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Probing the mysteries of psychopathy

“A Psychopath Walks Into A Room. Can You Tell? (NPR May21, 2011) Arresting title, that, for an interesting proposition:

“Robert Hare, the eminent Canadian psychologist who invented the psychopath checklist, … recently announced that you’re four times more likely to find a psychopath at the top of the corporate ladder than you are walking around in the janitor’s office,” journalist Jon Ronson tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

Of course, some allowance should be made for the fact that bosses are noticed/hated much more than other folk, and big bosses are larger than life.

The effect one comes away with is that psychiatry has not done a better job than traditional wisdom in explaining things like: Why do the wicked prosper? Also, diagnosis about personalities is not better than judgment about actions in deciding how to think about such problems.

Put another way, what’s the point of saying “Hitler was a psychopath” as if that explains something that the catalogue of his known atrocities doesn’t?

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4 Responses to Probing the mysteries of psychopathy

  1. 1
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Well, one point, of course, is if it potentially allows you to make better predictions as to whether someone is likely to be safe to release from prison.

    Another is that it allows us to investigate what might not be functioning properly (or functioning abnormally) in the brain of a psychopath, and, possible, eventually finding away to remediate it.

    For example there is some evidence that psychopaths produce abnormally attenuated EEG responses to emotional stimuli,e.g. emotional words:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.....5/abstract

    and abnormal EEG responses during response inhibition tasks:

    http://www.biologicalpsychiatr.....9/abstract

  2. 2

    neuro-plasticity would infer that psychopaths are made not born. And it is possible that it accounts for the difference between the corporate psycho and the killer psychopaths. Or the reason that not all psychopaths kill, and not all killers are psychopaths. And why brain scans can’t predict with any certainty any of this behavior. Only probability. It would be difficult to hold someone in jail on probability. At least in the US

    off topic:

    Evolutionary psychology scores again:

    “Earlier this month, the popular magazine Psychology Today published an article by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/atlant.....ticle38261

  3. For once a subject I know something about! I did a small project on predicting violence among those with mental disorders as part of a recent MSc. Checklists such as PCL-R (and there are many of them) can, if used sensibly, substantially increase the chances of predicting whether someone will be violent in the future and are used to help make decisions on such things as whether to release mentally disturbed people and what kind of support/supervision to give them if they are released.

    Actually Ronson has it about right when he says:

    “I have great admiration for the Hare checklist. I think it’s right. I think it’s as scientific as psychology [sic] can ever be,” he says. But learning to administer it “really can mess with your head.”

    To return to Denyse’s points:

    There is no reason why psychiatry should do a better job than traditional wisdom in explaining why the wicked prosper. That is a question for economics or sociology.

    Diagnosis about personalities is extremely useful in deciding how to think about such problems and informs decisions on how to act.

    What has all this got to do with ID?

  4. markf: I heard a fascinating interview with Mr Ronson regarding his new book. Fascinating material and seemingly presented in an interesting fashion (I haven’t read the book yet).

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