Sociopathic throughlines

I’d like to look at the continuum from imprisoned failed sociopaths to SAPs (socially adept sociopaths).  Basically they are all adherents of the credo, ‘you call it cheating, I call it winning.’  The failed sociopaths have problems with the cheating part (i.e., getting caught), the SAPs can be phenomenal at it.

In my opinion across the spectrum they all have characteristics in common.  They are all like a child in a candy store.  Their wants are as big as their eyes, with the same childhood sense of entitlement.  They want everything they see.  A low level sociopath will simply reach out and start taking and end up in jail.  A SAP will be able to restrain this reaching until safe opportunities present themselves.  But the basic desires are identical. There is also a whole panoply of related arrested development characteristics.  In my opinion, all sociopaths are in a state of immature sexuality.  Essentially they never progress past childhood sex play, orgasms are simply thrown in.  Similarly, their personality, reasoning, moral, etc. development are also stunted.

Though they may not choose to do so, all sociopaths in my opinion see nothing intrinsically wrong with seducing a 13 year-old girl neighbor into prostitution, incest, “Dress Grey” raping of a straight or closeted gay buddy (i.e., individuals who would be unlikely to press charges due to the publicity), spreading AIDs with no concern, torturing a child in front of a parent, or a parent in front of a child, viewing others as tissue paper to be used and discarded, etc.  I believe this to be true no matter how well educated, well dressed or well spoken a sociopath may be.

What then separates the SAPs from the failed (and caught) sociopaths? I see the situation as being the balancing of two countervailing pressures.  One pressure, drive actually, is to reach out, take and dominate.  The other pressure is simply the need to get away with it, which has both internal and external aspects.  Failed sociopaths lack the internal resources to restrain themselves (apparently, some people, including many professional researchers, consider only these individuals to be true sociopaths — they couldn’t be more wrong).  Other sociopaths have the internal resources, but only if the external environment (i.e., the threat of some punishment) necessitates it.  The continuum is really a scale of talent at being hypocritical.  The advanced SAPs are simply magnificent hypocrites — able to bide their time, be patient, realistically assess their position in the food chain (the concept of the food chain is central to sociopath life stories), restrain their arrogance, desire for dominance and rudeness and wait for opportunities without consequence for indulging their sociopathic wants, etc.  Hypocrisy is simply their main lifetool, as swimming is the main lifetool for a fish.

It is always educational, when evaluating a possible sociopath, to note how the individual consistently behaves around those “lower in the food chain” — it can be quite amazing.  If a superior is a devotee, sadly they will often believe the sociopath and not their eyes.

Apparently, the current rage in the field is the argument over whether sociopathy is a normal-to-special-trait continuum (similar to tallness) or a present/not present trait (such as blue eyes).   It is the latter.  The only way that so-called scientists can make the former argument is that they have no idea of what they are talking about.  See the story of the five blind men and the elephant.  This is quite apparent from the amazing quote from J. Seabrook’s “Suffering Souls, the Search for the Roots of Psychopathy” in The New Yorker, “Unlike most academic psychopathy researchers, Kiehl has spent many hours in the company of his subjects. When he meets colleagues at conferences, he told me, “they always ask, ‘What are they like?’ These are guys who have spent twenty years studying psychopaths and never met one.” http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/10/081110fa_fact_seabrook

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7 thoughts on “Sociopathic throughlines

  1. Well to be blunt many SAPs are white and most of the ones in prison are black. I think another thing to look at is Old Money Old Boys networks, officers in the military, with a sociopathic culture that is protected.

    But I think part of the situation with the SAPs is not that their that much smarter but that people defer to upper class people. Society is not as hard on white collar criminals.

    I think it actually used to be worse a hundred or more years ago than it is now. Nobility was allowed to beat servants, they fought duels, got away with rape of lower class woman very often.

    But there are rich people with big gaps, cognitively. They may be adept at politics and power and hire out the brain work. I’ve met people like that.

  2. If you read threw all of Cleckley’s case study examples of psychopaths, they are all extremely impaired. In fact, those particular case studies are so impaired that I don’t think I’ve ever run into any psychopaths quite that bad (and I’ve run into my share of psychopaths). Death row inmate, Herbert Coddington was no where near as bad as any of those Cleckley case studies. Therefore, I would guess psychopathy is multi-allelic.

    My feeling is that a person who is more severely impaired also has more problems with learning but I could be wrong about that. The sanity phase of Herbert Coddington’s murder trial was the most expensive in the history of California… mainly due to Coddington’s IQ of 160. It was morally hard for the court to send a genius to death. How many people out of 100,000 would have an IQ of 160 or better? Perhaps one?

