Cleckley: The psychopath in history — Alcibiades

This is in response to a comment,, on Alcibiades.

From Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity, via Fried Green Tomatoes:

Let us turn now to a much earlier historical figure, a military leader and statesman who is not likely to be forgotten while civilization as we know it remains on earth.  I first encountered him during a course in ancient history when I was in high school.  I had not at that time heard of a psychopath.  The teacher did not try to classify him medically or explain his paradoxical career in psychological terms.  I felt, however, that this gifted teacher shared my interest and some of my bewilderment as the brilliant, charming, capricious, and irresponsible figure of Alcibiades unfolded in the classroom against the background of Periclean Athens.  None of my immature concepts of classification (good man, bad man, wise man, foolish man) seemed to define Alcibiades adequately, or even to afford a reliable clue to his enigmatic image.

The more I read about him and wondered about him, the more he arrested my attention and challenged my imagination.  All reports agreed that he was one of the chief military and political leaders of Athens in her period of supreme greatness and classic splendor during the fifth century B.G.  This man led me to ponder at a very early age on many questions for which I have not yet found satisfactory answers.  According to my high school history book,26

He belonged to one of the noblest families of Athens, and was a near kinsman of Pericles.  Though still young, he was influential because of his high birth and his fascinating personality.  His talents were brilliant in all directions; but he was lawless and violent, and followed no motive but self-interest and self-indulgence.  Through his influence Athens allied herself with Argos, Elis, and Mantinea against the Lacedaemonians and their allies.  [p.  224]

The result of this alliance led Athens into defeat and disaster, but Alcibiades on many occasions showed outstanding talent and succeeded brilliantly in many important affairs.  Apparently he had great personal charm and easily aroused strong feelings of admiration and affection in others.

Though usually able to accomplish with ease any aim he might choose, he seemed capriciously to court disaster and, perhaps at the behest of some trivial impulse, to go out of his way to bring down defeat upon his own projects.  Plutarch refers to him thus:242

It has been said not untruly that the friendship which Socrates felt for him has much contributed to his fame, and certain it is, that, though we have no account from any writer concerning the mother of Nicias or Demosthenes, of Lamachus or Phormion, of Thrasybulus or Theratnenes, notwithstanding these were all illustrious men of the same period, yet we know even the nurse of Alcibiades, that her country was Lacedaemon, and her name Amycla; and that Zopyrus was his teacher and attendant; the one being recorded by Antistheries, and the othei by Plato.  (p.  149)

In the Symposium,241 one of his most celebrated dialogues, Plato introduces Alcibiades by having him appear with a group of intoxicated revelers and burst in upon those at the banquet who are engaged in philosophical discussion.  Alcibiades, as presented here by Plato, appears at times to advocate as well as symbolize external beauty and ephemeral satisfactions as opposed to the eternal verities.  Nevertheless, Plato gives Alcibiades the role of recognizing and expounding upon the inner virtue and spiritual worth of Socrates and of acclaiming this as far surpassing the readily discerned attainments of more obviously attractive and superficially impressive men.  Plato devotes almost all of the last quarter of the Symposium to Alcibiades and his conversation with Socrates.  His great charm and physical beauty are emphasized repeatedly here.

The personal attractiveness of Alcibiades is also dwelt upon by Plutarch:242

It is not, perhaps, material to say anything of the beauty of Alcibiades, only that it bloomed with him at all stages of his life, in his infancy, in his youth, and in his manhood; and, in the peculiar character belonging to each of these periods, gave him in everyone of them, a grace and charm.  What Euripides says: “of all fair things the autumn, too, is fair” … is by no means universally true.  But it happened so with Alcibiades amongst few others. …[pp149-150]

Early in his career he played a crucial role in gaining important victories for Athens.  Later, after fighting against his native city and contributing substantially to her final disaster, he returned to favor, won important victories again for her and was honored with her highest offices.  In the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1949) I read:

Alcibiades possessed great charm and brilliant abilities but was absolutely unprincipled.  His advice whether to Athens or to Sparta, oligarchs or democrats, was dictated by selfish motives, and the Athenians could never trust him sufficiently to take advantage of his talents.

And Thucydides Says:280

They feared the extremes to which he carried his lawless self-indulgence, and … though his talents as a military commander were unrivalled, they entrusted the administration of the war to Others; and so they speedily shipwrecked the state.

Plutarch repeatedly emphasizes the positive and impressive qualities of Alcibiades:242

It was manifest that the many wellborn persons who were continually seeking his company, and making their court to him, were attracted and captivated by his brilliant and extraordinary beauty only.  But the affection which Socrates entertained for him is a great evidence of the natural noble qualities and good disposition of the boy, which Socrates, indeed, detected both in and under his personal beauty; and, fearing that his wealth and station, and the great number both of strangers and Athenians who flattered and caressed him, might at last corrupt him, resolved, if possible, to interpose, and preserve so hopeful a plant from perishing in the flower, before its fruit came to perfection.  [p.  151]

The same writer also cites many examples of unattractive behavior, in which Alcibiades is shown responding with unprovoked and arbitrary insolence to those who sought to do him honor.  Let us note one of these incidents:242

As in particular to Anitas, the son of Anthernion, who was very fond of him and invited him to an entertainment which he had prepared for some strangers.  Alcibiades refused the invitation, but having drunk to excess in his own house with some of his companions, went thither with them to play some frolic, and standing at the door of the room where the guests were enjoying themselves and seeing the tables covered with gold and silver cups, he commanded his servants to take away the one-half of them and carry them to his own house.  And, then, disdaining so much as to enter into the room himself, as soon as he had done this, went away.  The company was indignant, and exclaimed at this rude and insulting conduct; Anitas, however, said, on the contrary, that Alcibiades had shown great consideration and tenderness in taking only a part when he might have taken all.  [p.  152]

Despite his talents and many attractive features some incidents appear even in his very early life that suggest instability, a disregard for accepted rules or commitments and a reckless tendency to seize arbitrarily what may appeal to him at the moment.  Plutarch tells us:242

Once being hard pressed in wrestling, and fearing to be thrown, he got the hand of his antagonist to his mouth, and bit it with all his force; when the other loosed his hold presently, and said, “You bite, Alcibiades, like a woman “No,” replied be, “like a lion.” [p.  150]

On another occasion it is reported that Alcibiades with other boys was playing with dice in the street.  A loaded cart which had been approaching drew near just as it was his turn to throw.  To quote again from Plutarch:242

At first he called to the driver to stop, because he was to throw in the way over which the cart was to pass; but the man giving him no attention and driving on, when the rest of the boys divided and gave way, Alcibiades threw himself on his face before the cart and, stretching himself out, bade the carter pass on now if he would; which so startled the man, that he put back his horses, while all that saw it were terrified, and, crying out, ran to assist Alcibiades.  [p.  150]

