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A meta-analysis published this summer in Frontiers in Psychology reveals the prevalence of psychopathy in the general population: 4.5% of adults suffer from this personality disorder. However, the study authors point out that this rate varies according to the sex of the participants, the type of sample of the general population studied and the method used to define psychopathy. According to Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) established by the psychologist Robert Hare, the percentage drops to 1.2%.
This meta-analysis is based on about fifteen studies – most published in the last ten years – involving 16 samples of participants representing a total of approximately 11,500 adults. Most of these participants were university students (43.75% of the total samples) and adults from the community (37.5%), respectively comprising seven and six of the samples considered. The other three cohorts studied (18.75%) were recruited from different organizations.
To study the possible influence of the country of origin on the prevalence of psychopathy, the samples were grouped into three categories: North America (USA and Canada: 43.75%), United Kingdom-Australia (31.25 %) and continental Europe (Sweden, Belgium and Portugal: 25%). In most of the studies listed (60%), psychopathy was assessed and defined with self-report instruments (notably the self-report scales developed by Michael Levenson and Robert Hare); 33% of these involved clinician assessment instruments (the PCL-R) and the remaining assessments were based on an interview.
Are you an unknowing psychopath?
Psychopathy is generally defined as ” a type of personality disorder characterized, among other important characteristics, by the presence of behaviors that conflict with the social, moral or legal norms of society, giving rise in many cases to clearly criminal behavior “, specify the authors. However, criminal behavior does not fundamentally define this disorder.
In the 1940s, the American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, considered a pioneer in the study of psychopathy, highlighted the personality traits specific to psychopaths, in particular the lack of emotion (lack of nervousness, absence of remorse or shame, inability to love, superficial affective reactions), associated with a “normal” appearance (absence of delusions or other signs of irrational thinking, superficial charm and good “intelligence”). In other words, being a criminal does not mean that one is a psychopath. And some people could therefore be psychopaths without having committed crimes (and never commit any).
Cleckley’s research has largely inspired the work of Robert Hare, who has become one of the highest authorities in the field of psychopathy, especially since he established, in 1991, the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (or PCL-R), an evaluation scale grouping different symptoms typical of the disorder. Over the years, this tool has become a reference for the assessment of psychopathy in forensic and prison contexts, and has given rise to several ever more refined versions.
Better understanding psychopathy and evaluating it in a relevant way makes it possible to highlight possible environmental, social and situational factors leading to criminality, and to improve the evaluation of the risk of recidivism and violence in order to select programs of appropriate treatment.
A predominantly male disorder
Research has consistently shown that the prevalence of psychopathy is higher among male offenders and inmates. It has also been found that the prevalence of psychopathy and levels of psychopathy are higher in North American inmates (of both sexes) than in European inmates.
Furthermore, the scientific literature recognizes the existence of people with high levels of psychopathy, who are neither delinquent nor violent; these psychopaths are said to be “integrated” or even “successful” when they are doing very well in their lives. The absence of fear, great self-confidence or charisma that characterize them can indeed be real assets in certain contexts. For example, it has been suggested that psychopaths move up the ladder more easily within their company, because they naturally exude charisma and confidence.
The meta-analysis seems to confirm this last hypothesis, as the prevalence of psychopathy in organizational samples is much higher than in community samples (12.9% vs. 1.9%); it also turns out to be higher among student samples (8.1%). Similarly, the results confirm that sex significantly influences the prevalence of psychopathy: in the 13 samples used to assess the role of sex, the disorder was diagnosed in 7.9% of men and “only” 2.9% of women. women.
Finally, the authors of this meta-analysis specify that in the 13 samples retained, “ gender was the only moderator significantly related to the prevalence of psychopathy because neither country of origin, valuation method, nor sample type were found to be significant in their respective individual meta-regression analyses.
Averaging the results estimated the prevalence of psychopathy in the general adult population at 4.5%—a much lower prevalence than that found in samples obtained from forensic or prison settings (which ranges from 10 to 35%), note the researchers. But it turns out that the prevalence rates obtained in the studies reviewed here show considerable variation, from 0% to 21%! This analysis confirms that this variation is due to the type of instrument used to define psychopathy, the gender of the participants, and the type of sample from the general population; on the other hand, the country of origin does not appear as a significant parameter.