Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist

jon ronson

Robert Hare (b. 1934) is a Canadian researcher renowned in the field of criminal psychology. He developed the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) and Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), used to diagnose cases of psychopathy and also useful in predicting the likelihood of violent behavior, and is professor emeritus of the University of British Columbia where his studies center on psychopathology and psychophysiology.

In contemporary research and clinical practice, Robert D. Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopathy.

Because an individual’s score may have important consequences for his or her future, and because the potential for harm if the test is used or administered incorrectly is considerable, Hare argues that the test should only be considered valid if administered by a suitably qualified and experienced clinician under controlled and licensed conditions. Hare receives a royalty on licensed use of the test.

The PCL-R is a clinical rating scale (rated by a psychologist or other professional) of 20 items. Each of the items in the PCL-R is scored on a three-point scale: A value of 0 is assigned if the item does not apply, 1 if it applies somewhat, and 2 if it fully applies.

In addition to lifestyle and criminal behavior the checklist assesses glib and superficial charm, grandiosity, need for stimulation, pathological lying, conning and manipulating, lack of remorse, callousness, poor behavioral controls, impulsivity, irresponsibility, failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions and so forth. The scores are used to predict risk for criminal re-offence and probability of rehabilitation.

The current edition of the PCL-R officially lists four factors (1.a, 1.b, 2.a, and 2.b), which summarize the 20 assessed areas via factor analysis. Factor 1 is labelled ‘selfish, callous and remorseless use of others.’ Factor 2 is labelled as ‘chronically unstable, antisocial and socially deviant lifestyle.’

Factors 1a and 1b are correlated with narcissistic personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. It is associated with extroversion and positive affect. Factor 1, the so-called core personality traits of psychopathy, may even be beneficial for the psychopath (in terms of nondeviant social functioning). Factors 2a and 2b are particularly strongly correlated to antisocial personality disorder and criminality and is associated with reactive anger, criminality, and impulsive violence. The target group for convicted criminals.

There is a high risk of recidivism and currently small likelihood of rehabilitation for those who are labelled as having ‘psychopathy’ on the basis of the PCL-R ratings in the manual for the test, although treatment research is ongoing.

Factor 1 (Personality ‘Aggressive narcissism’): Glibness/superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric), callous/lack of empathy, failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: (Case History ‘Socially deviant lifestyle’): Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom, parasitic lifestyle, poor behavioral control, lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, juvenile delinquency, early behavior problems, revocation of conditional release

Since psychopaths frequently cause harm through their actions, it is assumed that they are not emotionally attached to the people they harm; however, according to the PCL-R Checklist, psychopaths are also careless in the way they treat themselves. They frequently fail to alter their behavior in a way that would prevent them from enduring future discomfort.

In practice, mental health professionals rarely treat psychopathic personality disorders as they are considered untreatable and no interventions have proved to be effective.

Hare wants the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to list psychopathy as a unique disorder, saying psychopathy has no precise equivalent in either the DSM-IV-TR, where it is most strongly correlated with the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, or the ICD-10, which has a partly similar condition called dissocial personality disorder.

The manipulative skills of some of the others are valued for providing audacious leadership. It is argued psychopathy is adaptive in a highly competitive environment, because it gets results for both the individual and the corporations or, often small political sects they represent. However, these individuals will often cause long-term harm, both to their co-workers and the organization as a whole, due to their manipulative, deceitful, abusive, and often fraudulent behavior.

Hare describes people he calls psychopaths as ‘intraspecies predators’ who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse. What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.’

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