Alcibiades, one of the most prominent figures in Athens, an extremely influential leader with important successes to his credit, became the chief advocate for the memorable expedition against Sicily.  He entered enthusiastically into this venture urging it upon the Athenians partly from policy, it seems, and partly from his private ambition.  Though this expedition resulted in catastrophe and played a major role in the end of Athenian power and glory, many have felt that if Alcibiades had been left in Sicily in his position of command he might have led the great armada to victory.  If so, this might well have insured for Athens indefinitely the supreme power of the ancient world.  The brilliant ability often demonstrated by Alcibiades lends credence to such an opinion.  On the other hand, his inconsistency and capriciousness make it difficult, indeed, to feel confident that his presence would necessarily have brought success to the Athenian cause.  The magnitude of its failure has recently drawn this comment from Peter Green in Armada From Athens:100

It was more than a defeat; it was a defilement.  There, mindless, brutish, and terrified, dying like animals, without dignity or pride, were Pericles’ countrymen, citizens of the greatest imperial power Greece had ever known.  In that … destruction … Athens lost her imperial pride forever.  The shell of splendid self-confidence was shattered: something more than an army died in Sicily.  [p.  336]  Athens’ imperial pride had been destroyed and her easy self-assertion with it.  Aegospotami merely confirmed the ineluctable sentence imposed on the banks of the Assinarus.  Pindar’s violet-crowned city had been cut down to size and an ugly tarnish now dulled the bright Periclean charisma.  The great experiment in democratic imperialism that strangest of all paradoxes-was finally discredited.  [p.  353]

If Athens had succeeded in the expedition against Syracuse the history of Greece and perhaps even the history of all Europe might have been substantially different.

Shortly before the great Athenian fleet and army sailed on the Sicilian expedition an incident occurred that has never been satisfactorily explained.  Now when Athens was staking her future on a monumental and dangerous venture there was imperative need for solidarity of opinion and for confidence in the three leaders to whom so much had been entrusted.  At this tense and exquisitely inopportune time the sacred statues of Hermes throughout the city were mutilated in a wholesale desecration.

This unprovoked act of folly and outrage disturbed the entire populace and aroused superstitious qualms and fears that support of the gods would be withdrawn at a time of crucial need.  Alcibiades was strongly suspected of the senseless sacrilege.  Though proof was not established that he had committed this deed which demoralized the Athenians, the possibility that Alcibiades, their brilliant leader, might be guilty of such an idle and irresponsible outrage shook profoundly the confidence of the expeditionary force and of the government.  Many who knew him apparently felt that such an act might have been carried out by Alcibiades impulsively and without any adequate reason but merely as an idle gesture of bravado, a prank that might demonstrate what he could get away with if it should suit his fancy.  Definite evidence emerged at this time to show that he had been profaning the Eleusinian mysteries by imitating them or caricaturing them for the amusement of his friends.  This no doubt strengthened suspicion against him as having played a part in mutilating the sacred statues.

On a number of other occasions his bad judgment and his self-centered whims played a major role in bringing disasters upon Athens and upon himself.  Though this brilliant leader often appeared as a zealous and incorruptible patriot, numerous incidents strongly indicate that at other times he put self-interest first and that sometimes even the feeble lure of some minor objective or the mere prompting of caprice caused him to ignore the welfare and safety of his native land and to abandon lightly all standards of loyalty and honor.

No substantial evidence has ever emerged to indicate that Alcibiades was guilty of the sacrilegious mutilation of the statues.  He asked for an immediate trial, but it was decided not to delay the sailing of the fleet for this.  After he reached Syracuse, Alcibiades was summoned to return to Athens to face these charges.  On the way back he deserted the Athenian cause, escaped to Sparta, and joined the enemy to fight against his native city.

It has been argued that Alcibiades could not have been guilty of the mutilation since, as a leader of the expedition and its chief advocate, he would have so much to lose by a senseless and impious act that might jeopardize its success.  On the other hand his career shows many incidents of unprovoked and, potentially, self-damaging folly carried out more or less as a whim, perhaps in defiance of authority, or as an arrogant gesture to show his immunity to ordinary rules or restrictions.  It sometimes looked as though the very danger of a useless and uninviting deed might, in itself, tempt him to flaunt a cavalier defiance of rules that bind other men.   If Alcibiades did play a part in this piece of egregious folly it greatly augments his resemblance to the patients described in this book.  Indeed it is difficult to see how anyone but a psychopath might, in his position, participate in such an act.

In Sparta Alcibiades made many changes to identify himself with the ways and styles of the enemy.  In Athens he had been notable for his fine raiment and for worldly  splendor and extravagance.  On these characteristics Plutarch comments thus:242

But with all these words and deeds and with all this sagacity and eloquence, he mingled the exorbitant luxury and wantonness in his eating and drinking and dissolute living; owre long, purple robes like a woman, which dragged after him as he went through the marketplace, caused the planks of his galley to be cut away, that he might lie the softer, his bed not being placed on the boards but hanging upon girths.  His shield, again, which was richly gilded had not the usual ensigns of the Athenians, but a Cupid holding a thunderbolt in his hand, was painted upon it.  The sight of all this made the people of good repute in the city feel disgust and abhorrence and apprehension also, at his free living and his contempt of law as things monstrous in themselves and indicating designs of usurpation.[pp. 161-162]

In contrast to his appearance and his habits in the old environment we find this comment by Plutarch on Alcibiades after he had deserted the Athenian cause and come to live in Sparta and throw all his brilliant talents into the war against his native land: 242

The renown which he earned by these public services, not to Athens, but to Sparta, was equaled by the admiraton he attracted to his private life.  He captivated and won over everybody by his conformity to Spartan habits.   People who saw him wearing his hair cut close and bathing in cold water, eating coarse meal and dining on black broth, doubted, or rather could not believe that he had ever had a cook in his house or had ever seen a perfumer or had ever worn a mantle of Milesian purple.  For he had, as it was observed, this peculiar talent and artifice of gaining men’s affection, that he could at once comply with and really embrace and enter into the habits and ways of life, and change faster than the chameleon; one color, indeed, they say, the chameleon cannot assume; he cannot himself appear white.  But, Alcibiades, whether with good men or with bad, could adapt himself to his company and equally wear the appearances of virtue or vice.  At Sparta, he was devoted to athletic exercises, was frugal and reserved: in Ionia, luxurious, gay and indolent; in Thrace, always drinking; in Thessaly, ever on horseback; and when he lived with Tisaphernes, the king of Persia’s satrap he exceeded the Persians themselves in magnificence and pomp.  Not that his natural disposition changed so easily, nor that his real character was so variable, but whether he was sensible that by pursuing his own inclinations he might give offense to those with whom he had occasion to converse, he transformed himself into any shape and adopted any fashion that he observed to be agreeable to them.  [pp.  169-170]

