Thursday, February 27, 2020

The origins of criminality as a feature of sociopathy (part 3)

Because it largely captures people who commit crimes, either sociopathic or non, the PCL-R is both over-inclusive of non-sociopathic criminals and under-inclusive of non-criminal sociopaths. (Id, citing Lilienfeld, 1994.) At best, research based on the PCL-R can be characterized as “a literature on unsuccessful psychopathy.” Id. However not all sociopaths are unsuccessful. Rather the “great majority of psychopaths” have (Id, quoting Hercz, 2001, ¶ 11.) via their “ individual differences in talents and opportunities” channeled their psychopathic tendencies not into criminality, but into heroism, worldly success, etc. Id, citing Cleckley, 1976; Harkness & Lilienfeld, 1997; Lilienfeld, 1998; Lykken, 1995. Hare himself has conceded, most sociopaths are not criminals.

Although Hare never filed suit, he successfully delayed publication of Skeem and Cooke’s article by three years. He was also roundly criticized as improperly interfering with the peer review process. In an article titled “Fear Review,” Scientific American writes : “’It was [a] shock,’ Skeem says of Hare's legal threat. ‘this is not about Professor Hare, and it's only incidentally about the Psychopathy Checklist,’ she says. ‘The focus was really on how we could move the field forward.’”

Hare conceded in his response to Skeem and Cooke that the PCL-R does not embody the concept of psychopathy, nor is criminality a necessary component, but there are only twenty factors and three of them specifically deal with criminality: “criminal versatility”, “juvenile delinquency” and “revocation of conditional release” (revoked parole). Another is “many short-term marital relationships”. Only half of the factors track Cleckley sociopathy.

How did non-Cleckley traits enter the PCL-R?

[B]ecause participants in the PCL development sample were criminals rather than nonincarcerated patients or nonpatients, it seems likely that the initial candidate pool included many more deviance-related items, such that [Cleckley’s] positive adjustment indicators dropped out in the selection process. The result is that the PCL-R, compared with Cleckley’s original diagnostic criteria, contains items that are uniformly indicative of deviancy and psychological maladjustment.

Patrick, et al. (2009).

Studying exclusively criminals and then assuming sociopathy must be related to criminality seems like an obvious sampling error. If I exclusively studied my church congregation for sociopathy, could I properly infer a connection between sociopathy and organized religion? Even Hare admits “the majority of psychopaths aren't criminal,” so how could he be satisfied basing his test exclusively on criminals?

Despite round criticism from the psychological community, the PCL-R’s psychopath has left a lasting academic and public impression. Notwithstanding mounting research to the contrary, the dominant popular view of sociopathy is Hare’s criminal recidivist remorseless killer. This is the psychopathy of Hollywood murder movies. I too am scared of such a person, although I haven’t yet encountered one.

Modern researchers remain divided between Cleckley’s carefree bon vivant and Hare, Rollins, McCord and McCord’s criminal deviant.  While Cleckley’s view of sociopaths amounted to emotional colorblindness, Hare et al. depict a “bad egg” rife with moral rottenness – a severely emotionally damaged individual characterized by a loveless and guiltless existence of unrestrained malice for fellow man. Id. Where Cleckley saw “boldness,” they see “meanness.” Where Cleckley saw a lack of connection to the sociopath’s own feelings and the feelings of others, they see a vicious disregard for the feelings of others. Id. Cleckley sought to understand underlying thought patterns, they sought to label external behavior. Cleckley saw a potential patient, they see a social predator. Cleckley saw a problem for which he was seeking a cure.[i] They see a problem that needs to be identified and isolated to protect society, or as Hare has said:

Measurement and categorization are, of course, fundamental to any scientific endeavor, but the implications of being able to identify psychopaths are as much practical as academic. To put it simply, if we can't spot them, we are doomed to be their victims, both as individuals and as a society.

