Thursday, February 20, 2020

The origins of criminality as a feature in sociopathy (part 2)


Cleckley’s sociopath was “bold”, boldness here being “a capacity to remain calm and focused in situations involving pressure or threat, an ability to recover quickly from stressful events, high self-assurance and social efficacy, and a tolerance for unfamiliarity and danger. Terms related to boldness include fearless dominance (Benning, Patrick, Blonigen, et al., 2005), daringness, audacity, indomitability, resiliency (Block & Block, 1980), and hardiness (Kobasa, 1979).” Id. Bold individuals are likely to show: “social dominance, low stress reactivity, and thrill–adventure seeking (Benning et al., 2003; Benning, Patrick, Blonigen, et al., 2005) . . . imperturbability, social poise, assertiveness and persuasiveness, bravery, and venturesomeness.” Id.

Boldness was evident in [Cleckley’s] case descriptions and diagnostic criteria in terms of poise and high social efficacy, absence of anxiety or neurotic symptoms, diminished emotional responsiveness, imperviousness to punishment (“failure to learn by experience”), and low suicidality. Other historic writers concerned with psychopathy in psychiatric patients as opposed to criminal samples (e.g., Kraepelin, Schneider) also identified bold externalizing types. Id.

Cleckley studied non-criminal sociopaths at a large inpatient facility. No other researcher has focused so extensively on non-criminal sociopaths.

Most researchers studied criminals, and consequently defined sociopathy as a dark strain of criminal deviance. Early researchers William Maxwell McCord and Joan McCord painted a picture in “The Psychopath: An Essay on the Criminal Mind” (1964) of a socially detached, predatory, aggressive, and remorseless individual plagued by angry-reactive forms of aggression and resultant criminality. Similarly Lee Robins, whose work underlies the DSM-V’s “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (ASPD), focused on a maladjustedness marked by persistent aggression, criminality, and destructiveness. Robins (1966, 1978).

Around that same time, Robert Hare developed his Psychopathy Checklist (now revised, PCL-R), based on the Canadian criminal population. The PCL-R is the most popular diagnostic tool for sociopathy. Hare based it on Cleckley’s sociopath, however, it is distinctly darker:

In contrast with Cleckley’s portrayal of psychopathic patients as personable and ostensibly well meaning but feckless and untrustworthy, this latter perspective conceptualizes psychopathic individuals as cold, abrasive, and aggressively exploitative in their interactions with others.

Patrick, et al. (2009).

Cleckley saw “boldness.” Hare substituted “meanness.” Why? Interestingly, Hare’s own early work also found boldness instead of meanness. Id. What changed?

Alice, a sociopath I met in Australia, theorizes that it wasn’t the sociopaths that changed, but Hare. Alice thinks Hare is biased. In fact, she goes so far as to tell me she believes he’s a subclinical narcissist. Her evidence for narcissism includes Hare’s statements that suggest he has a fragile ego and needs to be liked by others. For instance, you could read the following statement as a theory about how most people feel, or you could read between the lines and see someone who is overly concerned with how he is perceived by others:

“We are haunted to some degree by questions about our self-worth. As a consequence, we continually attempt to prove to ourselves and others that we are okay people, credible, trustworthy, and competent.”

He does seem to take the misdeeds of sociopaths personally, for example he warns:

“All the reading in the world cannot immunize you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, conned, and left bewildered by them.”

Hare speaks from personal experience. He is on record describing his first encounter with a sociopath “Ray” as a long con in which Ray influenced Hare to break prison rules. Hare said he did what Ray asked to build a “rapport”. Due in part to Hare’s influence, Ray received a plum job in the prison mechanic shop. When Hare’s tenure at the prison ended, Ray performed a tune-up on Hare’s car. The brakes failed while Hare was driving down a hill, family in tow. A local mechanic confirmed that the brakes had been rigged with a slow leak. 

Alice thinks this early experience and his continuing inability to build a rapport with prison sociopaths caused him to harden his heart against them. Alice thinks he sought payback by portraying them in the worst psychological light possible, destroying their possibility of parole.

Alice’s theory for Hare’s anti-sociopath bias is consistent with the facts as we know them.

To give you an idea of Hare’s lack of scientific objectivity, in his book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us he calls sociopaths the “monsters of real life” and warns:

“On a more personal level, it is very likely that at some time in your life you will come into painful contact with a psychopath. For your own physical, psychological, and financial well-being it is crucial that you know how to identify the psychopath, how to protect yourself, and how to minimize the harm done to you.”