At Sparta Alcibiades seemed to strive in every way to help the enemy defeat and destroy Athens.  He induced them to send military aid promptly to the Syracusans and also aroused them to renew the war directly against Athens.  He made them aware of the great importance of fortifying Decelea, a place very near Athens, from which she was extremely vulnerable to attack.  The Spartans followed his counsel in these matters and, by taking the steps he advised, wrought serious damage to the Athenian cause.  The vindictive and persistent efforts of this brilliant traitor may have played a substantial part in the eventual downfall of Athens.  Even before he left Sicily for Sparta Alcibiades had begun to work against his native land in taking steps to prevent Messina from falling into the hands of the Athenians.
Eventually a good many of the Spartans began to distrust Alcibiades.  Among this group was the king, Agis.  According to Plutarch:242

… While Agis was absent and abroad with the army, [Alcibiades] corrupted his wife, Timea, and had a child born by her.  Nor did she even deny it, but when she was brought to bed of a son, called him in public, Leotychides, but amongst her confidants and attendants, would whisper that his name was Alcibiades, to such a degree was she transported by her passion for him.  He, on the other side, would say in his valiant way, he had not done this thing out of mere wantonness of insult, nor to gratify a passion, but that his race might one day be kings over the Lacedaemonians.  [p.  170]

It became increasingly unpleasant for Alcibiades in Sparta despite his great successes and the admiration he still evoked in many.  Plutarch say:242

But Agis was his enemy, hating him for having dishonored his wife, but also impatient of his glory, as almost every success was ascribed to Alcibiades.  Others, also, of the more powerful and ambitious among the Spartans were possessed with jealousy of him and prevailed with the magistrates in the city to send orders …  that he should be killed.  [p.  171]

Alcibiades, however, learned of this, and fled to Asia Minor for security with the satrap of the king of Persia, Tisaphernes.  Here he found security and again displayed his great abilities and his extraordinary charm.  According to Plutarch:242

[He] immediately became the most influential person about him; for this barbarian [Tisaphernes], not being himself sincere, but a lover of guile and wickedness, admired his address and wonderful subtlety.  And, indeed, the charm of daily intercourse with him was more than any character could resist or any disposition escape.  Even those who feared and envied him, could not but take delight and have a sort of kindness for him when they saw him and were in his company, so that Tisaphernes, otherwise a cruel character, and above all other Persians, a hater of the Greeks, was yet so won by the flatteries of Alcibiades that he set himself even to exceed him in responding to them.  The most beautiful of his parks containing salubrious streams and meadows where he had built pavilions and places of retirement, royally and exquisitely adorned, received by his direction the name of Alcibiades and was always so called and so spoken of.

Thus, Alcibiades, quitting the interest of the Spartans, whom he could no longer trust because he stood in fear of Agis, the king, endeavored to do them ill offices and render them odious to Tisaphernes, who, by his means, was hindered from assisting them vigorously and from finally ruining the Athenians.  For his advice was to furnish them but sparingly with money and so wear them out, and consume them insensibly; when they had wasted their strength upon one another, they would both become ready to submit to the king.  [p.  171]

It is not remarkable to learn that Alcibiades left the service of the Persians.  It does seem to me remarkable, however, after his long exile from Athens, his allegiance to her enemies and the grievous damage he had done her, that he was enthusiastically welcomed back to Athens, that he again led Athenian forces to brilliant victories, and that he was, indeed, given supreme command of the Athenian military and naval forces.  His welcome back to Athens was enthusiastic.  According to Plutarch, 242 “The people crowned him with crowns of gold, and created him general, both by land and by sea.”  He is described as “coming home from so long an exile, and such variety of misfortune, in the style of revelers breaking up from a drinking party.”  Despite this, many of the Athenians did not fully trust him, and apparently without due cause, this time, he was dismissed from his high position of command.  He later retired to Asia Minor where he was murdered at 46 years of age, according to some reports for “having debauched a young lady of a noble house.”

Despite the widespread admiration that Alcibiades could so easily arouse, skeptical comments were made about him even before his chief failures occurred.  According to Plutarch, “It was not said amiss by Archestratus, that Greece could not support a second Alcidiabes.”  Plutarch also quotes Tinton as saying, “Go on boldly, my son, and increase in credit with the people, for thou wilt one day bring them calamities enough.”  Of the Athenians attitude toward Alcibiades, Aristophanes wrote: “They love and hate and cannot do without him.”242

The character of Alcibiades looms in the early dawn of history as an enigmatic paradox.  He undoubtedly disconcerted and puzzled his contemporaries, and his conduct seems to have brought upon him widely differing judgments.  During the many centuries since his death historians have seemed fascinated by his career but never quite able to interpret his personality.  Brilliant and persuasive, he was able to succeed in anything he wished to accomplish.  After spectacular achievement he often seemed, carelessly or almost deliberately, to throw away all that he had gained, through foolish decisions or unworthy conduct for which adequate motivation cannot be demonstrated and, indeed, can scarcely be imagined.  Senseless pranks or mere nose-thumbing gestures of derision seemed at times to draw him from serious responsibilities and cause him to abandon major goals as well as the commitments of loyalty and honor.  Apparently his brilliance, charm, and promise captivated Socrates, generally held to be the greatest teacher and the wisest man of antiquity.  Though Alcibiades is reported to have been the favorite disciple and most cherished friend of the master it can hardly be said that Socrates succeeded in teaching him to apply even ordinary wisdom consistently in the conduct of his life or to avoid follies that would have been shunned even by the stupid.  According to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1949), “He was an admirer of Socrates, who saved his life at Potidaea (432), a service which Alcibiades repaid at Delium; but he could not practice his master’s virtues, and there is no doubt that the example of Alcidiabes strengthened the charges brought against Socrates of corrupting the youth.”

When we look back upon what has been recorded of Alcibiades we are led to suspect that he had the gift of every talent except that of using them consistently to achieve any sensible aim or in behalf of any discernible cause.  Though it would hardly be convincing to claim that we can establish a medical diagnosis, or a full psychiatric explanation, of this public figure who lived almost two and a half thousand years ago, there are many points in the incomplete records of his life available to us that strongly suggest Alcibiades may have been a spectacular example of what during recent decades we have, in bewilderment and amazement, come to designate as the psychopath.

During this brief period Greece, and Athens especially, produced architecture, sculpture, drama, and poetry that have seldom if ever been surpassed.  Perhaps Greece also produced in Alcibiades the most impressive and brilliant, the most truly classic example of this still inexplicable pattern of human life.


Search: “are narcissists and psychopaths more primitive less evolved humans”

No.  1) Psychopaths are fully evolved intraspecies predators.  2) There is no relationship whatsoever between narcissists and psychopaths, the first is a psychological/emotionally disturbed condition (or maladaptation, or choice), the second is a biological condition.  They only appear similar.


