What Are The Signs Of A Psychopath?
Updated December 19, 2018
Reviewer Lindi Herrin, LPC
The word "psychopath" may sound scary, but it is nothing more than a cultural term assigned to the broader mental condition of antisocial personality disorder, which encompasses both psychopaths and sociopaths. It is estimated that one in five people with antisocial personality disorder is a psychopath. The term "sociopath" was introduced in the 1930s as a way of highlighting the effects that a psychopath's behavior can have on society.
However, research has shown over the years that there are marked differences between a sociopath and a psychopath. Many still use the term "psychopath" to refer to a dangerous person, while opting for "sociopath" to describe people who are less dangerous but who are antisocial as products of their environment.
What Is Psychopathy?
Psychopathy can be diagnosed by a professional through the use of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Developed by Robert D. Hare, the checklist consists of 20 items. If a person registers a score of 30 or more on the checklist, then he or she has psychopathic traits.
Genetics and environment play a role in psychopathic trait development. For instance, if someone grows up in an abusive environment, or there is genetic predisposition to psychopathology, then chances increase that he or she may have psychopathic traits.
A psychopath differs from a sociopath in that a psychopath tends to remain calm while acting manipulative and calculating and sociopaths are more likely to act rashly. Psychopaths normally donot care about the consequences as long as their personal goals are met. Sociopaths still lack empathy but are more likely to care about hurting someone with whom he or she shares a close bond.
Researchers have explored psychopathology and deemed that spotting a psychopath is a challenge. Psychopaths mimic socially acceptable behaviors so well that it may be difficult to determine when he or she is acting.
Treating adult psychopathy is difficult, though researchers are optimistic about the future. There are, however, programs in place to help the young people in the hopes that disruptive personality traits can be corrected.
Symptoms Of A Psychopath
Professionals use a psychopath checklist called the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R) to diagnose their patients. The PCL-R is a set of criteria that can be followed to determine whether a person is struggling with an antisocial personality disorder.
In 1996, an alternative to the PCL-R was developed, called the Psychopathic Personality Inventory, or PPI. Another way psychologists and psychiatrists have evaluated the characteristics of a psychopath is by referring to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders5, or DSM-5, which is a book that includes a section on antisocial personality disorder.
One of the psychopath traits referred to in the PPI, and the PCL is a lack of empathy. Psychopaths have a lack of concern for the feelings of others. This is due to weaker pathways in a psychopath's brain that lead to emotional disconnect and an inability to experience deep emotions. Psychopaths are also unable to detect fear in the faces of others, and they have a high tolerance for things that would otherwise disgust an average person. A psychopath may not react whatsoever when shown disturbing images or subjected to violent situations.
Another of the confirmed psychopath signs is something called "blame externalization." This means that a psychopath will blame others for things that they have done. When called out for this behavior, the psychopath may admit to the behavior, but feel shame.
Another sign includes the lack of a physical response to a stimulus that might otherwise be unsettling. For instance, if you know that you're about to get into a car accident, your heart will race, your breathing will quicken, and your sweat glands will activate. In psychopaths, the brain does not respond in this manner, and so his or her palms remain dry with normal heart rate and stable breathing.
Other potential psychopath characteristics can include superficial charm, pathological lying, a grandiose feeling of self-worth (overconfidence), selfishness, an inability to make and follow long-term goals, and - in the more extreme cases - violent tendencies. A person with an antisocial personality disorder may find himself or herself regularly engaged (or instigating) fights and assaults due to increased levels of irritability and aggressiveness.
Psychopathy In Children
It's every parent's worst nightmare. That's why films like Children of the Corn and The Omen are so terrifying. Children are, by their nature, vulnerable and innocent, and they feel emotions more intensely than adults do. The idea of a child being manipulative and coldhearted is disturbing to most people.
However, children are impacted by genetics and their environments. Therefore, it is understandable that antisocial personality disorder can also present in the very young. And while it may be unsettling to try to detect child psychopath signs in your child, getting your child help while he or she is still young is crucial to potentially preventing the condition from worsening over time. Behaviors ion children such as torturing animals or bullying other children can be warning signs. These are factors that need to be addressed before the situation escalates and the child grows up to potentially do something even worse.
In these situations, should the parent seek help for a child with these symptoms, the doctor would observe these symptoms to see if they evolve into psychopathic traits. In addition to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, Robert D. Hare also created a two-factor model for evaluating psychopaths which concerns manipulation, superficial charm, and a lack of empathy as Factor 1, and impulsivity, criminality, and the inability to show remorse as Factor 2. This model can be applied to the evaluation of children as well as adults.
Children who presented these characteristics before the age of three developed into youths with significant behavioral issues. It is important to note that a child's personality is different from his or her behavior. While every child misbehaves at some point or another, does the child in question feel guilty afterwards? Does he or she modify their behavior after receiving a punishment? Is he or she open to sharing? Does he or she lie often? Concerns should be discussed with a mental health professional.
Psychopathy Tests For Teenagers
Another test, known as the "PCL:YV," is an alternate version of the PCL-R, which was developed for the evaluation of teenagers aged 13 to 18 years old. There is also the "Antisocial Process Screening Device" (APSD), which is another alternative to the PCL-R, but which is geared toward children ages six to 13 years old. Youths who receive high psychopathy scores on either of these tests are associated with an increased tendency to engage in violence and criminality.
Juvenile psychopathy is typically associated more with negative emotions, like anger, anxiety, and depression. When evaluating psychopathic traits in the young, they tend to fall into one of three categories: a callous or unemotional state of mind, narcissism, and a tendency to act impulsively and irresponsibly.
Recent studies have found, however, that such tests are less accurate than they were previously thought to be at predicting whether the youths being tested do grow up to become adult offenders. Even with the models that have been developed and the abundance of research that has been conducted since the early 1900s in this field, there remains much to be learned about psychopathy.
Are You A Psychopath?
If you are curious as to how to tell if you're a psychopath, seek the advice of a medical professional. If you feel the above symptoms apply to you and you wish to seek professional help, consider reaching out to one of our BetterHelpcounselors, who are available 24/7 via the discretion of your internet connection. Our counselors can help you better understand the traits of psychopaths to clarify whether you may be suffering from antisocial personality disorder.