Does questions within the field. The majority of published

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Last updated: July 21, 2019

Does havingpsychopathic traits make an individual more likely to commit a crime? AcademicRationaleThis project aims to fill the gap within the psychopathyliterature by aiming to deliver answers to unanswered questions within thefield. The majority of published research that has been conducted in this fieldhas mainly focused on the male psychopath and there appears to be a lack ofresearch in to the female psychopath. Therefore, this research will aim to fillthat gap. In addition, there is a lack of research in to which specificpsychopathic traits are more common among serious offenders and therefore, thisresearch will aim to determine these traits. In doing so, researchers candetermine whether an individual is more likely to be dangerous due to a certaintrait they might hold and whether a specific trait could be focused on in thefuture in regard to rehabilitation and avoiding recidivism.  LiteratureReviewPsychopathy has beendefined as one of the most important psychological constructs within thecriminal justice system (Hare et al., 2007).

The term ‘psychopathy’ refers toan individual suffering from a severe disorder of personality that is stronglylinked with antisocial behaviour (Davies and Beech, 2012). The features ofpsychopathy are said to begin to manifest in childhood and are relativelystable over time (Larsson et al., 2007). Psychologists have found that there isa conclusive link between psychopathy and criminal behaviour (Hare, 1996;Hart, 1998; Hemphill et al., 1998). In addition, a psychopathic personality is a personality disorder associated with acollection of social and behavioural problems including violence, criminalactivities and failure to conform to social standards (Stone, 2008).

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Psychopathy is not used as a clinical diagnosis but it is considered as adevelopmental disorder (Blair, 2006). Cleckley (1976) narrowed the definitionof psychopathy by defining the disorder through a list of specific traits whichthen went on to aid in the construct of Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist.  Psychopaths make up approximately 20% ofthe prison population and 1% of the general population that is not incarcerated(Hare, 1993). In comparison to non-psychopathic offenders, psychopathicoffenders commit a greater number of crimes, commit more types of crimes andare more violent in their crimes (Lynam, 1996). However, psychopathy andcriminality are not the same construct (Hart and Hare, 1997) and thecharacteristics that make up psychopathy do not necessarily imply criminal behaviour(Hare, 1991). That being said, there are certain psychopathic traits includinglack of empathy, impulsivity and grandiosity that increase the likelihood of anindividual behaving in a criminal manner, as well as decreasing the likelihoodthat the decision to act will be inhibited (Hart and Hare, 1997).  The most widely recognised instrument usedto determine whether an individual can be diagnosed as a psychopath is thePsychopathy Checklist- Revised (Hare, 1991, 2003), as stated previously. The specifictraits that are defined by Hare in the psychopathy checklist are; glib andsuperficial charm, grandiose estimation of oneself, need for stimulation,pathological lying, cunning and manipulating, lack of remorse or guilt, shallowaffect, callousness and lack of empathy, parasitic lifestyle, poor behaviourcontrols, sexual promiscuity, early behaviour problems, lack of realisticlong-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, failure to acceptresponsibility for own actions, many short-term marital relationships, juveniledelinquency, revocation of conditional release and criminal versatility (Hare,2003).

Researchers use this scale, in addition to extensive interviews andgather information from an individual’s criminal background in order to ratethe 20 items. In addition, these 20 items make up 2 different factors; thefirst being social deviance and the second being interpersonal and affective. Accordingto the manual of the checklist, the cut off point for diagnosing an individualas a ‘psychopath’ is 30 or higher (Porter & Woodworth, 2007).

Psychopathy is not only linked to crime in general but also to certaintypes of crime. The association between psychopathy and violent offending hasbeen well established by an extensive body of research (Hare, 1991). Experimentshave been conducted for more than half a century, indicating that people whocommit crimes and behave in a violent manner are more likely to suffer from amajor mental disorder than to be non-disordered (Michie, Hart, and Clark, 2005), indicatinga link between psychopathy and crime. Cleckley (1976), stated that violencewhich is perpetrated by psychopaths is more instrumental than that perpetratedby other offenders, which is typically more reactive. Instrumental violence,which is also referred to as predatory violence, is both controlled andpurposeful and is normally used to attain a desired goal such as money, drugsand power. Researchers have found that this instrumental violence used bypsychopaths is commonly associated with a self-reported lack of emotionalarousal during the violent act. It has been found that psychopaths are morelikely to engage in institutional misbehavior (Guy et al., 2005), and expressgreater criminal sentiments and pride in antisocial behaviour when compared toother offenders (Simourd and Hoge, 2000).

