Home Forums Default Forum TWO KINDS OF PSYCHOPATHS

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    When I worked in a prison treatment program for youthful offenders (ages 14-24) in California, I observed that there were two types of psychopaths.  This observation might be helpful for understanding psychopaths, for doing reserarch on them, and for developing methods to assess the two kinds I observed.  I consider these remarks here tentative, since anyone can come up with any kind of typology.  However, it is based on work with “the real thing,” i. e., youths incarcerated at an end-of-the-road prison for serious offenses.




    The first kind of psychopath is the traditional one, the kind you read about or were taught about.  They seem to have no conscience, little or no anxiety (except when they are caught) and can do the worst things without any kind of remorse.  Of course, this leads them into criminality, but not all criminals are psychopaths. All psychopaths would be likely to commit criminal acts, since they have no compunction against doing anti-social acts.  But, being a criminal, even a seriously bad criminal, does not mean one is a psychopath. 


    I might add that these kinds of psychopaths, nevertheless, seem to show more emotion than one might expect on behalf of family members or, sometimes, animals.  I think they identify with animals because animals are low in social status, like most of them.  Almost all the prisoners I worked with came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 




    The second kind of psychopath was so different, in some ways, from the traditonal account of psychopaths that at first I thought they could not be psychopaths.  This second kind of psychopath had all the qualities of the first, except for the anxiety part.  Often they had little anxiety, but often they did.  In addition, they sometimes had other kinds of psychopathology that we do not associate with traditional psychopaths: depression, obessive-compulsive, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. 


    The typical mistake would be to think they are not psychopaths, but if you look at their behavior they seem to be.  They also commit terrible crimes with no remorse and horribly use people for their own, selfish ends.  They appear to have no conscience.  It is just that they are psychopaths also burdened with some degree of mental disorder. 


    We should not include the mentally disordered who occasionally do anti-social things.  Many drug addicts use people horribly and commit crimes to get the money for their drug.  But, that is only one aspect of them and if you can ever get them drug free they often seem like regular, law-abiding people.   


    I hope my two-part typology proves helpful.  I look forward to the insights from others, including critiques that go against it, as well as ideas that support it or develop it further.


    Russell Eisenman, Ph.D.

    Associate Professor of Psychology

    University of Texas-Pan American

    Edinburg, TX 78539-2999


    Dear Russell,


    Thank you for this interesting summary of your experiences! I think this has a lot of parallels in recent clinical literature, e.g. Blackburn (2009) and Ullrich and Coid (2010) who talk about secondary or ‘unstable’/’anxious’ psychopaths as well as the more ‘traditional’ primary psychopath. I think this kind of distinction is increasingly important when we consider how to manage or treat individuals with “psychopathy” as defined by the PCL-R.


    I think there are also strong parallels with what Kevin has written below in that the structure of the PCL-R (which we commonly take to be synonymous with psychopathy) does promote a division between two different types of “psychopath”, one characterised more by interpersonal & affective pathology (i.e. ‘Factor 1’), the other by impulsive and criminal behaviour (‘Factor 2’).


    To take Kevin’s latter point, if anyone is familiar with the literature on the aetiology of personality disorder (e.g. Rutter & Silberg, 2002) there is an emergent argument for ‘gene-environment interaction’ in the aetiology of psychopathy; certain genetic phenotypes and a certain upbringing are risk factors for adult psychopathy, but it is not always so clear cut as to say that a genetic history of psychopathy and a poor upbringing will necessarily result in someone becoming a psychopath (or vice versa).


    Interesting debates, I would be delighted to hear from other researchers working in this area.




    Blackburn, R (2009) Subtypes of Psychopath. In McMurran, M & Howard, R (eds). Personality, personality disorder & Violence. Chichester: John Wiley.

    Rutter, M. & Silberg, J. (2002) Gene-Environment interplay in relation to emotional and behavioural disturbance.

    Annual Review of Psychology, 53: 463-490

    Ullrich, S. & Coid, J (2010) Antisocial Personality disorder: stable and unstable sub-types. Journal of Personality Disorders, 24(2)

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