Juan Enrique Soto, PhD in Psychology, analyzes ‘Black Phone’: “A psychopath is an unscrupulous egoist”


Next Friday, June 24, it hits theaters. ‘Blackphone’the new horror film of scott derrickson (‘Doctor Strange’, ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’) in which Ethan Hawke plays a serial killer of children. A terrible but methodical criminal reminiscent of so many psychopaths portrayed in movies and television and ranging from Norman Bates (‘Psychosis’) until Hannibal Lecter (‘The silence of the lambs) going on John Doe (‘Seven’), Anton Chigurh (‘No country for old men’), Patrick Bateman (‘American Psycho’) and now also the Black Phone killer, a masked criminal known as The Grabber.

a figure, that of the psychopath and his reflection on the big screenwhich has analyzed Juan Enrique SotoPhD in Psychology and creator of the National Police Behavior Analysis Sectionwhich he has directed since 2010, and where he has developed the VERA method (criminal profiling) that is used in the resolution of cases at an international level.

At an event held in Madrid, Soto described the different typology of these criminalsthe phenomena (both physiological and social) that could explain their terrible acts, the working mechanisms of their twisted and dysfunctional minds and the methods used to investigate crimes similar to those reported in the film.

And, curiously, Soto begins his presentation by ensuring that, from a strictly scientific point of view, the concept of a psychopath is discussed and debatable. “Trying to answer what psychopathy is is a rather complicated mess, because it is a more popular concept than a scientific one.“, exposes the expert who points out as a curious fact that all the studies on these profiles have been carried out on the male prison population, not the female one.

Television series, films or documentaries about serial killers have shaped an image of the psychopath that is “very deeply rooted” in the collective imagination despite the fact that, underlines this doctor in Psychology, in the scientific field “psychopathy is not considered a mental health disorder“. Even at the judicial level, remember, it is not a term that is used formally in the processes either.

“Psychopathy doesn’t exist as such, as a mental health disorder, and that’s largely because we don’t know exactly what it is. We know there is something… but it is difficult to define and there is no consensus on it“, points out the expert who, as a character, exposes his very forceful and accurate definition of the psychopath:”An unscrupulous egoist“.


Concepts such as innate aggressiveness in human nature inhibited by fear of punishmentremorse and conscience or social norms are elements that help to understand how the mind of these individuals classified as psychopaths works.

And to the eternal question of whether the psychopath is born or made, the answer is not clear either. “If it is a biological or social question… It is a mixture. Both genetic issues and the environment in which personality develops have an influence,” says Soto, who, when listing the criteria that have traditionally been associated with psychopaths, and that have popularized their image (he does not have hallucinations, does not empathize , does not get nervous, has an external charm, pathological egocentrism, impersonal sexual life or antisocial behavior), emphasizes that His years of experience and the study of many cases cast doubt on these supposedly distinctive notes..

What is scientifically proven are the singularities that the brains of psychopaths present, whose nucleus accumbens, responsible for dopamine, is activated by the suffering of others. “With situations or images that would give the rest of us fear or horror, in psychopaths it produces pleasure. Their brains work differently“, affirms Solo who insists that the great mystery is still knowing if these singularities in their morphology and brain functioning are the cause of their psychopathy… or if precisely because they are psychopaths their brain works differently. “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” she wonders.

Another of the most interesting questions is why the incidence of this type of cases is higher in some countries than in others. In this sense, Soto recalls how figures such as “the murderer of the Deck” or “the murderer of the Katana” go down in the history of the black chronicle of Spain for their uniqueness, while in other countries such as the United States the reality is very different… and chilling: “Here they are so few that statistically they hardly count. But when you talk to an FBI agent, he tells you that they estimate that there will be about 50 serial killers operating in the country at any one time.“.


Regarding the types of psychopaths, Soto distinguishes between primary and secondary. “They are different in their way of being, in the functioning of their biology and in their behavior“, points out Soto who states that the primaries are those who act in a cold, calculating way and “without fear of punishment”. This last and definitive trait has a biological explanation, since in their brains the amygdala responsible for experiencing fear is less developed than in other people. Therefore, the expert explains, if they are incapable of developing fear of punishment, their behaviors are not inhibited and they do what they want without being conditioned by experience.

His hippocampus is also very smallsignificantly smaller than that of other people and, therefore, do not learn. Their fear quotient is very low. What we don’t know yet is whether they have small amygdala and hippocampus because they are psychopaths, or are they psychopathic because they have small amygdala and hippocampus“, Soto insists again, stressing that this primary psychopath would be “the model of murderers that would fit more with the movies” in figures like Hannibal Lecter or the murderer of ‘Black Phone’.

In the case of the secondary ones, it is about psychopaths who act on impulse and, although they do learn from their experience and do feel fear of punishment, the problem here is that they have “low boredom tolerance” and that “their desire is so powerful that they cannot be controlled”.

They have an amygdala and a hippocampus just like other people. That is, they experience fear and learn. But in this case, their desire is so powerful that nothing stops them.“, points out El Soto, who emphasizes that this type of murderers is usually more violent and more “botch” since, by acting on impulse and without planning their crimes, they tend to leave more evidence, make more mistakes and, therefore, they are easier to hunt.

But as in the case of the primary ones, this brain dysfunction that secondary psychopaths present in that part “older and more emotional” of our mind does not fully explain their behavior either. And it is that, says the expert “not all extremely impulsive people end up as serial killers“. “You can give them for other things, for risky sports, for example (…) We still have a lot to learn and we have to analyze it on a case-by-case basis.“, he concludes.

Director scott derrickson Return to horror with this Blumhouse-produced film, starring four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke and based on Joe Hill’s award-winning short story included in the book ‘Ghosts: The past is not dead, it is not even past…‘.

A sadistic killer kidnaps Finney Shaw, a shy and intelligent 13-year-old boy, and he locks him in a soundproof basement where his screams are useless. When a broken, offline phone starts ringingFinney discovers that through him he can hear the voices of the previous victims, who are determined to prevent Finney from ending up just like them.“, reads the official synopsis of black phone that arrives this Friday June 24 to theaters.

Juan Enrique Soto, PhD in Psychology, analyzes ‘Black Phone’: “A psychopath is an unscrupulous egoist”