History of Research on Psychopaths

Neither the term psychopath or sociopath is used in the DSM today, yet the terms are still popular within American culture.  The following is a brief history of the term psychopath.


J. L. A. Koch

The term psychopath first used in Die Psychopathischen Minderwertigkeiten



Describes psychopaths in the book Psychopathic States as those who are afflicted with an illness.  They have a certain level of intelligence (either high or on the edge of defect), have exhibited disorders of conduct of an antisocial or asocial nature throughout their lives, are difficult to influence by methods of social, penal, and medical care, and for whom there is no treatment available, either preventative or curative in nature.  Essentially, they are unable to adjust to an ordinary social life and there is no cure for them.



The Psychopathic Delinquent and Criminal viewed such persons as those who seek momentary gratification, lack of discretion, and fail to profit from experience, which leads to repeated failures



The Mask of Sanity outlined 16 characteristics of psychopaths

  1. intelligent
  2. rational
  3. calm
  4. unreliable
  5. insincere
  6. without shame or remorse
  7. having poor judgment
  8. without capacity for love
  9. unemotional
  10. poor insight
  11. indifferent to the trust or kindness of others
  12. overreactive to alcohol
  13. suicidal
  14. impersonal sex life
  15. lacking long-term goals
  16. inadequately motivated antisocial behavior


Dr. Robert Hare

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us (1993)

In 1980, he created a system to measure the levels of psychopathy in individuals.  It has a 40-point scale and is known as “the Hare.”  It was revised 5 years later and is called the “Psychopathy Checklist Revised” or the PCL-R.

The current PCL-R (1991) is used to assess male offenders incarcerated in prisons or psychiatric institutions.  Hare found that on the 40-point scale, normal persons rate a 5, the typical male incarcerated offender in North America rates about a 23, and psychopaths are 30 points or higher.  Persons with high PCL-R scores are three to four times more likely to recidivate than persons with low scores.

Revised Psychopathy Checklist

Factor 1:

Measures a selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others and contains most of the personality characteristics considered central to the traditional clinical conception of the disorder.  These traits are inferred, as opposed to explicit.

  • glibness/superficial charm
  • grandiose sense of self-worth/narcissism
  • pathological lying
  • conning, manipulative behavior
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect
  • callousness/lack of empathy
  • failure to accept responsibility for actions

Factor 2:

Measures social deviance, as manifested in a chronically unstable and antisocial lifestyle.  These traits are more explicit than those in the Factor 1 group.

  • need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • early behavioral problems
  • lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional relapse

Other factors:

  • promiscuous sexual behavior
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • criminal versatility


Abrahamsen, D. (1973). The murdering mind. New York: Harper and Row.

Athens, L. H. (1980). Violent criminal acts and actors. Cambridge, MA: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Boar, R. & Blundell, N. (1983).  The world’s most infamous murders. New York: Simon ans Schuster.

Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial murderers and their victims. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Vorpagel, R. (1998). Profiles in murder: An FBI legend dissects killers and their crimes. New York: Plenum.

Presented by: Ashley DuVal

One Response to “Psychopaths”

  1. Katie Howell says:

    I’ve always wanted to go to college for Law Enforcment but recently I have became interested in Forensic Psychology how can I get a degree in Forensic Psychology and be able to do Law Enforcement as well?