Hare has manifested other narcissistic traits. In a widely publicized move, he threatened to enjoin the publication of an academic, peer-reviewed article that criticized his PCL-R. The article, by researchers Jennifer Skeem and David Cooke, argued that “the PCL–R weighs antisocial behavior as strongly as—if not more strongly than—traits of emotional detachment in assessing psychopathy.” Consequently, it “is overly saturated with criminality and impulsivity (Blackburn, 2005; Forouzan & Cooke, 2005)” and as such, it “imperfectly maps psychopathy” and “does not fully correspond to Cleckley’s (1941) conceptualization, on which it is purportedly based.” 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The orgins of criminality as a feature of sociopathy (part 1)


“People tend to think of psychopaths as criminals. In fact, the majority of psychopaths aren’t criminal.”
--Dr. Robert Hare

In his seminal treatise The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality (1941), Hervey Cleckley theorized that sociopathy was due to an underlying impairment in emotional processing, e.g. an emotional colorblindness.

Common manifestations of this impairment included emotional disconnectedness:

  • ·        lack of feelings of guilt
  • ·        shallow emotions
  • ·        self-centeredness
  • ·        lack of empathy
  • ·        insincerity
  • ·        lack of awareness or understanding of their own emotional states
  • ·        failure to imbue sexual behavior with emotional meaning

Adaptive (positive) traits:

  • ·        intelligence and social aptitude
  • ·        absence of irrationality
  • ·        boldness and confidence
  • ·        low incidence of suicide

And maladaptive (negative) traits:

  • ·        deceitfulness
  • ·        unreliability
  • ·        impulsivity
  • ·        failure to learn from experience
  • ·        unrealistic expectations that things will work out
  • ·        recklessness, especially when intoxicated
  • ·        atypical sexual behavior

Modern researchers would call Cleckley’s sociopath a “Factor 1 psychopath”. Factor 1 traits make up the first half of Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R) and/or the similar set of personality traits in Scott Lillienfeld’s Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI).

Factor 1 sociopaths are associated with:
·        High social abilities and emotional resilience. Hall et al. (2004).
·        High five-factor model (FFM) extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness. Id. The Five-Factor Model includes the five major personality traits that all people share in different levels: extraversion, openness to experiences, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and agreeableness. These standardized traits are used to compare different personality types or reflect the prevalence of certain personality characteristics in particular populations, like sociopaths.
o   FFM extraversion is associated with social confidence, social adeptness, and charm.
o   FFM openness is associated with novelty seeking, adventurousness, and openness to unconventional beliefs and behaviors.
o   FFM conscientiousness is associated with an awareness of the effects of one’s actions.
·        Low FFM neuroticism. Id.
o   FFM neuroticism is a preoccupation with avoiding negative experiences or punishment, worrying, focusing on problems, and an inability to cope with every day stressors. People low on neuroticism are much more influenced by positive rewards than punishment.
·        High verbal intelligence and personal and parental socioeconomic status. Id.
·        High self-interest and self-regard, prone to manipulation and Machiavellian behaviors. Harpur, Hare, & Hakstian, 1989; Hare, 1991; Verona et al., 2001.
·        Long-term planning to use people and things in an instrumental way to achieve the psychopath’s desired aim. Patrick & Zempolich, 1998; Porter & Woodworth, 2006.
·        Low empathy. Hare, 2003.
·        Social dominance. Hare, 1991; Harpur et al., 1989; Verona et al., 2001.
·        Low fearfulness, distress, and depression. Harpur et al., 1989; Hicks & Patrick, 2006.
·        Low physical responses to fearful situations. Cf. Patrick, 1994, 2007.

Patrick, Fowles, Krueger (2009).

Are you surprised at how many positive characteristics there are? It’s easy to imagine how traits like emotional resilience and social dominance could promote success. Or how low fearfulness and depression might improve overall mood? How extraversion and adventurousness might help in love, business, and overall life satisfaction? Indeed, I receive several emails a month asking me to help the writer become more sociopathic.

Noticeably absent in Cleckley’s sociopath are traits like intentional cruelty, sadism, misanthropy, or even violence. Id. In fact, only three out of fifteen of Cleckley’s sociopaths showed high interpersonal aggressiveness. Id. They were no one’s angels, but nor were they devils. Instead, they were “charming ne’er-do-wells who harm others incidentally rather than deliberately.”  Id. Cleckley even argued that sociopaths are less prone to violence because they’re less likely to be emotionally triggered. Id.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Trading stocks like a sociopath

My friend sent me this NPR quick 10 minute piece on investing in the stock market and what tends to be the best strategy overall -- buy and hold.



I remember talking about this just a bit in the book, about how I have beat the market year after year. I don't think I am super good at picking stocks. Maybe just a bit better than average. I think this is one thing that I am super great at, though, which is not letting my emotions dictate whether I buy/hold/sell. I do think sociopaths might be bad at stocks for other reasons, including impulse control short sightedness, and a novelty seeking tendency to self destruct a bit every few years or so. But if you can somehow avoid those sociopath pitfalls, I do think sociopaths can have a bit of an advantage long term over the average investor. 
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