Oh great. Bad guys gain powerful tool for framing and character assassination – Lyrebird voice software

Bad guys such as psychopathic disgraces to law enforcement.

Lyrebird Can Listen and Copy Any Voice in One Minute
Lyrebird steals your voice to make you say things you didn’t – and we hate this future


There must be a psychopathy application to this: “Facial-recognition software finds a new use: diagnosing genetic disorders”

Dr. Maximilian Muenke has a superpower: He can diagnose disease just by looking at a person’s face.

Specifically, he can spot certain genetic disorders that make telltale impressions on facial features.

Once you’ve done it for a certain amount of years, you walk into a room and it’s like, oh, that child has Williams syndrome,” he said, referring to a genetic disorder that can affect a person’s cognitive abilities and heart.

And that’s an incredibly useful skill, even as genetic sequencing becomes more widespread. For one thing, it can be the factor that sends someone to get a genetic test in the first place. For another, people in many parts of the world don’t have access to genetic tests at all.

That’s inspired years of effort to train a computer to do the same thing. Software that analyzes a patient’s face for signs of disease could help clinicians better diagnose and treat people with genetic syndromes.

Some older attempts at facial analysis relied on large, clunky scanners — a tool better suited to a lab, not the field. Now, in the era of smartphones, such efforts have a whole new promise. Face2Gene, a program developed by Boston-based startup FDNA, has a mobile app that clinicians can use to snap photos of their patients and get a list of syndromes they might have.”

You could call psychopathy a genetic syndrome.  There must be an overlap between the listed syndromes and psychopathy (or psychopathies, if there is actually more than one similar syndrome).

Face2Gene is a suite of phenotyping applications that facilitate comprehensive and precise genetic evaluations. (

So many leads to chase down, so little time.  Any billionaires who want to sponsor my work out there?  It seems like we’re back in the time of the Medicis and one has to find patrons.

Related (in a way):

From Quora, select paras from “How do you bring down a psychopath psychologically?”

Below I’ve quoted paragraphs from an article from Quora (  I found these paragraphs interesting or directly relating to this blog, I don’t necessarily agree with them.

How do you bring down a psychopath psychologically?

How do you think a psychopath can be affected despite all that has been written about the psychopath being so devious etc.? I am sure there are weaknesses which one can dig into to break him ‘psychologically’. I read somewhere that they are basically people who are very insecure and they love to control people so that they feel they have a power within themselves.

I know of a psychopath who insists on people doing what he wants and anyone defying him will see his vengeful self lashing out. But I am sure there must be something that can break such a psychopath. How about belittling or bring him to shame?

35 Answers
Elvina Lui
[. . .]

To mess with a psychopath, you really need the upper hand and it would basically be blackmailing. You need to be able to have actual power or knowledge above them AND make them realize they have no advantage over you and that they cannot sway your mind. This cannot be achieved with mere words or bluffing, for example you would need to hold a secret or something above them, AND have some way of physically protecting yourself, AND have nothing that they can hold above you. Basically stripping them of all possible cards against you. That’s gonna be hard to pull off, they will desperately find ways to neutralize the threat, whether that means harming you or seeking an upper hand to make you back off, this can include seducing and brainwashing people around you. In conclusion, you need an air tight plot.

You can’t belittle a psychopath- your opinion matters little to them- or make them feel shame. By definition they have none. Not all psychopaths fit the same mold, either. And unless you have an extensive education in psychology, it’d be a good idea not to diagnose people around you. What you described could be NPD, simple passive-aggressiveness, or just a guy having a bad day.

Timothy Quick
Timothy Quick, pop psychologist
Written 29 Sep 2011

The goal of psychotherapy is not to ‘bring someone down,’ ‘belittle them,’ or ‘shame’ them. The question seems to assume that by doing these negative things, the psychopath could be ‘cured.’ To elaborate– when the psychopath finally ‘realizes’ the pain he or she has caused, she will ‘break down’ and beg forgiveness and essentially cease to be a psychopath.
Psychotherapy as a cure rarely works.  [. . .]
Athena Walker

We are always suspicious of your motives. Trying to trick one of us will likely put you into line for them to use all of your moves against you. You have no idea who you are dealing with and it would be easy for you to think you have gotten over on a psychopath, when in reality you are walking into a nasty trap.

Ask yourself this, why do you have interest in dancing on the yellow jacket nest? Chances are, unless you have really done something to attract the psychopaths attention, chances are that they will walk away and never think of you again……unless you give them reason to. For the record, psychopaths are not very egotistical. Unless they happen to have a comorbidity of narcissism. It is not a guarantee that they will have both, and it is likely that they have one or the other, not both. Ego is a dangerous assumption to pursue with a psychopath and we see it coming from far off.

As for psychopaths being very insecure people, whoever wrote that is incorrect. It is narcissists that have this difficulty. Psychopaths do not, in any way, care what you think of us provided we get what we want from you. Your emotional investment in us is a fruitless one. We do not need your support or validation. You are a means to an end, and that is all you will be to us.

So, really, you don’t. Ever. A psychopath is not wired for the reaction you are looking for, they are wired to play, or not play a game of pain. If they walked away you got off easy. If you call them back with the intention of trying to get revenge, you are already weak and simple for them to dismantle. You will never get the response you are looking for, you will get a decisive surgical strike that could cause deep everlasting damage in your life.

As for the person you think is a psychopath, there is only one way to know for sure, and unless you have done this, you cannot possibly call him a psychopath.

Go to four year college.

Get your Bachelors degree. Psychology or Psychiatry

Get a Masters degree Psychology

Get a PhD. Psychology

Get Medical Degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Psychiatry.

Do your residency in psychiatric diagnosis, psychopharmacology, medical care issues, and psychotherapies. Psychiatry.

Complete at least four post-graduate months of internal medicine or pediatrics, plus a minimum of two months of neurology during their first year of residency, referred to as an “internship”. Psychiatry.

Get board certified. Psychiatry.

Do your Fellowship in Forensic psychiatry so you can focus on personality disorders. Psychiatry.

Interview people suspected to be psychopathic.

Conduct personality testing on those people.

Diagnose those people that you evaluate.

[. . .]

Robert Varipapa

Unfortunately, while at times you may think you’re getting in, you’re really not.

In the book, The Psychopath Test, several serious attempts at treatment we’re described — all failed. In fact, the treatment ended up making them ‘better’ psychopaths, primarily because they learned how to feign emotion and sensitivity!

Ben Lawton
Ben Lawton, Fumbling along between humility and ambition
ritten Feb 21, 2013

 Even if there was a way to “break down” a psychopath, which I am taking to mean “beat” or “win over” instead of “cure”, because I agree with the other posters that is very improbable, you would never guess it. Its possible there are only a few times when you would have a chance at this, and it would be very difficult to figure out the exact right move that would bring him down. This moment would not be when he is acting normal or when he is in a rage, it would most likely be in a drawn-out tense situation, a big event in his life (an unforeseen death, a moment where he seems vulnerable), or a time when he seems depressed. Everyone is different and so everyone would require a different trick. Don’t try to embarrass him, he will most likely only go into a rage and you will make matters worse.

