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Serial Killers

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on February 7, 2014 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

As words can be the soul's window, scientists are learning to peer through it: Computerized text analysis shows that psychopathic killers make identifiable word choices -- beyond conscious control -- when talking about their crimes.


This research could lead to new tools for diagnosis and treatment, and have implications law enforcement and social media.


The words of psychopathic murderers match their personalities, which reflect selfishness, detachment from their crimes and emotional flatness, says Jeff Hancock, Cornell professor of computing and information science, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology.


Hancock and his colleagues analyzed stories told by 14 psychopathic male murderers held in Canadian prisons and compared them with 38 convicted murderers who were not diagnosed as psychopathic. Each subject was asked to describe his crime in detail. Their stories were taped, transcribed and subjected to computer analysis.


Psychopaths used more conjunctions like "because," "since" or "so that," implying that the crime "had to be done" to obtain a particular goal. They used twice as many words relating to physical needs, such as food, sex or money, while non-psychopaths used more words about social needs, including family, religion and spirituality. Unveiling their predatory nature in their own description, the psychopaths often included details of what they had to eat on the day of their crime.


Past as prologue: Psychopaths were more likely to use the past tense, suggesting a detachment from their crimes, say the researchers. They tended to be less fluent in their speech, using more "ums" and "uhs." The exact reason for this is not clear, but the researchers speculate that the psychopath is trying harder to make a positive impression, needing to use more mental effort to frame the story.


"Previous work has looked at how psychopaths use language," Hancock said. "Our paper is the first to show that you can use automated tools to detect the distinct speech patterns of psychopaths." This can be valuable to clinical psychologists, he said, because the approach to treatment of psychopaths can be very different.


In addition to Hancock, co-authors were Michael T. Woodworth and Stephen Porter, from the University of British Columbia.




Story Source:


The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.



Journal Reference:

1.Jeffrey T. Hancock, Michael T. Woodworth, Stephen Porter. Hungry like the wolf: A word-pattern analysis of the language of psychopaths. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8333.2011.02025.x



Cite This Page:






Cornell University. "Psychopathic killers: Computerized text analysis uncovers the word patterns of a predator." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 October 2011. .

Brake Lights Halfway to Eternity: Officer Suicide

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on November 7, 2013 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)



 Brake Lights Halfway to Eternity: Officer Suicide

What to do…

Brake Lights Halfway to Eternity: Officer Suicide

Law Enforcement Today Article

November 4, 2013 in Featured, Mental Health, Posts by dr. dorothy mccoy

I have been following the research in officer suicide since 2006, when I was a Lead Instructor at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. I am convinced that we can significantly reduce the number of officers lost each year.

The death of an officer is a personal tragedy that ripples throughout the entire community. Suicide comes as a jolting shock to everyone touched by the tragedy. The individuals left behind are deeply wounded. The officer suicide rate is a national tragedy. We can work together to find effective solutions. We can offer our officers reasonable options to their concerns. We can offer our unwavering support.

If you would like to be a powerful advocate for officers at risk, learn more about the resources offered by your agency or organization and the options available. We can reduce the occurrence of officer suicide by understanding the underlying factors and by influencing those factors. PTSD and other stress related disorders can be treated.

Alcohol use can be targeted. Supportive services can be provided for troubled officers and their families. Communication throughout the agency can be optimized. Members of the law enforcement community can be educated to recognize and initiate aggressive action against suicide. Suicide and its underlying factors are our enemies and we must be willing to take a courageous and steadfast position.

We labor diligently to decrease crime and officer shootings, yet our ability to control these events is appallingly limited. Suicide, similar to patrol car accidents, is more amendable if we acknowledge the dire necessity for change and begin the arduous task of making those requisite changes.

Brake Lights Midway to Eternity

A former law enforcement officer turned publisher told a story that was so profound in its implication that it shook me. He said, “There are some very high bluffs overlooking Dana Point Harbor and the Pacific Ocean…I have been called to many suicides on those bluffs…the last one drove off. Witnesses saw his brake lights come on halfway down.” What were the driver’s desperate thoughts at that moment? How many suicide victims would have “applied the brakes” if it had not been too late?

A study in 2002 indicated that suicide remorse may be higher than we might have imagined. Nearly 90 percent of people who ask their doctors for assisted suicide later change their minds. Remember, these patients are seriously ill and in severe pain. If they choose life when given the opportunity, how many officers who committed suicide would have chosen differently if they had been given another chance?

My goal is to provide troubled officers a chance to choose life before they commit to death. You can contribute to reaching this goal by educating yourself and your associates and becoming an active advocate for comprehensive stress management resources.

