Spotting the Psychopath

Author: Meg Fansler

When we hear the word “psychopath”, our minds are immediately programmed to imagine characters, such as Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates. Unfortunately, we have been mistaken. Real-life characters, like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, have been shown to be a better fit for the classification. Dr. Robert Hare has made a name for himself within the psychopathy community, identifying key traits of psychopaths and developing the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R).

Since its development in 2003, the PCL-R is used as an assessment tool for psychopathy. It consists of 20 items that are characteristic of psychopathy, listed below, and raters provide a score of 0 to 2 for each item, with 0 being not present, 1 being true, and 2 being solidly true. The items are categorized into four facets, and these facets are grouped into two factors. The Interpersonal and Affective facets combine to create the Interpersonal/Affective factor, and the Lifestyle and Antisocial facets make up the Social Deviance factor. The assessment is conducted through semi-structured interviews in combination with the review of files and personal records of the person being assessed. With a possible maximum score of 40, in the United States, a score of 30 or more classifies one as a psychopath.

Characteristics of psychopathy:

·      Glib and Superficial Charm: These individuals are very smooth-talkers. They are seen as charming and witty. Typically, they will portray themselves as an expert in a specific field, like law, art, or science.

·      Egocentric and Grandiose

·      Lack of Realistic Long-Term Goals: Related to grandiosity, these people develop outrageous plans, but they do not possess the skills or opportunities to achieve these goals.

·      Parasitic Lifestyle: As a result of their egocentrism, psychopaths take more than they give. Additionally, in relation to their outrageous plans, they may exploit others in pursuit of their goals.

·      Need for Excitement: Psychopaths dislike routine and desire thrills. They are easily bored, so it is no surprise that they are impulsive.

·      Impulsivity: In an attempt to cure their boredom, psychopaths frequently switch jobs, commit crimes, or use various drugs. They desire immediate results and spend little time weighing the pros and cons of a decision.

·      Pathological Lying

·      Cunning and Manipulativeness

·      Lack of Remorse or Guilt: Psychopaths, surprisingly, are upfront about their absence of remorse or guilt for damage they have caused. They may rationalize their actions by blaming the victim, or believing the victim benefitted in the long run. Remarkably, they may even consider themselves a victim.

·      Shallow Affect (Emotions): Psychopaths appear unemotional, but will have spurts of dramatic play-acting. In other words, they “know the words, but not the music”. This means that they are aware of what these types of emotions are, but fail to experience them. Their emotions can be better seen as “proto-emotions”, which are innate responses to their needs at the moment.

·      Callousness and Lack of Empathy: For a psychopath, people are simply means to an end—their own satisfaction. Others’ feelings are of no concern to them in this process.

·      Poor Behavior Controls: These individuals are extremely reactive and easily offended. They do not see their anger as out of proportion and are not able to control the degree of their anger.

·      Sexual Promiscuity

·      Early Behavior Problems: These behaviors begin in childhood. Some behaviors include theft, truancy, and vandalism, which may lead to juvenile delinquency.

·      Irresponsibility: These people demonstrate irresponsibility in various aspects of their lives, such as their job and their parental duties. They are not affected by the consequences of their irresponsibility or the strain it puts on others who have to fix the problems which the individuals finds themselves in as a result of their irresponsibility.

·      Failure to Accept Responsibility for Own Actions

·      Many Short-Term Marital Relationships

·      Juvenile Delinquency

·      Revocation of Conditional Release

·      Criminal Versatility: The antisocial/criminal behaviors of psychopaths occur more frequently and consist of a wide range of acts compared to other criminals, possibly related to their need for excitement.

After reading this article, you should be well-versed in the traits of psychopathy. Check out this website and test your ability in identifying historical psychopaths using these 20 items. There, you can also discover where you fall on the psychopathy spectrum, but do not be alarmed if the results are high. Everyone possesses some traits of psychopathy, and for individuals in certain jobs, like doctors, first responders, or soldiers, psychopathy allows them to disconnect from their emotions and empathy in order to complete the tasks at hand. You will now be able to accurately spot the psychopath and will no longer be tricked by Hollywood’s portrayals of psychopathy.


Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person's life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and training.