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.


  1. Sadism in (pure) psychopathy is misunderstood: it´s there but ONLY when the psycho has been mistreated (the "overkill" in revenge scenarios). Cold blooded torture or murder does not arouse psychopaths. They see serial killers as madmen, just like nonsocios do (even if they understand their power/sadism motivation).

  2. This is a good post.

    Cleckly really helped me to parse through the misconceptions surrounding this "condition" and understand myself.

    I use quotations because I do believe that sociopathy is just a cluster of personality traits that are reinforced through environmental pressures and social conditions. (I.e: A psychopath is more likely to pass along psychopathic genes and create and environment in which these traits are reinforced.)

    I am not disordered. I have affective deficits, but I have strengths in other areas that make up for these. These strengths and deficits are a part of my personality. Discovering how these traits exist in a predictable cluster, and *owning* them, has been very helpful, because ironically- though I have a very dominant personality- I also have a weak sense of self.

    I contend that the negative traits associated with sociopathy or psychopathy surface only when environmental factors trigger their manifestation.

    My father is a good example of this. He was abused, and became abusive. But I was able to stop the cycle (for the most part; I've had unfortunate lapses) by recognizing and understanding it.

  3. The most dangerous persons in everyday life are likely borderline & narcissist types. Followed by "average Joe" on a drunken friday night. The persons walking away from social experiments with (fake) electric punishment could be psychopaths (not impressed by white coats or uniforms & not herd-creatures).

  4. Conscientiousness is high for sociopaths?

    1. Hahaha! Yeah, no. Good catch.

      Case in point: I didn't. ;)

    2. I can understand how my actions affect other people. The problem is that I usually couldn't care less.

      If you take the Big5 personality test at, the results say

      "Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses."

    3. Conscientious:

      Guided by or in accordance with the dictates of conscience; principled.
      adj.Thorough and assiduous: synonym: diligent. Conscious.

      Synonyms for "conscientious" also include "punctilious" and "meticulous". In addition to the moral dimension and gravitas conveyed by this term, it also embodies the notion of attention to detail. Interesting how these characteristics correlate. I hadn't noticed that before.

    4. We skim over details but hone in on subtext with gutteral precision. :)

    5. So conscientious can mean more than 1 thing. This is why I often don't how to answer these personality tests.

  5. I have always found curious that emotional traits have become polarized. In the past this was not the case. Strong self image and aggression were prized amongst vikings. Now they would be seen as personality disorder.

    Self control and high standards in adhering to code was lauded in Victorian times. Now would be called unfeeling or even a sociopath.

    Positive or negative traits are circumspect and subject to cultural norms of society. I would also question why those of empathic dispositions are not subject to such dissection of there mind set and motivation. Dispite there tendency to extreams and criminal behaviour.

    Putting aside for the moment that desire to explain away those with differing personality matrices.

    Grime is a derivative phenomena. The term criminal sociopath is often applied before any crime has been committed. You never here of criminal empath or which of there rampant emotions should be feared or celebrated.

    1. What makes you think that "empathetic" people are not equally subject to the dissection of their mindsets and motivations? Are you a forensic psychologist? Can you substantiate this assumption with factual evidence?

      Why is your seemingly rich vocabulary inversely juxtaposed with such fundamental spelling and grammatical errors?

      You try to use big words without understanding their meaning, in order to bolster your credibility. Anyone with a modicum of intellectual acuity can see this. You're embarrassing yourself.

      Your assessment that we do not hear about the crimes committed by empathetic individuals is misleading and untrue. You are not qualified to determine whether or not a person is "empathetic" or not. It is only natural that only the vilest of crimes should be widely reported. Whether or not the perpetrators of such crimes are "empathetic" is immaterial. Their actions are all that matter.

      You're just talking through your ass, trying to sound more educated and informed than you are.

    2. The evidences are i admit anecdotal, but numerous. We have to papers here both on the subject of the sociopathic mind.

      Lets take this as an example
      as in all such academic studies there is no mention of the individual. Empathic people as a group (if you can forgive the pun) value this above all else. Most philosophies hold the "we all have value" trope.

      Yet where is the individual sociopath in this. We all as humans have ego ergo we have individually. If this was overlooked in a study of empathic criminal activity there would be an outcry of the injustice.

      Secondly the study is based on the premise it matters the mind set and personality typing of the person committing the crime.

      Even if only taken as true for the study itself it illustrates my point. It matter to those of empathic nature (the vast majority) the criminal tendencies of sociopaths above the much greater indencies of such behaviour in empathic people.

      As to knowing. This is an academic study certain premise have to be excepted. One being sociopathic people have different criminal behaviour or motivations for that behaviour.

      I suggest not that this is wrong per se, just that similar studies are not done in this way for "normal" people, as most empathic people are perceived.


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