US LEO Suicide Rates

Do you realize that suicide among law enforcement officers and emergency workers is quite similar to the number killed in the line-of- duty? Why are the good guys and gals killing themselves, rather than pursuing suspects?

The National Police Suicide Foundation (NPSF) suggests that high stress levels and a lack of information about signs, symptoms and prevention techniques of suicide are the major contributors. It appears that education is an easy and inexpensive way to deter suicide. According to Violanti (2007), to confound estimating the approximate number of officer suicides, it is believed that an unknown number of police suicides are routinely misclassified as accidents.

It is important to understand the depth and breadth of the problem facing law enforcement. Michael Aamodt (2006), states,

“Law enforcement suicide rates were computed and compared to suicide rates in the general population. The best estimate of suicide in the law enforcement profession is 18.1 per 100,000. This figure is 52% greater than that of the general population but 26% lower than that of the appropriate comparison group (white males between the ages of 25 and 55). Thus, the notion that suicide rates are abnormally high in law enforcement was not supported by the data (

I discussed the same conclusion at a conference for the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology in 2006. Dr. Aamodt is also a member of the Society and a respected researcher. However, let’s consider this dissimilarity between the groups; officers are normally thoroughly vetted by their departments before they are hired. Members of the general population are not.

Real Officers: Lost Lives

The New York Post reported a police suicide on September 2, 2003. According to the article, it appears that a 39 year-old Bronx officer, an 11 year veteran, used his 9 mm service weapon to kill himself after a disagreement with his girlfriend (also an officer). He was the father of three children; the youngest was 10 months old.

This is only one heartbreaking story of the many in the New York area. Multiply this incident by 126 (the estimated number of officers who committed suicide in the US in 2012) and you will have some indication of the enormity of this threat to law enforcement.

In October of 2003, a 61-year-old Houston Detective came to work as usual and went to his desk in the Homicide Division. According to the Houston Medical Examiner’s office, after sitting down he pulled out his service revolver and put a bullet in his head. Co-workers were absolutely stunned when this popular detective took his life. It was unusually quiet in the Homicide Division as fellow detectives struggled to accept and understand the tragedy.

Why had Detective X taken his life? A chaplain, who had known Detective X for more than 20 years said, “There’s going to be an overwhelming number of people very shocked and in disbelief about it” (The Houston Chronicle, 11-1-03). According to friends, he had suffered several losses in the last few years of his life. He was recently divorced, his children moved away from home and his dog died. It is not unusual for suicide to be the aftereffect of several distressing incidents or losses rather than one catastrophic event. Police suicide wears many faces, although commonalities exist. Depression, overwhelming stress, trauma, family issues, criminal or civil charges, department discipline and alcohol are frequently antecedents.

The Instrument

The most frequently used instrument of suicide is the officer’s service firearm. It is there. It is lethal. It is familiar. In San Bernardino County, California, a young police officer shot himself and his 26 year-old wife. They left behind two small children. The article doesn’t tell us “why” this tragedy happened. However, we can make some educated guesses. Unresolved critical stress almost certainly played a significant part. Perhaps, anger flared beyond normal limits. We will never know why these two young parents died.

We can work to stop the dying by enlightening officers and their supervisors about the causes and symptoms of police suicide. A spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office was quoted in the LA Times saying, “I don’t know if we’ll know why it happened, and it’s a shock and surprise to all of us.” Does that mean there were no warning signs before this officer put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger? Not necessarily. It might mean that no one correctly interpreted the warning signs and took appropriate action.

If we all work together we can reduce the officer suicide rate. Though the rate has gone down slightly since 2008, it is still a stain on law enforcement and it questions our ability to take care of our own. That is not acceptable.



Badge of Life

The Department of Justice


Hotline number: 1–800–267–5463

This is a national hotline exclusively for law enforcement officers and their families. It is staffed by retired officers and a therapist with law enforcement experience to help active officers with the psychosocial stressors they face at work. The website also has some resources on officer suicide.

In Harm’s Way: Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention

In Harm’s Way offers training seminars and workshops on suicide prevention, including an eight-hour train-the-trainers program that provides a comprehensive approach to stress management and suicide prevention for law enforcement professionals. The website contains numerous resources, including a toolkit to help provide suicide prevention training.

Law Enforcement Wallet Card

By Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) (2008)

This wallet-sized card contains some of the warning signs for suicide and some basic steps that officers can take if they think a fellow officer is considering suicide.

National Police Suicide Foundation

This organization provides several different kinds of training programs on suicide awareness and prevention as well as support services that meet the psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs of law enforcement officers and their families.

Police Suicide Law Enforcement Mental Health Alliance

This network of groups and individuals promotes education and advocacy for new research and mental health strategies for police officers. The website provides access to a large number of written materials on police suicide and mental health.

