The publication of Cleckley’s text, The Mask of Sanity (1941), marked the beginning of the modern clinical construct of psychopathy, and his characterization has remained relatively stable to the present day. Cleckley based his description of the psychopath on observations of White, middle-class male patients, residing as inpatients of a mental hospital. The conceptualization of the psychopath by Cleckley focused on the patient’s intrapersonal characteristics or “inferred, nonobservable, processes."
Cleckley recognized that many psychopaths never became involved with the criminal justice system. Moreover, many could succeed in business or in other endeavors, particularly in those careers that offered considerable material success. Cleckley observed that the primary psychopathic characteristics of glibness, superficial charm, emotional detachment, and lack of remorse or guilt could be used for successful criminal or noncriminal careers. Psychopaths can pursue what they want without experiencing anxiety attributable to a concern for how their actions might impact others.
In the wake of Cleckley’s findings, the word psychopath became popular among laypersons as well as mental health professionals. Ellard attributes this notoriety to the term’s status as both an explanation for and a cause of depraved and frequent criminal behavior. He cautions, however, that this logic was as inherently circular and suspect during Cleckley’s period as it is today. Illustrating the tautological nature of Cleckley’s psychopath, Ellard questions, “Why has this man done these terrible things? Because he is a psychopath. And how do you know that he is a psychopath? Because he has done these terrible things”.