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Psychological profile of a psychopath, in 12 unmistakable traits

Psychological profile of a psychopath, in 12 unmistakable traits

December 4, 2020

The term "psychopathy" It is unclear to most people because multiple meanings are attributed to it. In fact, even within psychology this word is used to designate very different realities, the most questioned criterion being the relationship between psychopathy and criminality.

Authors such as Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare have tried to delimit the psychological profile of psychopaths , describing personality traits and behavior patterns characteristic of those to whom such qualification applies. Let's see what conceptualizations exist about psychopathy and what is the classic profile of this alteration.

  • Related article: "Differences between psychopathy and sociopathy"

What is psychopathy?

Psychopathy is a personality disorder not recognized by the main diagnostic classifications. It is characterized by a lack of empathy and feelings of guilt , as well as egocentricity, impulsivity and the tendency to lie and manipulation. In contrast, sociopathy is associated to a greater extent with antisocial personality disorder.


In popular language this term is usually associated with criminal behavior, especially serial murders; However, the truth is that psychopaths they do not always commit crimes and they can be perfectly adapted to society. In fact, authors like Kevin Dutton (2013) have claimed the virtues of the psychopathic personality in the current context.

The current conception of psychopathy is based largely on the works of Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare . In his book The mask of sanity (1941) Cleckley made the description of the most influential psychopathy to date, while Hare relied on this work to create the well-known PCL scale (1991), which evaluates psychopathic traits.


According to the triarchic model of Patrick et al. (2009), psychopathy is composed of three main features: daring, disinhibition and pettiness. It is known that psychopaths they feel less fear than other people , who have more difficulty controlling their impulses and their lack of empathy leads them to use others for their benefit.

On the other hand, Garrido (2000) divides psychopathy into two dimensions: the emotional and interpersonal area and the lifestyle. The first includes signs such as egocentricity, the tendency to manipulate and lack of guilt, while among behavioral factors includes the need for stimulation, impulsivity and criminal behavior.

  • You may be interested: "Manipulators have these 5 traits in common"

Psychological profile of psychopaths

In this section we will synthesize the personality traits of psychopaths according to the classifications made by Cleckley and Hare.


The presence of these characteristics, therefore, indicates the similarity of a certain person with the concept of psychopathy handled by experts.

1. Lack of empathy

Psychopathy has been related to a lack of empathy, that is, the ability to understand other people's mental state or to put themselves in their place. However, studies suggest that psychopaths have the ability to empathize, but they "activate" it at will; this would explain both the coldness and the social skills that characterize them.

Simon Baron-Cohen, who popularized the concept of "theory of mind", affirmed that psychopaths have cognitive but not emotional empathy, and that therefore it does not disturb the suffering of others . These deficits have been associated with less activation in the fusiform cortex and in the extrastriate, which are related to the recognition of faces.

2. Egocentrism and narcissism

Self-centeredness, or the inability to assume points of view foreign to one's own, is intimately related to a lack of empathy. Very often psychopaths are also narcissistic; this means that tend to think that they are superior to others and more important than them.

3. Surface charm

The typical profile of the psychopath is that of a lovely and sociable person , with good social skills. It can serve as an extreme example the case of the murderer Ted Bundy, who seduced his victims to gain their trust and received multiple love letters and marriage proposals after being sentenced to death.

4. Emotional poverty

The cerebral alterations characteristic of psychopathy make the range of emotions felt by these people limited. In particular, in addition to emotional coldness, psychopaths are characterized by Feel less negative emotions, especially fear , whereas it is believed that they feel positive emotions in a normal way.

5.Antisocial and criminal conduct

Psychopathy test scores correlate with substance abuse, incarceration, gender violence, rape and pedophilia. Economic and war crimes, as well as participation in organized crime, are also more frequent in psychopaths than in the general population.

Like the antisocial disorder, the predisposition to psychopathy may manifest itself in childhood in behaviors such as robberies, frequent lies, vandalism and violence towards people and animals; these signs are classified as "dissocial personality disorder".

6. Difficulty to learn from experience

According to research, the problems of psychopaths to learn from experience are due to alterations in the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These structures are related to executive functions and emotional learning, respectively.

It seems that psychopaths have more difficulties than the general population to associate the punishments they receive with the behaviors that caused them. Another biological explanation is the presence of reduced levels of cortisol and serotonin, related to aversive conditioning and behavioral inhibition .

7. Impulsiveness and lack of planning

The impulsivity of psychopaths may be caused by decreased activation in the frontal cortex, combined with an increase in testosterone levels and a reduction in serotonin levels. All this could reduce self-control , facilitating impulsive behaviors such as drug abuse or physical aggression.

This is also related to a lack of long-term planning. There is usually an absence of vital goals; the behavior is guided to a greater extent by the momentary impulses.

8. Insincerity and manipulation

The lack of sincerity and the tendency to manipulation typical of psychopaths can manifest with greater or lesser subtlety, but they are two very frequent characteristics in people with moderate levels of psychopathy that may not manifest many of the other traits we have seen.

9. Predisposition to boredom

The biological alterations of psychopaths lead them to a need for continuous stimulation . This makes it easy for them to get bored, a trait shared by very extroverted people (who have a low level of brain activation at rest) and by others with disorders that affect the brain, such as ADHD.

10. Parasitic lifestyle

The manipulation and egocentricity of psychopaths tend to tend to take advantage of others to meet their basic needs. Thus, they often live on other people's money, like their parents or their partners.

11. Absence of remorse

Even when they carry out behaviors that harm other people, such as some of the ones mentioned in the previous sections, psychopaths they do not usually feel guilty for their acts ; Their lack of emotional empathy allows them to commit crimes or manipulate others without remorse.

12. Sexual promiscuity

Often psychopaths they have many different relationships that last a short time . In addition, given their interpersonal difficulties and to establish commitments, they are involved in them superficially and are mainly concerned about sex and the practical benefits they can obtain from their partners.

Bibliographic references:

  • Cleckley, H. (1941). The mask of sanity: An attempt to clarify some issues about the so-called psychopathic personality (6th Ed.). Saint Louis: C. V. Mosby Co.
  • Dutton, K. (2013). The wisdom of psychopaths. Barcelona: Ariel.
  • Garrido, V. (2000). The psycho. A chameleon in today's society. Alzira: Algar.
  • Hare, R. D. (1991). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (Hare PCL-R). Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.
  • Hare, R. D. (2011). Without conscience: The disturbing world of the psychopaths among us. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Patrick, C., Fowles, D. & Krueger, R. (2009). Triarchic conceptualization of psychopathy: Developmental origins of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness. Development and Psychopathology, 21 (3): 913-938.
  • Vernon, P.A., Villani, V.C., Vickers, L.C. & Harris, J.A. (2008). A behavioral genetic investigation of the Dark Triad and the Big 5. Personality and Individual Differences, 44 (2): 445-452.

In The Shadow Of Feeling (Psychopath Documentary) - Real Stories (December 2020).


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