Dr. McCoy is a psychotherapist, master instructor, published author and consultant (personality and training). She is a former South Carolina. State Constable and worked at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, where she researched, created and implemented the Master Instructor Program. She also taught in the South Carolina Leadership Institute. Her most recent law enforcement manual on retraining emotions, is in the hands of a publisher. Dr. McCoy also volunteered in the Cold Case Squad at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Reach Dr. McCoy via





Seven Signs You Are Working with A Psychopath

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on November 7, 2013 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)


7 Signs You're Working With A Psychopath




Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

American Psycho screengrab


How do you know when you're face-to-face with a psychopath?


There are more out there than we'd like to imagine, and they all tend to exhibit essentially the same traits, says behavioral analyst Lillian Glass, a language expert who's worked with the FBI on unmasking signals of deception.


Psychopathy is an anti-social personality disorder where the sufferer tends to adopt erratic and impulsive behaviors. Psychopaths have an inability to internalize social norms.


While it's difficult to know how many psychopaths reside in the U.S., a survey cited in a Reuters article found that out of the 500 senior executive respondents in the U.S. and U.K., 26% said they had "observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace" and 24% believed that those in the financial industry need to "engage in unethical or illegal conduct to be successful."


Based on Glass' new book "The Body Language of Liars," we pulled out seven red flags that you may be dealing with a psychopath in the cube next door.


They constantly use the past tense.


Researchers have found psychopaths use past tense more than present tense, which could signal that they're detached from the present, writes Glass.


They use cause-and-effect statements.


"Because psychopaths are entitled and see the world and others as theirs for the taking, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that they used more words such as 'because' and 'so that'" says Glass, since they tend to rationalize their actions with their own logic.


They talk excessively about their basic needs.


Since they're typically not occupied with anything else, psychopaths think about their basic needs a lot, such as food, shelter, and clothing, writes Glass. When talking about their basic needs, psychopaths tend to use twice as many words as usual or provide too much information.


They don't take responsibility or blame.


Psychopaths usually think that they're the victims, which comes from their sense of entitlement, says Glass.



"The psychopath will speak of himself in grandiose terms while blaming others and taking no responsibility for his actions," she says. You can hear this in the lack and emotion of their voice.


They contradict themselves often.


This may even happen within the same sentence. "[Psychopaths] will lie or omit information when you ask them a question, but they may tell you the truth if you rephrase the question slightly. Researchers have discovered that this has to do with the particular way their brain is wired," says Glass.


They are really bad at crying.


"When [Susan Smith] gave a press conference and cried about her missing children, her fake tears were actually what raised suspicions that she was the killer," says Glass.


When psychopaths cry, Glass says they will often wipe underneath each eye, one at a time. "When people cry genuine tears they cry with both eyes, and so they will tend to wipe both eyes at once."


Their body language is different than what they say.


Glass says psychopaths will often say one thing, but their body language will tell a different story. For example, while saying the word "yes," the psychopath could be shaking their head no.











Read more:

the Pros to Being a Psychopath

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on October 30, 2013 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)


•By Amy Crawford

•, October 29, 2012, Subscribe



Read more:

Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

When most of us hear the word “psychopath,” we imagine Hannibal Lecter. Kevin Dutton would prefer that we think of brain surgeons, CEOs and Buddhist monks. In his new book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, the Oxford research psychologist argues that psychopathic personality traits—charm, confidence, ruthlessness, coolness under pressure—can, in the right doses, be a good thing. Not all psychopaths are violent, he says, and some of them are just the sort of people society can count on in a crisis.


To further his psychopathic studies, Dutton is seeking participants for his Great American Psychopath Survey, which he says will reveal the most psychopathic states, cities and professions in the United States. Try it for yourself at



“Psychopath” is a term that gets thrown about a lot in our culture. Are psychopaths misunderstood?


It’s true, no sooner is the word “psychopath” out than images of your classic psychopathic killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and a whole kind of discreditable raft of senior politicians come kind of creeping across our minds. But actually, being a psychopath doesn’t mean that you’re a criminal. Not by default, anyway. It doesn’t mean that you’re a serial killer, either.


One of the reasons why I wrote the book in the first place was to debunk two deep-seated myths that the general public have about psychopaths. Firstly, that they’re either all “mad or bad.” And secondly, that psychopathy is an all-or-nothing thing, that you’re either a psychopath or you’re not.


What is a psychopath, anyway?


