Chapter 7: Psychological/Trait Theories of Crime

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Psychopathy and Crime

  • David Lykken distinguished between the term sociopath and psychopath.

  • A sociopath refers specifically to antisocial personalities that are due to social or familial dysfunction.

  • A psychopath refers to individuals whose antisocial behavior may be a result from a defect or abnormality within themselves rather than in their rearing or socialization.

  • Harvey Cleckley

    • In his book, Mask of Sanity, he maintained that psychopaths were intelligent, self-centered, glib, superficially charming, verbally shallow, and manipulative; in terms of emotions these individuals lacked essential human characteristics such as empathy and remorse; and behaviorally psychopaths engaged in irresponsible behavior; prone to seek novelty and excitation, and often engage in moral transgressions and/or antisocial acts.

  • Robert Hare

    • Developed the Psychopath Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) to examine psychopathy in adult samples.

      • Includes scales measuring two factors:

        • The callous, selfish, remorseless use of others; and

        • A chronically unstable and antisocial lifestyle.

  • While a majority of the research on psychopath has considered it as one construct, others have focused on possible subtypes or subgroups.

    • Primary Psychopath

      • An individual who displays certain characteristics that are maladaptive and pathological (e.g., lack of conscience, irresponsibility, failure to learn from experience)—as well as key traits that appear ostensibly adaptive, or at least nonpathological (e.g., low anxiety, interpersonal charm, absence of irrational thinking).

    • Secondary Psychopath

      • Have many of the same maladaptive traits as the primary psychopath.

      • Seems to be more prone to exhibit extensive symptoms of psychological turmoil and emotional reactivity.

      • These individuals tend to be more reactive, antagonistic, and impulsive; they are also more at risk for engaging in self- and other-destructive behavior such as drug use/abuse, suicidal ideation/gestures, and interpersonal aggression.

  • There have been various theories explaining psychopathy.

    • Lykken has suggested the low fear quotient theory.

      • All individuals have an innate propensity to fear certain stimuli such as a loss of support, snakes, or strangers.

      • Individuals subsequently associate, or condition, fear to stimuli and situations which they have previously experienced with pain or punishment.

        • This is referred to as innate fear quotient; this fear quotient varies from person to person.

      • Primary psychopaths are at the low end of this fear quotient continuum.

    • Inhibitory Defect or Underendowment

      • Some psychopathic individuals seem to act impulsively without assessing the situation, appreciating the dangers, or considering the consequences.

      • This perspective maintains that lesions in certain areas of the brain can cause a decrease in inhibitory control in animals as well as humans.

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