What makes a criminal a psychopath ? Their macabre deeds and towering presence grab our attention and look no further than Ted Bundy, subject of a recent documentary on Netflix and cult gurus like Charles Manson.
The difficult definition of psychopathy
Despite years of theorizing and research, the mental health field continues to hotly debate the characteristics that define this diagnosis. It may come as a surprise that the most widely used psychiatric diagnostic system in the United States, the DSM-5, does not include the psychopathy as a formal disorder.
As a personality researcher and forensic psychologist, I have spent the past quarter century studying psychopaths inside and outside of prisons. I’ve also debated what exactly are the defining characteristics of psychopathy.
Most agree that psychopaths are ruthless people who lack empathy for others. But in recent years, much of this debate has focused on the relevance of a particular personality trait: audacity.
I’m on the side for which audacity is essential in separating psychopaths from more mundane criminals. It’s the trait that creates the veneer of normalcy, providing a mask for true predators to blend in with the rest of society.. But to lack audacity is to be what one might call a Shy-chopath.
The daring factor
About 10 years ago, the psychologist Christopher Patrick and some of his colleagues published a deep analyze in which they asserted that psychopaths were people expressing high levels of three basic traits: wickednessthe disinhibition and audacity.
Most experts in the field of mental health generally agree that the prototypical psychopath is both mean and, at least to some degree, uninhibited, although that there is even a debate on the extent to which the prototypical psychopath is actually impulsive and hot-headed.
In a psychological context, mean people tend to lack empathy and have little interest in close emotional relationships. They are also happy to use and exploit others for personal gain. Highly uninhibited people have very poor impulse control, are prone to boredom, and have difficulty managing their emotions, especially negative ones, such as frustration and hostility..
Ready for anything
Adding boldness to the mix, Patrick and his colleagues argued that authentic psychopaths are not just mean and uninhibited, they are also willing, fearless, emotionally resilient, and socially dominant individuals.
Although not thoroughly researched in recent decades, the concept of the bold psychopath isn’t exactly new. The famous psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley described it in his seminal work of 1941, The Mask of Sanityin which he described many examples of brazen, fearless and emotionally helpless psychopaths.
Ted Bundy is a prime example of such a person. He was far from modest and shy. He never seemed distressed or emotionally distressed. He charmed dozens of victims, acted as his own lawyer and even offered his girlfriend to appear in court.
It’s just the fact of wanting to take risksBundy said, in the Netflix documentary, about the motives for his crimes. Or maybe not even seeing the risk. Conquer only by audacity and the desire to accomplish something.
Seeds planted in the DSM
In the current DSM, the diagnosis closest to psychopathy is antisocial personality disorder. Although the textbook suggests that it has historically been referred to as psychopathy, seven current diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder primarily fall under disinhibition, qualities such as recklessness, impulsiveness, viciousness become evident in only two criteria: lack of remorse and the treason.
It’s not about daring. In other words, you don’t have to be bold to have antisocial personality disorder.. In fact, since you only need to meet three of the seven criteria to be diagnosed, it means you don’t even have to fill in all the boxes to be classified.
But the latest edition of the DSM, the fifth edition, included a additional section for proposed diagnoses requiring further study. In this supplemental section, a new specification has been proposed for people with the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. If you have a bold, fearless interpersonal style that seems to serve as a mask for your otherwise mean and uninhibited personality, you could also be diagnosed as a psychopath..
Can a psychopath be shy?
It remains to be seen whether this new model, which seems to put boldness at the center of the diagnosis of psychopathy, will be adopted later in later versions of the DSM system. Several researchers criticized the concept. They consider meanness and disinhibition much more important than boldness in deciding whether a person is a psychopath.
Their main problem seems to be that people who are bold, but not mean or uninhibited, actually seem well-adjusted and not particularly violent. In fact, compared to being excessively introverted or emotionally distressed, it seems to be an asset in everyday life.
others researchers, including myself, tend to regard such reviews as unconvincing. In our opinion, a person who is merely uninhibited and petty, but not daring, would not be able to achieve the spectacular level of manipulation of which a psychopath is capable.
What is certain is that being mean and uninhibited is a bad combination. But without boldness, you’re probably not going to make headlines for losing hundreds of millions of dollars to hundreds of investors.
Similarly, your chances are low to charm an unsuspecting victim into sexually assaulting them. That said, shy but mean people, the Shy-chopates, certainly exist and it’s probably best to stay away from them.. But you’re unlikely to confuse them with Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons.
Translation of an article by The Conversation by John Edensprofessor of psychology at Texas A&M University.