When psychologists talk about psychopaths, what we’re referring to are people who have a distinct set of personality characteristics, which include things like ruthlessness, fearlessness, mental toughness, charm, persuasiveness and a lack of conscience and empathy. Imagine that you tick the box for all of those characteristics. You also happen to be violent and stupid. It’s not going to be long before you smack a bottle over someone’s head in a bar and get locked up for a long time in prison. But if you tick the box for all of those characteristics, and you happen to be intelligent and not naturally violent, then it’s a different story altogether. Then you’re more likely to make a killing in the market rather than anywhere else.


How are these psychopathic traits particularly useful in modern society?


Psychopaths are assertive. Psychopaths don’t procrastinate. Psychopaths tend to focus on the positive. Psychopaths don’t take things personally; they don’t beat themselves up if things go wrong, even if they’re to blame. And they’re pretty cool under pressure. Those kinds of characteristics aren’t just important in the business arena, but also in everyday life.


The key here is keeping it in context. Let’s think of psychopathic traits—ruthlessness, toughness, charm, focus—as the dials on a [recording] studio deck. If you were to turn all of those dials up to max, then you’re going to overload the circuit. You’re going to wind up getting 30 years inside or the electric chair or something like that. But if you have some of them up high and some of them down low, depending on the context, in certain endeavors, certain professions, you are going to be predisposed to great success. The key is to be able to turn them back down again.


You’ve found that some professions rate higher than others when it comes to psychopathic traits. Which jobs attract psychopaths?



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Narcissism, Psychopathy and Evil

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on October 30, 2013 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)


Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Evil





KC Mindfulness








Introduction: During both my professional careers (criminal law and psychology), two areas of particular interest to me have been psychopathy and narcissism. Psychopathy is generally viewed as a particularly virulent form of narcissism, in which the person is not only very much focused on herself, or himself, but also highly manipulative, sometimes sadistic, and very much into control and power. One prominent characteristic of psychopathy is the presence of what is usually called a “glib, superficial charm.” These people are usually able, at least in the short term, to win over others very easily. They would generally be described as “very attractive” people (on the surface). Sometimes a person who merits the designation “psychopath” goes into a path of criminal activity (many, but not all, serial killers are psychopaths, and criminals known as “con artists” are often psychopaths); other times, the psychopath will be engaged in a legitimate career (politics, academia, corporate leadership). The key is not the type of activity the person engages in, but the degree of control s/he exercises over others.




Underneath the superficial charm, the narcissist/psychopath always has a “me-first” mentality. If you work with such a person, you may begin to see signs that s/he thinks that everything is about her; and, crucially, it will become clear that control/power is a major part of her game plan. However, this can be well concealed beneath a veneer of friendliness and concern for others; it may not become clearly evident until s/he receives what is known as a “narcissistic injury.” A person who is truly narcissistic will respond with extreme anger if s/he receives a challenge to her ego (an ego that is both fragile, and strongly defended). This response may look like an overblown rage fit, following a minor slight; or it may take the form of a cold vindictiveness, administered by acts of retaliation. These responses can be very shocking, even frightening, to the person who unwittingly triggered or evoked the narcissistic injury (by getting in the way of the narcissist’s plans, for example, or by displaying a lack of full approval and appreciation for the narcissist’s brilliant ideas).




A good non-technical book about this phenomenon is: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout [the term “sociopath” is closely related to the term “psychopath”].


Some good web resources about the phenomenon known as “narcissistic rage” are in my “” links (click over in the side column on this blog, where it says “And, Check Out…”). One of them is from the “Dr. Sanity” website.








Recently, Nature magazine published a great article [pdf] on the neuroscience of psychopaths, as investigated by an ingenious study being run by a group of Dutch researchers. Psychopaths are rare individuals who display what is sometimes called “malignant narcissism,” a capacity to use any situation for their own gain, with total disregard for the inconvenience or even suffering that their behavior might cause to others. At their worst, they may also be sadistic. Although it is sometimes said that they lack impulse control, the opposite may be true: many of these guys (most psychopaths are male) are very methodical. Here are excerpts from the article:


“Although there is a higher number of psychopaths among violent criminals, a psychopath is not necessarily someone who is violent.


“The term describes someone who is considered to lack empathy or conscience, is superficially charming, manipulative, has ’shallow affect’ (doesn’t have a big emotional range) and has poor impulse control. More recently, psychopathy has become synonymous with the use of the PCL-R, the diagnostic tool also known as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist after it’s creator and psychopathy researcher Robert Hare.



“The Dutch team… are working with psychopaths who are in prison for presumably quite serious crimes, precisely because they lack empathy. They are comparing the brain activation between psychopaths and non-psychopaths when they view material that communicates emotions and normally evokes an empathy-driven reaction. By looking at which brain areas are less active in the presumably empathy-less psychopaths, they hope to find out the crucial empathy-related brain circuits.