In addition to violent offences, psychopathy is also related to sexualoffences, however this type of crime is more complex (Hare et al., 2000). Ithas been suggested that offenders with more psychopathic traits do notnecessarily focus on a specific victim type but instead, sexually assaultvictims opportunistically (Porter et al., 2000). In addition, they may changetheir victim preferences over time in line with their thrill-seekingmotivation. It has been suggested that this relationship between psychopathyand sexual offending is due to the instrumental use of sex and associated witha lack of victim empathy (Knight and Sims-Knight, 2003).

It has been found that psychopathy is an important risk factor forrecidivism and more specifically, violence. In addition, Hemphill, Hare andWong (1998), identified significant correlations of PCL-R scores with generalrecidivism, violent recidivism and sexual recidivism.  It has been stated that psychopathicoffenders are 5 times more likely than other offenders to reoffend violentlywithin 5 years of release (Serin and Amos, 1995). Lastly, the most common observation made about psychopaths is thatthey lack empathy (this being one of the psychopathic traits in Hare’sChecklist) (Mattiuzzi, 2016). When conducting this literature review, thistrait of ‘lack of empathy’ is commented on frequently when talking aboutpsychopaths, indicating that it might be one of the most important traits wheninvestigating psychopaths’ behaviour. ResearchQuestionsResearch Question 1)Does having psychopathic traits make anindividual more likely to commit a crime?Hypothesis 1)It is predicted that having psychopathictraits are linked to committing a crime.Research Question 2)Which psychopathic traits are most commonamongst serious offenders?Hypothesis 2)There has been limited research into whichpsychopathic traits are most common amongst serious offenders; therefore, it isdifficult to hypothesise which are most common. However, the traits that havebeen mentioned in most previous research are lack of remorse/guilt and lack ofempathy.

 Research Question 3)Are psychopathic traits linked to anyspecific crimes? Hypothesis 3)It is predicted that psychopathicoffenders are most likely to commit violent crimes; i.e. murder, assault and sexualoffences. Research Question 4)To what extent are certain demographics(age, gender and ethnicity) linked to psychopathic traits? Hypothesis 4)The majority of research performed onpsychopaths has been middle-aged, white, male prisoners showing a strong linkbetween this group of people and crime committing. However, there has been alack of research amongst other demographics and psychopathy. ResearchDesign and MethodologyType ofResearchThis type of research is a quasi-experiment.

ParticipantsParticipants will consist of 50 male and50 female prisoners being held in Category A prisons across England and Wales. Participantswill be recruited via telephone and will be selected using random sampling. However,participants with a known mental disorder will be eliminated from the samplingprocedure. In addition, participants must be competent in English asdemonstrated via conversation as well as reading aloud a text description ofthe study. InstrumentsThe instrument that will be used is Hare’sPCL-R Checklist.

This contains two-parts; the first being a semi-structuredinterview which is a comprehensive interview extracting details of schooladjustment, work history, career goals, finances, health, family life,sex/relationships, drug use, childhood/adolescent antisocial behaviour, andother general questions. And the second is the evaluation part whereindividuals are scored on a 20-item checklist to determine whether they have apsychopathic character. After completion, the PCL-R provides a total score thatindicates how closely the individual matches a score that a classicprototypical would rate. Each of the items is given a score of 0,1 or 2; 0being if it does not apply at all, 1 if there is a partial match or mixedinformation and 2 if there is a good match. The maximum score is 40 and if anindividual scores 30 or above, they qualify for a diagnosis of psychopathy. ProcedureFirstly, participants will be invited totake part via phone call.

Before taking part in the research, participants willbe given a brief description of what the research includes and why it is beingconducted. In addition, they will be informed that they would be provided witha small monetary payment (£5-£10) for their participation. If they agree totake part, they will then be sent a consent form to complete. The participantswill then be invited to take part in a semi-structured interview in order todetermine the individual’s background including their criminal history. Whilstconducting the interviews, the participants’ demographic information will begathered. It is estimated that the interviews will take around 2 hours perindividual. The semi-structured interviews will be carried out over a period ofabout two months due to the duration of each individual interview.

In addition,the interviews will be carried out in a maximum secure setting with safetymeasures in place such as support from guards. The individuals will then bescored on Hare’s PCL-R checklist in order to determine whether they meet thecriterion for a psychopath. After the interview has been conducted, the participantswill be given a debrief. Participants will be informed on what they score onthe PCL-R if they wish to do so. Participants will also be told that if theywish to withdraw from the research procedure at any point, then they are freeto do so. In addition, participants will remain anonymous throughout the study. Analysis  For the PCL-R, total scores anddescriptive analyses of demographic characteristics will be derived.