Updated Sep 21, 2013

If you want to inflict some sort of emotional or  psychological pain on a psychopath, let me tell you – you simply can’t do it, and I wouldn’t recommend  trying. A real psychopath is NOT insecure. Control is not to support an internal weakness, it’s for kicks and personal gain. I’m not a psychopath myself, but as an individual that is …further along the scale than most, I can still speak from personal experience: When people try to hurt me with words, it just becomes a game. It’s amusing for me.  It’s like the Black Knight from Monty Python, or punching a brick wall –  they just expose more points of weakness, wind up more hurt by my return fire or indifference, and I go chuckling on my way.

That  said, you can absolutely nail someone like this to the wall, but it’s not a matter of standing to fight – it’s about running them forward and  using their own momentum to land them in a situation they can’t talk  their way out of. By definition, psychopaths tend to be impulsive,  rebellious, and fearless. Bait them, game them, and lead them into doing  something that will lead to a zero tolerance firing or jail time. How  you do this depends entirely on your situation, so I’ll leave the details up to you. Just remember to document everything; hard, thorough evidence in the bottom line will beat even the best liar. Have fun!

Jon Waterman
Jon Waterman, studied Psychology at The Open University
Written Dec 23

You cant, not by this method. The way to bring down a psychopath is not via the same methods which would work with “normal people”.

A “psycho” means lack lack of empathy . This is more often than not due to an organic fault within the brain. Trying to “beat” a psycho by using psychology wont work.

You cant really bring down a psychopath with logic as his logic will be different to most peoples. You mention belittling him into shame-NO doesnt work! Believe me, I ve been there.

This might work with a bully but it doesnt work with psychopaths.

Gemma is right on this one. Try & keep away.

Using other psychological methods may work but not in the way most of us would see as logical because they are not logical & I ve yet to learn any strategy which actually works.

When I attempted to react to a psycho in the way I would a bully, it all went horribly wrong. They are not the same.

[. . .]

Lerissa Patrick
Lerissa Patrick, sticks up for the underdog
Written Nov 25, 2011

If by “break down” you mean break through the hard outer shell to the softie inside … good luck with that. I don’t really mean to be flippant, but psychopaths are, by definition, incapable of caring about what you think. They believe that the rules of society do not apply to them but only to people like us, who don’t have the backbone/intelligence/drive to get what we really want. As Robert pointed out in his answer, talented, intelligence, trained professionals have tried to break through and failed. Psychopaths are gifted manipulators, and may even find a way to make you think you succeeded, if that suits their long-term goals.

A better question might be directed toward your own motivation: what makes you want to break your psychopath? Maybe just be with the interests and emotions of that part of you.

Dominic Webster
Dominic Webster, works at Construction Work
Updated May 30, 2014

 Apparently, they get bored easily. Best thing to do is not lock them up (Unless they committed a crime like murder, then that is different), but just ignore them and stay away from them, loneliness will make them bored. When they have no thrills and spills in their life, they get bored and when they’re bored, they feel like nothing.
Bill Bixby

“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

or like Joaquin Phoenix’ character says in the film 8MM, “If you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change.  The devil changes you.”

By trying to “break down” a psychopath psychologically, I assume you mean to belittle them in some way, the way they’re so adept at belittling others.  This isn’t really possible.  Lacking a conscience, a psychopath literally doesn’t have the capacity to feel what you’re hoping them to feel.  It’s like having a coloring contest with a blind man.

Imagine you’re the main character in Grand Theft Auto and one of the computer characters insults you.  Do you truly feel insulted?  Truly feel hurt?  Inferior?

Of course not.  The computer character isn’t real.  It’s a program.  An object.

That’s how a psychopath feels when insulted or humiliated in real life.  You might replay the level in a video game and alter your strategy.  The psychopath just alters his/her real life strategy for the next similar situation.

Kristin Walker
Kristin Walker, Radio Show Host for
Written Jan 25, 2015

This is such a loaded question. You cannot bring them “down”. They are already living a hellish life despite what it may look like on the outside.  In no way do I feel sorry for them as they deftly use pity to terrorize innocent people.

There is only one way to deal with them and that is to NOT deal with them.  Ignoring them and having zero contact is the WORST injury you could inflict but for your own safety, if you must, use the gray rock method.  I do this now when I figure out who I am dealing with. Thankfully and painfully I’ve dealt with them my entire life but snif them out much more quickly.  Education helps and NO CONTACT.

Updated Dec 29, 2015

Assuming that you realize you are messing with a dangerous animal, I think there are a few ways to engage with a psychopath:

  • Ridicule
    • Sociopathy is correlated with narcissism, and though socio/psychopaths do not feel the full range of human emotions, I’ve seen many display anger and a kind of proto-embarassment.
    • Certain institutions tend to behave like psychopathic individuals, so we can look to those who fight bureaucracies and government for inspiration. The organizer Saul Alinsky famously said “ridicule is man’s most potent weapon”, and he often used this tactic to get at institutions that behave remarkably like psychopaths.
  • Beat them at their own game of logic
    • Psychopaths are not inherently intelligent, in fact they are probably less intelligent than the general population on average, and most humans are capable of behaving like psychopaths in certain situations (see Milgram experiments, the holocaust, etc).  Therefore, despite what psychopaths will tell you, there is not an inherent advantage to being a psychopath in a conflict. They often pride themselves on being logical, but neurotypicals are not inherently any worse at being logical, they just depend on it a bit less, and are therefore less practiced at it.

What really brought my ex “down” was being able to refute everything she accused me of in divorce court (which were actually her offenses, but as you know, that’s just what they do) with evidence – formal legal exhibits that were discussed at length, and the judge accused her of lying to him.  Which she soon became very scared.

She never bothered me again.  Which I guess is the answer to your question – if you can really, really puncture that world the psychopath creates for him/herself, they will move on.

I don’t think therapy works – they just simply know how to “game” the therapist and the setting too well.  And if the therapist catches on, the psychopath will move on to another therapist.  These are not people who want to get well.  These are people who want what they want through whatever means necessary.

Unless it’s a homicidal psychopath – in which case you might be in more trouble.

I agree, they are very insecure – but it is an almost impenetrable wall they build.  The only way to break through is to win in through a “superior” authority (court, in my case) and win decisively.

Even then, you won’t win thoroughly – but if you’re lucky they’ll leave you alone for the rest of yours or their life.