“There are more details about the study in the article, but one bit is particularly interesting, wherein one of the participants, from a high security prison, comments on the study. He says that, when he entered the prison five years ago, ‘borderline personality’ was the fashionable term, and his designated pigeonhole. Later, he was diagnosed as a psychopath; about this switch, he says: ‘The psychopathy label is more damaging — it prompts everyone to see you as a potential serial killer, which I could never be.’ But [this prisoner] also wears his PCL-R score as a badge of honour: ‘I think my high psychopath score is a talent, not a sickness — I can make good strong decisions, and it’s good to have some distance with people.’


“Interestingly, [these points] have also been made in the psychological literature. Ian Pitchford proposed in a 2001 article that psychopathy could be an evolutionary advantage for a minority of individuals, as it allows them act violently or antisocially without any emotional cost to themselves. Furthermore, discussion in both the psychological and legal literature has focused on whether labelling someone a ‘psychopath’ is unjustly stigmatising.


One article even goes as far as to suggest that ‘psychopathy’ is just a modern term we’ve invented to replace the world ‘evil’.” See the pdf of Nature article ‘Scanning Psychopaths’.

Read more at:





Authoritarianism and Psychopathy

Recovery from a Sociopath

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on October 30, 2013 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

by Quinn Pierce



I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the process of learning from our mistakes. It sounds simple enough. After all, it’s easy to look in the rear-view mirror and see exactly where we went wrong. Events always look so clear and uncomplicated when looking at them from a safe distance.


So, with a little self-reflection, we can identify those decisions that led us into unsafe territory and vow never to make them again.


Complicated Choices


But, this is where I run into a problem. I know which experiences I do not want to repeat, but the choices I made that led to those experiences are not as black and white as the experiences themselves.


For example, I chose to love someone and trust them to love me back. The problems arose because I chose someone who was incapable of love or trust, but, at the same time, that person was very good at pretending he could. I had no prior experiences to tell me that such people existed. Essentially, I was trusting in the goodness most people are born with, unaware my soon-to-be husband either wasn’t born with it, or lost it somewhere along the way.


I think this is why recovery from a sociopath is such a complicated road. Most of us did not make choices that need to be avoided throughout life, in fact, just the opposite. Love and trust are essential components of healthy relationships; we just chose people who are innately incapable of healthy relationships. That’s the part of the experience that needs to be avoided in the future, but it’s not quite so easy to detach those things from each other.

Discovering and Accepting the Truth


Once I knew my husband’s emotions were all a matter of convenience for him, I was angry, confused, frustrated, and sad. It’s taken me a long time to actually accept this as fact. I constantly held out a glimmer of hope that he was capable of, at least, compassion and understanding. If not for me, I wanted to believe this for my sons’ sake. But, it isn’t so. And the sooner I could accept this, the sooner I could move past all those emotions that were keeping me stuck and unable to break free of the relationship completely.


Necessary Steps


This was the most difficult step for me. I just couldn’t believe, despite what I had experienced, that another human being was incapable of loving his children. At least, not the way I understand love to be. He may feel obligation and some type of responsibility, but it’s only as much as he has figured out that society requires from him in order for him to be regarded as a ‘good father’. The reality is he sees them much more as objects that belong to him than the beautiful, loving, amazing boys that they are. And, again, that is reality, and pretending otherwise does not help any of us heal, it just prohibits any chance of moving forward.


Today, I’m much more aware of the dangers hiding within some people in this world. So much so that I wouldn’t even consider myself to be an overly cautious person, just more alert to the signs I now know to be the red flags of behaviors and personalities. I’ve also learned to trust my instincts and stand up for myself.


But as far as the choices I made so many years ago that led to a disastrous and regrettable relationship, I’m not so sure those are things I need to change. I would say, instead, that my healing requires that I continue to make those same choices again, but only with those who deserve such important parts of me.


If I were to never to love or trust anyone again because of my experience with a sociopath, that would be my most regrettable choice.



Are Psychopaths and Heroes Similar?

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on June 17, 2013 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Author, Stephanie Pappas

Heroes and psychopaths may have something in common, according to new research that links psychopathic personality traits to selfless behaviour.



The finding may seem incongruous, given that lack of empathy for others is a key trait of psychopathy, which is also marked by impulsivity, superficial charm and lack of remorse. But some personality traits of psychopaths may be, in some situations, positive, said study researcher Scott Lilienfeld, a psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta.


“Personality traits can be good or bad depending on the person and depending on the situation and also how they’re channeled,” Lilienfeld told LiveScience. Take fearless dominance, which describes a boldness frequently seen in psychopaths, he said.


