Truth About Psychopathy (An Essay)

I wrote this essay second semester of my freshman year of college, and I’m pretty proud of this because this was the first time I did an extensive research paper about something, and I think it turned out pretty well.

Nicole Hanson

English 101

March 23th, 2018

The Truth about Psychopathy

    In the TED Talk, Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson talks about his experiences with meeting psychopaths. He talks about meeting a man named Tony, who faked his own madness to escape his prison sentence of five years. As a result, he was put in this place called, Broadmoor, and he’s been in there for 12 years now. After Ronson talks to Tony’s psychiatrist, he explained that he was a psychopath because faking his own madness was considered cunning and manipulative, which are a part of the characteristics of psychopaths. Ronson read about Robert Hare’s psychopath checklist and wanted to discover other psychopaths. He contacted a man named Al Dunlap, a former CEO. As he was interviewing him, he realized he was looking for only the psychopathic information, as he says,“So, whenever he said anything to me that seemed kind of non-psychopathic, I thought to myself, well I’m not going to put that in my book. And then I realized that becoming a psychopath spotter had kind of turned me a little bit psychopathic. Because I was desperate to shove him in a box marked, “Psychopath,” I was desperate to define him by his maddest edges.”To be clear, he’s trying to make a point saying that this happens when patients are being assessed as well as making an example to journalists. As to say the psychiatrists find alternatives ways to make the patients fit into the characteristic traits. He goes on to explain how this is affecting society by saying, “And you know, this is a country that over-diagnoses certain mental disorders hugely. Childhood bipolar — children as young as four are being labeled bipolar because they have temper tantrums, which scores them high on the bipolar checklist.” Psychiatrists find ways to over-assess patients, and it’s becoming a common phenomenon that there is a good percentage that mental illnesses are being misdiagnosed. He soon wraps up his talk, but this leaves the question, what is a psychopath?

A psychopath is defined as, “A constellation of traits that comprises effective features, interpersonal features, as well as impulsive and antisocial behaviors. Although psychopathy is a risk factor for physical aggression, it is by no means synonymous with it. In contrast to individuals with psychotic disorders, most psychopaths are in touch with reality and seemingly rational” (Natasha Tracy). There are twenty characteristics into defining what a psychopath is, which include glib and superficial charm, grandiose estimation of self, pathological lying, cunning and manipulative, lack of empathy, early behavior problems, etc. Not all psychopaths have all twenty traits but as they use the testing system of PLC-R, the score determines whether or not you are psychopathic. How the PLC-R system is set is for each characteristic, it is rated between 0 to 2, depending on how the patient meets the specific trait. The total score is 40, and to be considered psychopathic, you need a score of at least 30. As Jon Ronson began explaining the topic of psychopaths he presented the statistics,“So, here’s the statistics: One in a hundred-regular people is a psychopath. So, there’s 1,500 people in his room. Fifteen of you are psychopaths. Although that figure rises to four percent of CEOs and business leaders, so I think there’s a very good chance there’s about 30 or 40 psychopaths in this room. It could be carnage by the end of the night.”I find this interesting because not all those psychopaths are criminals, or murderers said so to speak, as CEO’s are the highest job known to have psychopaths, but some are just average persons who have a mental disorder.

Although there isn’t a clear way to cure psychopathy, there are brain scans to see the chances of being a psychopath. A man named James Fallon discovered he had psychopathy. He explained his discovery,“I found out that I happened to have a series of genetic alleles, “warrior genes,” that had to do with serotonin and were thought to be at risk for aggression, violence, and low emotional and interpersonal empathy—if you’re raised in an abusive environment. But if you’re raised in a very positive environment, that can have the effect of offsetting the negative effects of some of the other genes.” It depends on what your environmental setting is likely to determine how your psychopathic setup will form. If you live in a positive environment, you are more likely to “remove” your psychopathic disorder.You can test your children as early as two to three years old. Although it isn’t recommended to tell the family that early because the brain isn’t fully developed and could eventually change. As an example, he said,“I started working with some psychiatrists and neurologists who would tell me that they could identify a probable psychopath when he or she was only 2 or 3 years old. I asked them why they didn’t tell the parents and they said, “There’s no way I’m going to tell anybody. First of all, you can’t be sure; second of all, it could destroy the kid’s life; and third of all, the media and the whole family will be at your door with sticks and knives.”This, I agree with his statement because it can negatively affect the child and their family, but as soon as a doctor makes a mistake, they basically get attacked for being wrong. I do believe that it could be helpful to know though, because it could be “prevented” by teaching them different things around the psychopathic tendencies, and how the child is being brought up, and how they interact with others.

To explain how the brain functions before puberty started, he describes,“Before puberty, a lot of your brain–your frontal lobe and its connections—has to do with the orbital cortex, amygdala, and that lower half of the brain that controls emotional regulation. It is also the origin of people’s natural sense of morality when they learn regulation and the rules of the game, which are ethics. Before then, generally, a normal kid is very much living in a world of ideating, drinking, some sexuality—but they’re also extremely moralistic. So, those are two things that are fighting each other those first years.”I agree with this because your brain controls your emotions, and as I can describe it, it’s a confusing time because before you hit puberty you go through a range of emotions and phases, and based on what your environment is like, your emotions develop based on experiences.