Madie Fox

OK. First, I have to agree that the person you describe is NOT a psychopath but is a Narcissist. The posts suggest a number of ways of dealing with Narcissists. Psychopaths, however, are a whole other ball game. For one thing, they are not all alike, and I have never met one who was the “serial killer” type although I am sure they exist, they are just pretty rare (thank goodness). In my rather long life, I have been in relationships with two psychopaths. They were both handsome, charming, easy to be with and very good and considerate lovers. Not the picture you expected? Well, let me add, they also could tell fantastic lies (of the tall tales variety), they did not concern themselves with normal morals (if they found something, like a wallet, they would take the cash and throw out the wallet, they did not show any concern for their friends if something bad happened, etc). What they were was imminently rational. One of them, let’s call him Jack, was my first lover. He was a good choice and was knowledgeable and considerate. For other stuff, not so much. We did not live together but we were together a lot. I was in love. He was attentive, did the usual “trying to impress you, guy type displays like wheelies on a motorcycles, etc,” and was very easy to talk with and be around in general. My mother thought he was the most personable man I ever dated. My father didn’t like him but didn’t know why. After we had been dating for about a year, I heard from a friend that she thought he was married. My heart sank, not just because he belonged to someone else, but because I would never knowingly have done something that might destroy someone’s marriage. I cried and by the time he arrived I was a mess. Of course, he knew something had happened. So, our conversation went something like this (btw I am a math/science type of thinker so if my part of the conversation seems strange, it is because reason has a strong appeal to me). So, here we go:

Me “Susan told me that you are married.”

Him “I am.”

Me “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Him “You would not have gone out with me.”

Me (stopped short and thinking that that made sense) “Then why didn’t you tell me later?”

Him “You would have stopped seeing me.”

Me “So, I guess it is over.”

Him “I guess that it is, but I would have liked for it to continue. It is too bad you found out.”

I did stop seeing him. He had one of my gas credit cards and used it occasionally. I paid it. Then he started charging other stuff on it and I called him.

Me “You are charging more than gas on my cc. I didn’t mind covering you for gas even though we were through, but I am not going to pay for all the other stuff”

Him “ok”

Me “So, here’s the deal. You mail me my cc back and I will pay what you charged right up to this minute and nothing more. You charge more on it or don’t mail it back and I report cc fraud and get the police interested in you. I don’t want to do that because I do still care about you so please send me my cc.

Him “ok”

And he did send me my cc without charging more on it.

Two years later I get a phone call from 1000 miles away.

Him “I am in trouble”

Me “What happened.”

Him “I slept with a girl and she was old enough, but her brother is telling her to claim rape.”

Me “No way you would ever rape someone, I believe you.”

Him “I am in the slammer. This is my phone call. The brother says if I can give him $1000, they will drop the charges”

I checked, he was in the slammer. Talked to the brother, and he was pulling a blackmail scam, but he knew what he was doing. We made agreement about the money. I sent it. Jack went free. He called me and thanked me. He did not bother to say that he would pay me back because we both knew that would never happen. I said, next time call someone else. He said, ok. I never heard from him again.

So, a Psychopath but not an evil person, all in all a fun, likeable person with some baggage. From everything I could tell, the correct response was to use REASON.

The other guy was a bit scarier, had killed people for the USA, but again was able to respond to REASON especially if you point out his own self interest.

So, this may be anecdotal, but it is my experience in dealing with Psychopaths. I like them a lot better than the other personality disorders like Narcissists and Borderline. At least you have fun while it lasts with them.

So, finally to answer your question. If you are dealing with a Psychopath do not try to bring them down. Just figure out what they want, reason with them and appeal to their self interest. That is my advice in a nutshell.

Carlos V. Guzman

First off, we have to make a distinction between psychopaths and narcissists. I see some posts in quora that intertwine these two diagnostic categories.

Narcissists love themselves. They construct a delusion that they are perfect and the best and attempt to get others to mirror back to them that they are wonderful. There is a pseudo-self that is created. Narcissists seek adoration, validation, and lots of attention. They are very concerned about what others think of them and are vulnerable to rejection, ridicule, being upstaged….. If any of these circumstance occur, they experience what is called a “narcissistic injury” resulting in outright aggression or passive-aggressiveness. Sounds like someone we know about who has been in the news lately (hmm..).

By contrast, psychopaths do not care what others think. They are concerned about “the hunt.” They love to manipulate others by first gaining trust. They are not emotionally dependent on being admired or recognized. They are covert. Psychopaths do have a strong ego which means they have a strong sense of self. Psychopaths are generally more dangerous than narcissists. Ted Bundy is a good example. Narcissists seek attention for its own sake. Psychopaths seek attention in order to get something in return.

So attempting to bring down a psychopath is not easy. You would have to have some training in psychology/counseling in order to have skills in empathy, reflective listening and probing. You have to get on their good side first and develop rapport. Once this is established, you may see signs of vulnerability but this can take a long time to get there. The goal would not be to bring them down, but to try to understand and chip away at their defenses. – Carlos V. Guzman, PhD

Jan Cosgrove

Unless a) you have good reason b) are sure of your diagnosis based on training and c) you admit the chance of not succeeding with a lot of damage control etc, DON’T BOTHER. Layman who has seen them at work, and has the simple method – remove them from your sphere of operation, or you from theirs. Dust off your shoes, retreat, do not pass go. They may try to follow, but a strict discipline not to engage or turn back to face them. Demonstrate control of your affairs, full stop. They meddle, don’t react. Hold the line. Be resolute and …. good luck.

Faba Liske

You definetly can, but you should never try!

There’s a direct and a subtile way, first off the dorect:
I’m sure every psycopath, no matter how narcisstic he is has a weakness he can’t deny, and if you still want to break one down, look for it and confront him. I can’t garantuee you’ll find one, just give it a shot.

The subtile way:
Be unpredictible, completely random, let a dice decide. Many psychopaths (including me) study the behaviour of people and often understand what emotions do with them. So if you don’t behave rational nor emotionally, we’ll have a hard time understanding what’s going on. Depending on the level of narcissm, the psyhopath will ignore it (you reached nothing) or questions himself an his abilities (maybe some sort of a win for you, but not on the long term).

If you somehow managed to break one down, for example get him insecure, watch out! As Jacob already said, “Psychopaths make great friends and horrible enemies”. If you make a psyhopath angry, he’s likely to hurt him very bad (not physically but mentally) and you’ll wish you never knew him and then never wastes a single thought on you afterwards.

A psychopath by definition is someone who cannot be broken down any further.  G.K. Chesterson described it best, as people who have lost everything except for their logic and reasoning ability.  To say psychopaths are “insecure” would imply they have something to feel insecure about.  They don’t feel anything. They’re cold as ice.