“Being very fearless has its downsides to be sure, there’s no question about that,” Lilienfeld said. “But being fearless may have its upsides as well, like being heroic.” [What Really Scares People? Top 10 Phobias]


Two sides to the same coin?


Anecdotally, many psychopaths sometimes show altruistic sides, and sometimes, heroic people act badly in other areas of their lives. In 2005, for example, an Australian businessman who saved as many as 20 people from the Indian Ocean tsunami in Thailand was arrested on assault and burglary charges upon returning home. Even serial killer Ted Bundy, who murdered at least 30 people and who is generally considered to be a psychopath, once volunteered for a suicide-prevention hotline, said Sarah Francis Smith, a doctoral candidate at Emory University and co-researcher on the new study.


“Not to say that Ted Bundy is a hero,” Smith said. “But he definitely engaged in some pro-social behaviour.”


These contradictory behaviours spurred the researchers to examine the links between psychopathic personality traits and heroism, which they defined as altruistic behaviour involving some risk, whether physical or social.


In two studies of undergraduate students, involving a total of 243 volunteers, and one study of 457 adults recruited online, the researchers asked people to fill out questionnaires regarding their heroic acts, even ones as minor as breaking up a public fight or helping a stranger push a car out of a ditch. The volunteers also took a personality questionnaire to determine their level of psychopathic personality traits — none of the volunteers were The 10 Most Controversial actually psychopaths, but because personality is a spectrum, some people were closer than others.


The personality of a hero


The results revealed that a couple of psychopathic traits are, indeed, linked to heroic behaviour. In one undergraduate sample and in the sample of adults, a psychopathic trait called fearless dominance — essentially boldness — was linked with greater heroism and altruism toward strangers. In the other undergraduate sample, people who had higher levels of impulsive antisociality (marked by aggressiveness and antisocial behaviour) were also more likely to report heroism. [7 Personality Traits You Should Change]


Fearless and antisocial people might be more likely than the average person to lie, of course. To control for that possibility, Smith, Lilienfeld and their colleagues inserted a few stealth questions into the surveys. Some were designed to out self-aggrandizers: People who answered “yes” to questions about whether they’d ever taken the controls of an aeroplane during a crash-landing scenario or saved people from multiple volcanic eruptions were assumed to be lying and tossed out of the study.


Some of the other questions were subtler and designed to catch people who answered questions in ways that made themselves look good. The researchers statistically controlled for high scores on these questions.


Finally, the researchers did one more test: a look at heroism, psychopathy and U.S. presidents. Using psychopath ratings from biographers and experts in presidential history, the researchers compared likely psychopathic personality traits of the 42 presidents up to and including George W. Bush with their war records. Although this study was small and limited, it did show that the more psychopathic the personality, the more likely the president was to have a record of heroic behaviour in war before taking office.


“At least some of the traits of psychopaths may be adaptive at least in the short run,” Lilienfeld said. In the future, he and Smith hope to study law enforcement officers, since such officers are more likely to show heroic behaviour than the general population.


And whereas it may seem obvious in retrospect that the bold, impulsive or fearless might be more likely to run into a burning building or pull an accident victim from wreckage, the study could help answer the question of whether heroes are born or made. Some people are likely just in the right place at the right time and rise to the occasion, no matter their personality traits, Lilienfeld said. Others might be made for the job.


“In some cases heroism may find them,” Lilienfeld said. “In other cases, they may find heroism because of who they are.”


The researchers reported their results online May 29 in the Journal of Research in Personality.


Follow Stephanie Pappas onTwitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on


Psychopaths the Bond

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on May 28, 2013 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)


Rob Kall, Author

This is part of an ongoing series on sociopaths.


There are millions of sociopaths and psychopaths in America, maybe a 250 million of them on the planet, 8.5 million in the US alone-- something I intend to do something about.


These people come in all demographic varieties, though there are a lot more males than females, there are still probably a million female sociopaths in the US.


These people are predators. They don't feel emotions like other people. They don't feel empathy or compassion. Researchers study callousness as a parameter of their emotional makeup.


Some psychiatrists and psychologist clump psychopaths and sociopaths together. Others differentiate. I will be using the terms interchangeably unless specified otherwise,


Psychopaths have a predatory pattern of interaction they use to take advantage of and use people-- to form "the psychopathic bond."

I'm summarizing what is described in the book, Snakes in Suits, by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare


1-First, the psychopath makes you feel like the person you present to the world is awesome-- that he likes the "you" who want the world to know of. People like to be "validated" and psychopaths latch on to this propensity to gain your favor.


2-Second, the psychopath figures out some of your issues and concerns and fabricates a persona that is similar to yours. Then, he makes you feel like he's just like you, has the same cares and concerns. this is designed to build your trust so you will lower your guard-- so you'll trust him because he really knows who you are.