After puberty, your brain and your tendencies come about if you still have the psychopathic traits. James Fallon pointed out, “Some people have this psychopathy or are almost psychopaths, and they get into trouble and go right to jail and end up in the prison system as 18-year-olds. It’s awful because they get unlucky and they don’t have enough impulse control to pull it back at the last instant.” people don’t know they have any kind of psychopathic trait, they aren’t aware of their impulses. Not all impulses are bad, but it’s knowing that they have a lack of control. So, without knowing, they haven’t learned how to control their impulses, and as soon as it happens, they’re in jail and they don’t have a fair chance because psychopaths are deemed as criminals, not mental disorders.

There are differences between men and women in their psychopathic tendencies.“First, with regard to behavioral expression, manipulative women were reported to be more likely to be flirtatious, whereas men were more likely to engage in conning behavior. Also, in females, impulsivity and conduct disorder were characterized by running away, self-harming behavior, manipulation, and complicity in committing crimes (essentially theft and fraud), whereas in males it was more likely to characterized by violent behaviors. This is consistent with the empirical literature” (Forouzan, Elham, and David J. Cooke). This isn’t for all women, but on average most women are not violent in order to get what they are searching for. They are to be considered manipulative towards their goal to get what they want. Another difference between men and women are social norms are explained in the article,“societal norms may affect the assessment of some psychopathic traits among females and males. For example, some degree of material dependency may be socially and culturally acceptable for women, whereas similar behaviors are perceived as ‘‘parasitic’’ for men. A woman who reports relying on her family (husband/partner or her parents) may not be considered as parasitic, whereas a man reporting that he relies on his family is more likely to be perceived as parasitic. Such gender-linked variations will adversely affect gender equivalence” (Forouzan, Elham, and David J. Cooke).It’s been for many years that women are supposed to rely on men to work, and women are supposed to stay home, as in this generation it’s changing drastically, but some women are still dependent on men’s money. Although this is common motives for women, men are easier to give to these women because they still get what they want, maybe sexually or societal attention.

Another difference between genders is symptoms. The article discusses,“If psychopathy is manifested differently across gender, then the symptoms considered as the best indicators of psychopathy in men may not be appropriate—or sensitive enough—for identifying psychopathy in women. If this is the case, then the diagnostic criteria and, as a consequence, the process of assessment of psychopathy in females should be based on other characteristics than those established for psychopathy in males” (Forouzan, Elham, and David J. Cooke). I suppose you have to take into consideration of the situation of how you’ve come to need to diagnose the person because not everything will be the same per patient, but I can agree that if there is a significant difference between men and women while assessing the psychopathic traits, then there should be separate tests for them, and if not, it should be based on the specific case itself whether or not if it’s appropriate. Lastly, in this article, it talks about the study rates on women who have psychopathy as they clarify,“Although female cases of psychopathy have been reported for as long as male psychopathy, the core characteristics of this personality disorder among females have been subject to little systematic investigation, as yet. Despite the growing number of studies on psychopathy in females, little research has been carried out on the etiological, affective, interpersonal, and behavioral characteristics of psychopathy in women. In addition, studies of the base rate and symptomatology have failed to provide clear and consistent results. The continued application of the male template is likely to be misleading. This is not merely a problem for research, but it is also a problem for ethical practice” (Forouzan, Elham, and David J. Cooke). I believe there are less known woman psychopaths so I can believe that there are less conclusive results. Maybe the personality of most women wouldn’t want to know if they had psychopathic personality, or it’s commonly known for women’s behavior to act a certain way, so it isn’t deemed as bad. Men and women can be identified as psychopathic with similar traits, so maybe they have some distinctive characteristics that can be differed when evaluated, they can use that well they test between genders.

A big factor in the stereotypical psychopath is defined by society. Society sees psychopaths as criminals and murderers, but that’s only because that’s what media talks about when a criminal case comes up. Most people ignore the reality of what goes on inside a psychopathic mind because regardless, they’re still bad. I understand that serial killers don’t have good intentions, considering they kill people, but my opinion is that not all of them can control themselves in a sense of where obviously they have an impulse to murder these people because it’s like an itch they can’t get rid of, and then after they feel relieved. Some psychopaths cannot feel remorse for what they did, so they don’t see why it’s wrong because it’s a thing in their brain that prevents them from it, unlike “normal” brains, like ours can see that it’s wrong. In an article I read, it explained how society views psychopaths by saying, “Psychopaths are continually presented as criminals and feared due to their supposed aggressive tendencies, stemming from the excessive labeling of murderers as psychopaths by the media and popular culture.” Which means they stigmatize them and assume they are all bad. Through research and testing they concurred that, “While we found preliminary evidence for a negative correlation between the presence of psychopathic traits and the degree of stigmatization towards psychopaths, it is not possible to definitively establish the reason for this trend.” Which simplifies to mean that there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether the actuality of the fear towards psychopath’s aggressiveness is causing the negative correlation. The media only exploits psychopaths as criminals and violent, which make psychopaths maintain that reputation. A good majority of psychopaths aren’t violent or criminal, they are “normal” human beings with a mental illness. Those people wouldn’t be publically open to say that they are, so it’s typically known to come up during criminal situations. The media has a strong influence on how most of society views certain things because they hide the reality of the full truth.

