press:New York. Published 1999. This excerpt is
posted with permission of Guilford Publications, Inc. and is subject
to copyright law and restricted from further use without written
permission of the publisher (email@example.com).