3- Third, the psychopath gets you to feel that you can tell him your secrets, like you can tell a true friend.


4-Fourth, the psychopath makes you feel like he or she is "the perfect friend...lover...partner" or new hire for you. I'd add volunteer or fellow activist.

The authors of Snakes in Suits say, that once the psychopathic bond is accomplished, "your fate is sealed."


These relationships are built on lies and predatory decisions by the psychopath, on the one side, while on the other, the person believes the lies and fake emotions. But psychopaths are so good at these relationships that even after people discover the truth they still mourn the loss of what they never really had.

These relationships are dangerous. Snakes in Suits describes;

...the psychopath has an ulterior-- some would say "evil" --and at the very least, selfish motive. This victimization goes far beyond trying to take advantage of someone on a date or during a simple business transaction. The victimization is predatory in nature; it often leads to severe financial, physical, or emotional harm for the individual."

One of the kinds of intelligence in Gardner's Theory of multiple intelligences

is interpersonal intelligence. Psychopaths and sociopaths are BRILLIANT interpersonally. They're great at reading and pleasing and manipulating people.

Sociopaths ruin the world for us in many ways. This one-- where they use this four step approach to woo and win you-- is pernicious, but it is also sad, because it forces us to raise our guard when we encounter anyone who seems like they could be a new good friend.


And in general, the sociopaths in the world make it necessary for us to keep up our guard, to protect ourselves from their predations, from their abuse and the trouble and pain they can cause.


The way this feels is one minute you have a new friend, someone who's really appreciating you, perhaps working with you, teaming with you, sharing your enthusiasm for a new project or an issue. The next minute, you've been ripped off, or the "new friend" betrayed you or showed another side that is the opposite of what you believed you were buying into. Or, if the psychopath has been caught, or is done with you, he or she may brutally attack you and try to hurt or destroy you. People in intimate relationships with sociopaths are often physically assaulted and injured. People on line are bullied, harassed, threatened or stalked. Fortunately there are now some state and federal laws against cyber-stalking and harassment. Unfortunately they are not always enforced and can be difficult to get enforced.

There is much research developing on psychopaths. There should be a lot more. We have laws to protect the public from sexual predators. We should have laws to protect us from psychopathic and sociopathic predators. Those laws should include ways to identify who they are. I realize this is a slipper slope. But it is not about picking out a minority group. Psychopaths exist in all races and cultures. We also have laws that allow people with deadly communicable diseases to be quarantined. 

I'm not saying we should jail all psychopaths, but, so far, there's no known cure for psychopathy. These people should be identified so the public can at least know they are considering voting for a person who is a psychopath, so managers and investors and school principals can know that a job candidate is a psychopath.


If I have a psychopath living next door, I want to know about it, or better, I want to know about it before I buy my house or rent that apartment.


Some might argue that this is discrimination. I would agree. This is the kind of discrimination we need.


I'll go even further. I believe that psychopaths and sociopaths are a major reason for the problems we face in this world. I wouldn't mind seeing psychopaths made unable to have children. The studies show that there is a major genetic factor.


Bottom line, psychopaths may deserve some compassion. They didn't ask to be born or raised as psychopaths (usually a combination of the two,) but they do not have compassion and they are dangerous predators. Humanity needs to take action and set stronger policies to protect itself agains these rogue creatures.


We need legislation to fund massively more research-- a "Manhattan project" to identify sociopaths and protect the public from them. 


Criminologist Believes Violent Behavior Is Biological

Posted by Dr. Dorothy McCoy on May 2, 2013 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Twenty years ago, when brain imaging made it possible for researchers to study the minds of violent criminals and compare them to the brain imaging of "normal" people, a whole new field of research — neurocriminology — opened up.


Adrian Raine was the first person to conduct a brain imaging study on murderers and has since continued to study the brains of violent criminals and psychopaths. His research has convinced him that while there is a social and environmental element to violent behavior, there's another side of the coin, and that side is biology.


"Just as there's a biological basis for schizophrenia and anxiety disorders and depression, I'm saying here there's a biological basis also to recidivistic violent offending," Raine, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the new book The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.


Raine says this re-visioning of violent criminals could potentially help direct how we approach crime prevention and rehabilitation.


"I think prisoners ... [are] not motivated to change, really," he says, " ... because they just think they're a bad, evil person. If we reconceptualized recidivistic crime as a criminal disorder, would we make them more amenable to treatment?"


The key question that preoccupies Raine, however, is that of punishment and the question of the death penalty.


"Simply put," he says, "if bad brains do cause bad behavior, if brain dysfunction raises the odds that somebody will become a criminal offender — a violent offender — and if the causes of the brain dysfunction come relatively early in life ... should we fully hold that adult individual responsible?"


