New Developments in Psychopathy

Jennifer Skeem and her colleagues have challenged the status quo in recent controverises concerning the definition and measurement of psychopathy. Is psychopathy a unitary entity (a global syndrome with a discrete underlying cause) or rather is it a configuration of several distinguishable but intersecting trait dimensions? Is psychopathy synonymous with criminal behavior? Is there a positive-adjustment type of psychopathic personality? Can anxious, emotionally reactive individuals be classified as psychopathic?

In a superb monograph length, comperehsive review of psychopathy, Skeem and her colleagues update the field and challenege simplistic notions of psychopathy.  They advance a “triarchic” model that emphasizes three distinct observable charactertistics: boldness (or fearless dominance), meaness, and disinhibition. They note variants in the expression of psychopathic personality features, developmental factors in psychoapthy, impact of the triarchic model on assessment tools and treatment.

Bottom line–Skeem and her colleagues issue a “challenge to the common assumptions that underpin modern applications of psychopathy measures and to call for cautions in their use.” Further, they note that Factor 2 (antisocial/disinhibited conduct), not Factor 1 (callousness/lack of empathy) carries most of the predictive power of the PCL-R. They challenege the notion that individuals classified as “psychopaths” are hopeless cases.

Source: Skeem, J., Polaschek, D., Patrick, C., & Lillienfeld, S. (2011). Psychoapthic personality: Bridging the gap between scientific evidence and public policy. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12(3), 95-162.


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