So then how can anyone make a psychopath feel bad?  The cruelest thing you can do is let them play their game, whatever it is, and somewhere in the middle of it, cut them off.  You’re taking away their endgame, which is like deliberately interrupting a couple mid-coitus with a fuck you grin and a Mick Foley “Have A Nice Day” sign.  Don’t ever do that, though.  It’s very dangerous, but if you want to play with fire, you must be willing to get burned.  And you will get burned.  Nothing makes a psychopath angrier than loss of control.  But in order to lose control, they must have had control.  Are you willing to hand yourself over?

Remember, they play these games because its the only way for them to feel anything.    And everybody needs to feel something.  Interfering with their main source of sustenance is like pissing in someone’s garden when there is no food store for 1,000 miles.  So if you want to go stick your neck on the guillotine, go right ahead.

Oh, and by the way, simply finding their game, playing it, and then messing it up will likely just make you a target and not bring them down at all.  Timing is everything.  And they actually have to like you.  It’s hard to explain, and an explanation is rather useless.  They can’t feel up any more than they can feel down.  The real question is why anybody would want to bring down a psychopath.  Its much easier, simpler, and safer to just go no contact.  They won’t want you back unless they really care.  And if they cared, they could be brought down.  They don’t want you.  They want control. It’s the only way they can feel connected.

P.S.  the people on here claiming to be legit psychopaths are inadequate white males afraid of their own dicks.  Psychopaths don’t like to limit themselves in any way, especially not in a social “HEY EVERYBODY, HERE’S HOW YOU CAN GET TO KNOW ME BETTER!!” advertising way.  For some reason there are a lot of loser guys out there who think ignoring whatever feelings they have will make them strong like a generic “I’ve lost everything but I’ve still got a gun and my wits” movie character.  Hey, we all need a sense of identity..

[. . .]

Mars Hayes
  1. Why? Why on earth would you decide “”it’s a great idea to be a dick to this person because they’re a dick”?
  2. What you described is not a psychopath. If they claim to be a psychopath, they aren’t.
  3. If they were a psychopath, how do you see this ending well for you?
  4. If youre being lashed out at for not complying, the best bet, assuming this is a coworker, is to point out the behavior and talk to HR. If it’s not a coworker, point out the behavior and don’t let them bully you into compliance. If a tactic works, anybody will keep using it.

A way to bring down a psychopath is to lure him/her into the palm of your hand and then squish them. You essentially have to do as they do. It’s difficult to act like a psychopath because your feelings of empathy will try to stop you from enacting this kind of plan. But, if you can stick with it, you have a chance at stinging the psychopath and winning them at their own game.

Psychopaths are like spiders. They trap their victims and watch them squirm, attempting to get free from the web. Spiders don’t get stuck in their own webs. So, what you need to do is lure the psychopath into your web by promising him/her something that is of great value to him/her. i.e. money, prestige, ego boost, fame etc. and then taking it away abruptly. When you take it away, you must leave and never look back. Game over, you won. This will cause great narcissistic injury to the psychopath and cause the psychopath to forever be haunted by you and what you took from him/her.

The psychopath will endlessly ruminate about what was lost and he will be angry because you foiled his feelings of superiority and grandiosity. Psychopaths don’t like to lose. A psychopath will attempt to lure you back to finish the game on his/her terms, but do not fall for their charms. The psychopath has nothing but contempt and envy for you, especially since you beat him/her at their own game. Just present a false charm and treat the psychopath like he/she is invisible. In summary: To bring a psychopath down, you have to act like one.

Honestly, I believe any attempt to hurt a psychopath will only contribute to their belief that people cannot be trusted and will only hurt them, making you more a target of his “deviousness”. Abuse is, after all, a factor in some sufferer’s development of the condition.

On top of that, would you deliberately try to “bring down” someone who is hurting you this way but is not a psychopath? I ask because it seems to me, based on the number of questions I’ve seen like this around the internet and other observations, that many people feel psychopaths are an unprotected, lower class of people; as if, should you encounter a psychopath and manage to damage them, you’ll do society a favor. Psychopaths and those with antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders are still people. It’s true that some- not all- do horrible things, and there must be measures for preventing anyone with violent intentions from acting on them, but they still ought to be treated with the same respect as others, even if they don’t always treat others that way.

[. . .]

Jesus Carrillo

For starters, find what brought them to this point. That’s it. Understand what makes them tick then plan your move accordingly. Your combination of words, tones, actions/gestures, and the environment could play a major role in “breaking” them. These are the basics. You gotta know them, where they come from, who they are, …what they are. Analyze and strike. They’re just like anyone else, manipulative, compulsive, greedy. But without boundaries. A legitimate pyschopath/sociopath has no limits. It’s astounding what a man can do when they’re hollow.

Alex Vaiman

Psychopaths do not, in any way, care what you think of us provided we get what we want from you. Your emotional investment in us is a fruitless one. We do not need your support or validation. You are a means to an end, and that is all you will be to http://us.So, really, you don’t. Ever. A psychopath is not wired for the reaction you are looking for, they are wired to play, or not play a game of pain. If they walked away you got off easy. If you call them back with the intention of trying to get revenge, you are already weak and simple for them to dismantle. You will never get the response you are looking for, you will get a decisive surgical strike that could cause deep everlasting damage in your http://life.As for the person you think is a psychopath, there is only one way to know for sure, and unless you have done this, you cannot possibly call him a psychopath.

wow… I think I am the coolest person on earth.. but this is.. wow megalomania at its best – I am speechless.

one does not have to be psychopath to be a lying detector machine I am , I can usually smell manipulation at an instant – Yes my default is to trust people, unless proven otherwise, but real trust is built only after long time, I find it way more practical to trust anyone by default – after all most people are trust worthy. psychopath is just a human being with a different brain – not a god. there is one important thing which is common between you and me(and all other psychopath)?? I do not believe in an eye for an eye, If some one really wronged me.. he will loose much more, until I stop, I will be ruthless in my reaction, the only difference is.. I will not be as patient, I found it idiotic, to wait 20 years for revenge, on the other hand I will take my time, to cool down, and will not operate on spot. It is insane to believe that only psychopath have those characteristics.

the other thing me and you (all of the psychopath)? are different, is I will never pretend I forgot or forgave, If I do not like you, I will let you know, I will also let you know that you are going to pay, if i feel like you wronged me, I feel great when i keep my promises, for me – it worse nothing, to harm some one, without that some one knows it was me, it does not give me the satisfaction I am looking for, so I will make sure you know and find a way to pass the massage.

I find the advise “once psychopath wronged you, just walk away” to be very annoying, when some one wrongs me, I don`t care who it is, he will pay, no one is immune, does not meter what is his status, how dangerous he is, or how his brain is wired, yes, of course there will be a calculation, I am not a suicidal person, I really like my life. but if you killed my mother.. you better start digging you own grave, because ones I am finished with you, you would wish you have died earlier.

[. . .]