"I've got to be careful here. There's no destiny here. Biology is not destiny, and it's more than biology, and there's lots of factors that we're talking about there, and one factor like prefrontal dysfunction or low heart rate doesn't make you a criminal offender. But what if all the boxes were checked? What if you had birth complications and you were exposed to toxins and you had a low resting heart rate and you had the gene that raises the odds of violence, et cetera, et cetera, stuff happening early on in life. I mean, you're not responsible for that. Then how in the name of justice can we really hold that individual as responsible as we do ... and punish them as much as we do — including death?"

Interview Highlights


On studying psychopaths


"The most striking thing I found working one-to-one with psychopaths is ... how I really liked being with them, which is shocking and at the time surprising to me but, gosh, I loved dealing with the psychopaths because they were great storytellers. They were always fun. They were always interesting, and I was fascinated most of all with how they could con and manipulate me."


On the possible correlation between lead exposure and violence


"In the '70s, '80s and '90s, violence went up in America. What was causing that? Well, one hypothesis: It was the increase in environmental lead in the '50s, '60s and '70s. You know, lead in gas, for example. So, in the 1950s, little toddlers were playing outside, putting their fingers in dirt, putting their fingers in their mouths and absorbing the lead. Twenty years later, they became the next generation of violent criminal offenders because violence peaks at about 19 or 20. Then what happens is in the 1990s violence begins to come down, as it's been doing. What's partly explaining that? The reduction in lead in the environment. In fact, if you map environmental lead levels over time like that and map it onto the change in violence over time, lead can explain 91 percent of those changes. And to me, it's the only single cause that can both explain the precipitous rise in violence from the '70s, '80s and '90s and also the drop that we've been experiencing."


On what the fact that he has a brain scan similar to that of serial killer Randy Kraft means to him


"It makes you wonder, you know, what put me on one side of the bars in those four years in top-security prison when I was interviewing someone, when maybe with a different life course and other factors in my life, it could have flipped just the other way around? I've got a low resting heart rate. I'm a bit of a stimulation seeker, and, yes, I've got a brain scan like a serial killer. I had poor nutrition as a kid. ... What stopped me [from] becoming a killer, for example, or becoming a violent offender? I was anti-social from the age of 9 to 11. I was in a gang, smoking cigarettes, setting fire to mail, letting car tires down. ... But I've been intrigued: Why didn't I stay on that pathway? And it's an area that we need to do so much more on: protective factors. What protects some people who have some of the risk factors from actually becoming an offender? I think in my life, for example, I had parents who sort of loved me. I always felt loved. There was always a roof over my head. There was always a secure environment. And I got on with my brothers and sisters. You know, and maybe that's the critical ingredient: some love."


On changing his mind about the death penalty after being the victim of a violent crime


"At that point in time, I'd always been against the death penalty. I mean, I'm from England. We don't have the death penalty there, you know. You just think, 'That's crazy, having the death penalty.' After being that victim, I changed my mind about that because it made me feel more about victims' experience and how maybe — maybe in some cases — it could give them a sense of closure. Now I would not be ruled out of the jury on a death penalty case, but I'm not proud of that."


On reconciling the victim part of him with the criminologist part of him


"I'm a Jekyll and Hyde. So there's a Dr. Jekyll inside of me that's done the research, seen these risk factors, done longitudinal studies, documented these early risk factors beyond the individual's control that moves them into a criminal way of life, and that Dr. Jekyll is saying, 'You know, you can't ignore this. You can't turn a blind eye to the biology of violence and the social factors, too.' But there's a Mr. Hyde inside of me ranting and raving and saying, 'Look, I don't want sob stories. I don't want excuses. There's a cause for all behavior. We can always find a cause for behavior. ... It comes from the brain: So what? We found the cause. OK, great.'


"You know, what about the victim? What about how they feel and what about that sense of retribution, you know? What about deterrence? So, I mean, I go backwards and forwards on this, and I bet I'll change my mind again at some point in time. ... The scientist inside of me says, 'You know, that deterrence aspect — especially to capital punishment — that's not working,' and I don't think the science really shows it, too, but ... there's a part of me that says, 'It's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a pound of flesh: My throat was slit, his throat should be slit.' I mean, that's just how you feel as a victim. ... Kids need to be socialized and punished for bad behavior, and doesn't that also apply as adults? If you buy into the argument, that Dr. Jekyll inside of me says then all bets are off: Nobody's responsible. You can't have that. That's what Mr. Hyde says."



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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Research into the criminal mind took a different turn 20 years ago when brain imaging made it possible for researchers to study

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