In doingso, the percentage of prisoners who can be diagnosed as a ‘psychopath’ can beshown, indicating the percentage of male and percentage of female prisoners whohave been diagnosed with psychopathy. Pearson’s correlation coefficient willalso be used in order to assess the reliability of the study. Cronbach’s AlphaCoefficient will be calculated for overall internal consistency among the 20items of PCL-R. Lastly, regression analysis will then be applied to investigatethe association between the PCL-R total scores and demographic characteristicsof the participants. The most prevalent trait amongst those diagnosed as apsychopath will be determined as well as the distribution of psychopathic traits.By identifying traits among those diagnosed with psychopathy, the researcherwill be able to determine whether a specific trait correlates to a certain typeof crime. Ethics When conducting this research, it isimportant to take ethical considerations in to account. The first being thefact that it is involving people who have a potential diagnosis of psychopathywhich, in turn, makes then a potentially vulnerable group of people as theyhave a mental illness.

Also, during the interview process, there are personalquestions being asked about the participants’ background and history andtherefore, the participant might feel uncomfortable when answering some of thesequestions. Lastly, as it is known that psychopaths are a high-risk group ofindividuals, the researcher is being exposed to a potentially dangeroussituation. In regards to this, safety measures will be put in place in order tokeep the researcher safe.      ReferencesBlair, R (2006) The emergence of psychopathy: Implications for theneuropsychological approach to developmental disorders, Cognition, 101,414-442Cooke,D, Michie, C, Hart, S and Clark, D (2005) Searching for the pan-cultural coreof psychopathic personality disorder, Personality and Individual Differences 39: 283-295 Davies, A and Beech, R (2012). ForensicPsychology: crime, justice, law interventions.

2nd Edition. Pg. 85Gelder, M, Mayou, M and Geddes, J (2006) Psychiatry (3rd edn. OxfordCore texts)Guy, L. S.,Edens, J.

F., Anthony, C., and Douglas, K. S.

(2005), “Does psychopathy predictinstitutional misconduct among adults? A meta-analytic investigation”, Journalof consulting and clinical psychology, Vol. 73 No. 6, pp. 1056-1064. Hare, R (1993). Withoutconscience: The disturbing world of the psychopaths among us.

NewYork: The Guilford Press. Hare, R(1996), “Psychopathy a clinical construct whose time has come”, CriminalJustice and Behavior, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 25-54. Hart, S(1998), “The role of psychopathy in assessing risk for violence: conceptual andmethodological issues”, Legal and Criminological Psychology, Vol.

3 No. 1, pp.121-37. Hemphill, J,Hare, R and Wong, S. (1998), “Psychopathy and recidivism: a review”, Legal and CriminologicalPsychology, Vol.

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 Hemphill, J,Templeman, R, Wong, S. and Hare, R (1998), “Psychopathy and crime: recidivismand criminal careers”, in Cooke, D, Forth, A and Hare, R (Eds), Psychopathy:Theory, Research and Implications for Society, Kluwer Academic Pub, Dordrecht,pp. 375-99.

Knight, R.A., and Sims?Knight, J. E. (2003), “The developmental antecedents of sexualcoercion against women: Testing alternative hypotheses with structural equationmodelling”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 989 No. 1, pp.72-85.

Kring, A, Johnson, S, Davison, G, & Neale, J (2010). Abnormal Psychology. (11 ed., pp. 368-371). Asia: John Wiley & Sons,Inc.Porter, S.,Fairweather, D.

, Drugge, J., Herve, H., Birt, A., and Boer, D. P.

(2000),”Profiles of psychopathy in incarcerated sexual offenders”, Criminal Justiceand Behavior, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp.

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, & Woodworth, M. (2007).  “I’m sorry I did it . . .

buthe started it”: A comparison of the official and self -reported homicide descriptions of psychopaths andnon-psychopaths. Law Hum Behav, 31, 91-107 Serin, R andAmos, N (1995), “The role of psychopathy in the assessment of dangerousness”, InternationalJournal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 231-8.Simourd, D.J., and Hoge, R.

D. (2000), “Criminal Psychopathy A Risk-and-Need Perspective”,Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 256-272. Taylor, J.

, Loney, B, Bonbadilla, L., Lacono,W, & McGue, M. (2003). Genetic and environmental influences on psychopathy trait dimensions in a community sample of male twins.

  Journal of abnormal psychology, 31, 633-645 Woodworth, M., & Porter, S. (2002). Incold blood: Characteristics of criminal homicides as a function of  psychopathy.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(3), 436 –445.

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