There is a long process of discovering murderous crimes; in the book written by Richard Tithecott, he explains what the FBI goes through by saying,“But while the nature of serial killing is figured as mysterious, we are nonetheless keen to identify its symptoms. While its nature may be the secret of unworldly, satanic deities, we do our best to identify signs of its earthly manifestations. We look for and find those signs in spaces whose relation to society as a whole can go unnoticed. Our policing of the serial killer safeguards the idea of social order by identifying the serial killer’s “asocial” origins” (32). I found this interesting because this book talks about the psychopaths who are serial killers, and how difficult it is to create a list of suspects linked to serial murders because they go unnoticed for so long, it’s hard to become discovered, resulting in lack of evidence. Tithecott goes on to explain later in the book,“what police have to solve compared to the crime by saying, the “nature” of the serial killer we identify, what makes him “tick,” is figured as a mystery, and for the most part we are content to leave it as such. Without “motive” but with Douglas’s and Hazelwood’s terms, “organized” or “disorganized,” becoming part of everyday discourse (used in articles without quotation marks, used with no reference to their origins, used as part of a discourse which is self-evidently “scientific and true”), our construction of the serial killer becomes an inhuman figure, an automaton who is either out of control or follows a program whose writer remains unidentified. “It” is either in control, or it is not, either adult, sober, nondrug using, and sane, or some or none of the above” (28). There are many meticulous details that go into figuring out the murderer because you need to think of their motives, how organized and clean the crime scene is and the location of the murders, this will link them to some sort of connection, and unfortunately, it doesn’t connect until there are more linked murders.

An example of a serial killer referred to in this book is, Jeffrey Dahmer. As he moved when he was younger, he began to be afraid of people, and by the time he was a teenager, he began isolating himself and drinking excessively. After he graduated from high school, his parents got divorced which must have set something off because soon after he killed his first victim. Jeffrey Dahmer is known to be homosexual, cannibal, and serial killer. He admitted to killing 17 young men, who were mostly black and gay. He kept Polaroid pictures of his corpses, a 57-gallon bucket of acid and kept a severed head in his refrigerator. I won’t go too much into detail of these murders because of how gruesome and horrific they were. During his trial, he tried to plead guilty due to insanity, but was declared sane and sentenced to 15 life sentences but died later after a brutal attack in prison.

Another example of a psychopath is, Aileen Wuornos. She grew up in the care of her grandparents (which she believed were her actual parents) after her parents abandoned her and her brother. They were brutally abused by her grandfather, and her grandmother didn’t do much to stop it. Aileen was known to be introverted and wouldn’t get along with others; before she hit puberty, she had a bad temper and had random outbursts. She began participating in criminal acts such as shoplifting, and she began drinking and starting fights. She gave birth to a baby but had to give them up for adoption. Soon after she dropped out of school and left the home of her grandparents. After some time, she became a prostitute and landed herself in jail for burglary. After, she continued the life of prostitution and partying met her long-time girlfriend, Tyria. During their relationship was when she killed her seven victims, claiming they raped her and killing them in self-defense, although none of it added up to the forensic evidence. As she began trial, she changed her stories multiple times and was eventually convicted and executed.

The Ted Talk, Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test lead us to the question, what is a psychopath. I pieced out different aspects of what it is, how it’s discovered, the difference between genders, how society views psychopathy and gave some examples of psychopaths. I believe the Ted Talk is misleading because Jon talks about misdiagnosing patients and only looking for the bad, which I don’t believe is true. As I read more about psychopathy, it was mostly based on society’s negativity towards them, which gives the impression of all psychopaths are terrible criminals, which is also false. Overall, the psychopathic testing is accurate and there are multiple situations and topics in the category of psychopaths that aren’t aware in our society.






Works Cited

Arrigo, Bruce A, and Ayanna Griffin. Serial Murder and the Case of Aileen Wuornos: Attachment Theory, Psychopathy, and Predatory Aggression. May 2004,

“Dahmer, Jeffrey Lionel (1960 – 1994).” World of Criminal Justice, Gale, edited by Shirelle Phelps, Gale, 1st edition, 2002. Credo Reference, Accessed 04 Mar 2018.

Durand, Guillame, and Erika Mastumoto Plata. “Negative Attitudes towards Psychopaths: The Role of One’s Own Psychopathic Traits.” Https://, 4 Jan. 2017,

Forouzan, Elham, and David J. Cooke. Figuring Out La Femme Fatale: Conceptual and Assessment Issues Concerning Psychopathy in Females. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2005,

“Hare Psychopathy Checklist.” Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders,

Loving, James L. Treatment Planning With the Psychopathy Checklist–Revised (PCL-R). 1 June 2002,

Ohikuare, Judith. “Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 21 Jan. 2014,

Ronson, Jon. “Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Mar. 2012,