Hare’s remorseless criminal psychopath is associated with “Factor 2 psychopathy”. While Factor 1 traits track Cleckley’s sociopath, Factor 2 adds new traits largely associated with deviance. Not surprisingly, there is little correlation between Factor 2 and Factor 1 traits. In fact, some flatly contradict each other:

  •         High aggression, impulsivity, and sensation seeking. Harpur et al., (1989); Hare, (1991).
  •         Aggression provoked by reactionary anger. Patrick & Zempolich, (1998); Porter & Woodworth, (2006).
  •         High levels of alcohol and drug dependence. Hare, (2003); Smith & Newman, (1990).
  •         Deviant behavior.  Hall et al. (2004)
  •         High disinhibition and boredom, anger, alienation, distress at negative everyday events. Id.
  •         Low conscientiousness and low interest in achievement. Id.
  •         Low personal socioeconomic status. Id.
  •         Historic and future crimes against people, including violent crimes. Skeem, Mulvey, and Grisso (2003)
  •         High aggressiveness. Id.
  •         Low agreeableness and lower connection to or interaction with other people. Id.
  •         High FFM neuroticism (worrying or negative feelings about everyday incidents), low FFM agreeableness, and low conscientiousness.

o   Interestingly, these are exactly opposite of the Factor 1 results for these categories.

Patrick, et al. (2009).

How can the same group be characterized by both high emotional reactiveness and low emotional reactiveness? Are they angry anxious drug addicts or are they happy-go lucky charmers? Are they impulsive sadist below-the-poverty-line loners or socially dominant Machiavellian CEOs? Are we looking at violent offenders who have a hard time regulating their overpowering emotions or feckless opportunists who have a hard time feeling their own or others’ emotions? Are they primarily emotionally or intellectually driven? Reactive or proactive?

As researchers have posited, the same group can’t really be both, unless we’re talking about two or more separate but related things. Perhaps, as some have suggested, one thing is more nature and the other nurture. Some say one is a sociopath and the other is a psychopath. Or one is a primary sociopath and the other a secondary sociopath. Some say they have the same underlying cause, but only manifest differently. For example, that sociopathy manifests itself naturally in boldness, and meanness is only what happens when you combine sociopath plus risk factors, e.g. childhood neglect or abuse, low socioeconomic status, low education, single parent household, etc. When Cleckley’s emotional blindness is given prosocial outlets, they argue, it can lead to “social efficacy, imperturbability, and tolerance of danger” and if not, “impulsivity, rebelliousness, alienation, and aggression.” Id. This would explain the shared traits (fearlessness and boldness) you see between criminal and non-criminal sociopaths as well as the differences in behavior between the two.[ii]

[i] Cleckley’s position was that he knew of no treatment, but he blamed it in part on the collective evasion of the issue by the psychological community and society at large rather than any definitive evidence of there being no treatment:

Although I spared no effort to make it plain that I did not have an effective therapy to offer, the earlier editions of this book led to contact with psychopaths of every type and from almost every section of the United States and Canada. Interest in the problem was almost never manifested by the patients themselves. The interest was desperate, however, among families, parents, wives, husbands, brothers, who had struggled long and helplessly with a major disaster for which they found not only no cure and no social, medical, or legal facility for handling, but also no full or frank recognition that a reality so obvious existed.

….the psychopath presents an important and challenging enigma for which no adequate solution has yet been found. Although still in the unspectacular and perforce modest position of one who can offer neither a cure nor a well-established explanation, I am encouraged by ever increasing evidence that few medical or social problems have ever so richly deserved and urgently demanded a hearing.

Cleckley, “Mask of Sanity”.
[ii] See, e.g.:

“The boldness component of psychopathy, which is tapped weakly and incompletely by the items of the PCL-R, is important to distinguish in turn from the meanness component, which is well represented in the PCL-R. One reason is that the distinction between boldness and meanness is crucial to reconciling Cleckley’s conception of psychopathy with that advanced by more criminologically oriented theorists (e.g., McCord & McCord, 1964; Robins, 1966). Another is that boldness, although phenotypically distinct from meanness, appears to share a key etiologic substrate (i.e., diminished fear capacity). This raises the important developmental question, discussed in the last major section below, of what intersecting etiologic factors give rise to meanness as opposed to boldness in temperamentally fearless individuals.

Yet another reason is that the construct of boldness is likely to be of unique importance in understanding so-called “successful psychopaths”: individuals exhibiting high levels of charm, persuasiveness, imperturbability, and venturesomeness who achieve success in society as military, political, or corporate-industrial leaders (cf. Lykken, 1995).”

Patrick, et al. (2009).

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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