Jin Hameon


From “THE SOCIOBIOLOGY OF SOCIOPATHY:  AN INTEGRATED EVOLUTIONARY MODEL“, Linda Mealey, Ph.D. [ — other webpages carrying it have disappeared over time, if you want a permanent copy I’d suggest printing or downloading it.  Dr. Mealey uses the word sociopathy as a synonym for psychopathy I believe.]:

Linda Mealey

“Sociopaths are “outstanding” members of society in two senses: politically, they command attention because of the inordinate amount of crime they commit, and psychologically, they elicit fascination because most of us cannot fathom the cold, detached way they repeatedly harm and manipulate others. Proximate explanations from behavior genetics, child development, personality theory, learning theory, and social psychology describe a complex interaction of genetic and physiological risk factors with demographic and micro-environmental variables that predispose a portion of the population to chronic antisocial behavior.

. . .

Sociopaths, who comprise only 3-4% of the male population and less than 1% of the female population (Strauss & Lahey 1984, Davison and Neale 1994, Robins, Tipp & Przybeck 1991), are thought to account for approximately 20% of the United States’ prison population (Hare 1993) and between 33% and 80% of the population of chronic criminal offenders (Mednick, KirkegaardSorensen, Hutchings, Knop, Rosenberg & Schulsinger 1977, Hare 1980, Harpending & Sobus 1987). Furthermore, whereas the “typical” U.S. burglar is estimated to have committed a median five crimes per year before being apprehended, chronic offenders- those most likely to be sociopaths- report committing upward of fifty crimes per annum and sometimes as many as two or three hundred (Blumstein & Cohen 1987). Collectively, these individuals are thought to account for over 50% of all crimes in the U.S. (Loeber 1982; Mednick, Gabrielli & Hutchings 1987, Hare 1993). Whether criminal or not, sociopaths typically exhibit what is generally considered to be irresponsible and unreliable behavior; their attributes include egocentrism, an inability to form lasting personal commitments and a marked degree of impulsivity. Underlying a superficial veneer of sociability and charm, sociopaths are characterized by a deficit of the social emotions (love, shame, guilt, empathy, and remorse). On the other hand, they are not intellectually handicapped, and are often able to deceive and manipulate others through elaborate scams and ruses including fraud, bigamy, embezzlement, and other crimes which rely on the trust and cooperation of others. The sociopath is “aware of the discrepancy between his behavior and societal expectations, but he seems to be neither guided by the possibility of such a discrepancy, nor disturbed by its occurrence” (Widom 1976a, p 614). This cold- hearted and selfish approach to human interaction at one time garnered for sociopathy the moniker “moral insanity” (McCord 1983, Davison & Neale 1990).

. . .

My basic premise is that sociopaths are designed for the successful execution of social deception and that they are the product of evolutionary pressures which, through a complex interaction of environmental and genetic factors, lead some individuals to pursue a life history strategy of manipulative and predatory social interactions. On the basis of game theoretic models this strategy is to be expected in the population at relatively low frequencies in a demographic pattern consistent with what we see in contemporary societies. It is also expected to appear preferentially under certain social, environmental, and developmental circumstances which I hope to delineate.

. . .

2.1.3  Sex differences and the “two-threshold” model Cloninger put forth a “two threshold” polygenic model to account for both the sex difference in sociopathy and its spectral nature (Cloninger, Reich & Guze 1975; Cloninger, Christiansen, Reich & Gottesman 1978). According to the model, sociopaths are individuals on the extreme end of a normal distribution whose genetic component is (1) polygenic and (2) to a large degree, sexlimited.  [Sex- limited genes, not to be confused with sex-linked genes, are those which are located on the autosomes of both sexes but which are triggered into expression only within the chemical/ hormonal microenvironment of one sex or the other. Common examples include beard and mustache growth in men, and breast and hip development in women.] If a large number of the many genes underlying sociopathy are triggered by testosterone or some other androgen, many more men than women will pass the threshold of the required number of active genes necessary for its outward expression.  According to the two-threshold model, those females who do express the trait must have a greater overall “dose” or “genetic load” (i.e, they are further out in the extreme of the normal distribution of genotypes) than most of the males who express the trait. This proposition has been supported by data showing that in addition to the greater overall risk for males as opposed to females, there is a also greater risk for the offspring (and other relatives) of female sociopaths as compared to the offspring (and other relatives) of male sociopaths. This phenomenon cannot be accounted for either by sex-linkage or by the differential experiences of the sexes.  Besides providing a proximate explanation for the greater incidence of male sociopathy and crime, the two-threshold model also explains on a proximate level the finding that males are more susceptible to environmental influences than females. Somewhat paradoxically, while a male will express sociopathy at a lower “genetic dose” than is required for expression in a female, the heritability of the trait is greater for females, meaning that the environmental component of the variance is greater for males (8).  The two-threshold model thus explains in a proximate sense what sociobiologists would predict from a more ultimate perspective. The fact that males are more susceptible than females to the environmental conditions of their early years fits well with sociobiological theory, in that the greater variance in male reproductive capacity makes their “choice” of life strategy somewhat more risky and therefore more subject to selective pressures (Symons 1979, Buss 1988, Mealey & Segal 1993). Sociobiological reasoning thus leads to the postulate that males should be more sensitive to environmental cues that (1) trigger environmentally-contingent or developmentally-canalized life history strategies or (2) are stimuli for which genetically based individual differences in response thresholds have evolved. (Recall mechanisms 3, 4 & 5 for the maintenance of mixed-strategy ESSs in a population.)”
(the latter perhaps still available thru the Wayback Machine)

So that’s why female sociopaths tend to be so spectacular — that full genetic dosage (with an element of ‘being set free’ by high testosterone levels in these particular women), for example, Stacy Castor (  I also recall a documentary on a woman who convinced her new husband that she had cancer, disappeared for months, came back and told her husband that his wife had died from the cancer and that she was her own twin sister, took up a conjugal living arrangement with her own husband, the neighbors however called the authorities, who discovered she had murdered her earlier family (a quick search could not find the source, but I believe it was from a Kurtis Productions documentary (American Justice or Justice Files)).  Kurtis Productions has an excellent series of documentaries on psychopathy which are never re-shown (for some reason).

Unfortunately Linda Mealey passed away in 2002 from colon and liver cancer (induced?) (  If she had been able to continue her research I’m confident that sociopathy (psychopathy) would be publicly understood to a much greater extent than it is now.  I do believe that all the ‘big questions’ of psychopathy have been answered, but by psychopathic psychopathy experts and scientists who hold the answers closely.

In an unsuccessful search for her CV, I found this discussion, Evolution and Machiavelliansim (p. 253), from Barbara Oakley’s “Evil Genes”, which may be of interest.

Final versions of The Sociobiology of Sociopathy may be available for download (at cost) here:, and

My original post from 2011:

Julian Assange: “You can’t hide who you are from an animal”

“You can’t hide who you are from an animal.

On the left political prisoner On the right fashion advisor Senator @BenSasse

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