  3. I am committee to a brain-injured young man. Pre-morbid he was diagnosed with such “tags” as intermittent explosive disorder (age 13) and anti-social personality disorder. Now 9 years post-injury, he is a fascinating clinical study in that the sociopathic attributes seem to be either removed or in deep abeyance at the very least.

    Any comments, referrals to other research sites, etc?

  4. Thanks for the reply mate.

    I think you’re quite right about the genetic side being a multiple factor thing, but this would actually imply that we would get a sliding scale along the lines of Total Pacifist – Peace Loving Hippy – Realistic & Empathic person – Neutral – Common Variety B*stard – Total B*stard – Criminal Psychopath – Serial Killer. We only tend to get simple on/off relationships when a single gene is involved (e.g. sickle cell anaemia).

    You are quite right that genetic factors are almost certainly at play, but with any behaviour that is consistent across environments and related to a particular brain area , we can attribute its cause to either i) Genetics, ii) Environment or iii) a brain injury.

    Brain injury is particularly useful as it can provide more solid evidence (through personality change after the brain injury, and double dissociations between brain injury locations & behaviours). It may be that genetics, past environments or the past interaction of the two are producing psychopathic individuals.

    For examples of brain injuries that have caused psychopathic behaviour check out the following links:

    Overview
    http://jnnp.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/71/6/720

    Detailed case study:
    http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/123/6/1122?ijkey=nqtu3ymGeRD6A

    I think you’re right about the genetic link and possible test protocol to test the hypothesis, but we’re likely to find that is a genetic-stress diathesis (i.e. interaction of genes and environment) analogous to Schizophrenia for example.

  5. Fascinating blog, you sum up quite a lot of what I have studied about psychopathy. I think I was also reading some of your comments on metafilter. I’m in agreement with about 80%+ of what you are saying.

    However, your comment about psychopaths being either/or rather than on a continuum strikes me as possibly wrong. Its clearly true that someone can either be classified as a psychopath or not (using the PCL-R for example) but this either or diagnosis does not mean there are either/or psychopaths.

    Clearly some individuals are psychopathic and others aren’t, but there are also individuals along a spectrum of selfishness and a spectrum of fearlessness.

    My personal theory is that the Factor 1 (Selfishness) of the PCL-R is due to a lack of empathy, whereas the Factor 2 (Chaotic Lifestyle) is due to a lack of inhibition, due to a lack of awareness of negative future consequences, which can be due to a lack of fear.

    Both of these factors can exist as a continuum. So a person high in factor 1 would lack empathy and be totally selfish, but have good self control (the Judge in your above post). These people are your “socially adept sociopaths”.

    A person high in factor 2 would be chaotic or criminal, due to a failure to inhibit their desires due to a lack of fear, but after the act may be genuinely remorseful. These people would probably be classified as ASPD but not necessarily truly psychopathic.

    A person high on both factors would clearly have no empathy and no anticipation of future negative consequences, possibly totally lacking fear. This person would clearly be a dangerous criminal psychopath, as they would lack any of the inhibiting factors which prevent most people from being violent.

    I should say that I’ve come to this understanding partly by working with and studying people with frontal lobe brain injuries (I’m studying for a neuropsychology PhD). Frontal lobe brain injuries can be considered to be partially like ADHD and partially like ASPD, although there are individuals that suffer from both of these “types” there are also individuals who suffer primarily from one type or another. Some of these individuals are described as being pseudopsychopathic in the literature.

    Anyway, nice blog and I will check it out in the future.

    • Thanks for the interesting points. Sorry for the delay in posting it, I haven’t been that active on the blog lately.

      It seems that sociopathy is a genetic soup of multiple factors. If one looks at such traits as arrested development childishness (impulse control, patience, etc.) or ADHD-like traits then certainly it appears that there is a normal to pathological spectrum. However it seems to me that the core view of others as pawns to be used/abused without remorse is an on/off trait. How can torturers just sit there and calmly watch their handiwork? I’m convinced that the majority are sociopathic monsters with no conscience to be appealed to.

      Approaching from another angle, how many gay friends and acquaintances does it take before one concludes, “you know, these people are the way they are born to be”? From my experience with sociopaths I believe they believe that to be true in their case also. Not that this would mean anything to anybody else, but I am as sure of sociopathy being innate (once one discounts the faux sociopaths) as I am that the sky is blue.

      But there is no reason to have this discussion in a vacuum, we are not discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin — it is resolvable. One place to start would be genetic studies of convicted criminals judged to be sociopaths by both Hare’s PCL-R and brain scans. Or one could start with with commonly considered sociopaths such as Ira Einhorn, Tom Capano, Wayne Williams and Jeffrey MacDonald.

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