Psychopathy, conscientiousness, selfishness

Psychopathy, conscientiousness, selfishness

Having read a miniscule amount about concepts like secondary psychopathy and conscientiousness, I am wondering about how and why psychologists have decided (or maybe the field of psychology has) that eschewing social norms is a sign of selfishness-if I have understood or characterised that means of measurement correctly.

From my point of view, the norms of any particular society as a whole cannot be relied upon to be a good indicator of what it is right or wrong to do. Many, if not most, societies inadvertently endorse behaviour which causes extreme suffering to others without any due justification.

In the face of this huge problem facing any moral individual, whereby their inadvertant actions, if they are not thought through (but are merely followed through because they are expected), may cause or contribute to massive suffering to others, why should anyone think it morally correct or psychologically 'beneficial' to fall back on or adhere to social or societal norms?

How would someone who didn't care about reporting their neighbour for harbouring disfavoured people (Jewish people, gay people, communist people) in Nazi Germany come out on a secondary psycopathy scale, or conscientiousness scale? And how would they fare if they didn't really care too much about when they got their paperwork in, or how punctual they were, because there was far more important stuff to worry about?

If we don't want to fall into the trap of endorsing whatever violence one's society wishes to inflict upon a disfavoured or invisible group, don't we need to be sceptical about the priorities that we are superficially handed down arbitrarily by our immediate society and try and find out what it is actually important to do or not do? And if we don't undertake to do this, but instead follow societal norms, are we not risking inadvertently blindly sending people or other sentient beings to ends involving huge amounts of pain and suffering? And is this, and other norm-following behaviour not a form of indolent and lazy selfishness?

What is the structured thinking behind psychologists assigning behaviour that doesn't fall in with societal norms - often very superficial types of behaviour - to selfishness?


In order to evaluate the nomological network of associations between psychopathy and its sub-dimensions, and Big Five domains and dispositional aggression in adolescence, and its consistency across gender-based sub-groups, 1253 Italian high school students (F = 429, M = 824) were administered the Italian translations of the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI), Big Five Inventory (BFI) and the Reactive–Proactive Aggression Questionnaire. Males scored on average significantly higher than females on all measures of psychopathy and aggression, whereas females scored significantly higher than males on the BFI O, C, A and N scales. Bivariate correlations between psychopathy scores, and aggression and BFI domains measures were highly similar in females and males. The majority of regression coefficients based on hierarchical regression models were consistently replicated across gender-based groups effect size estimates for regression models were large, supporting the hypothesis that psychopathy can be described in terms of general personality traits in adolescence and that the relationships between psychopathy, its sub-dimensions and Big Five personality dimensions, and aggression generally are very similar across gender.

Subtypes of homicide offenders based on psychopathic traits

The aim of the present study was to explore the subtypes of offenders based on psychopathic traits in a sample of 127 adult homicide offenders (n=40.3% convicted of murder, n=32.6% convicted of aggravated murder, n=27.1% convicted of attempted murder). A two-step cluster analysis of the four factors of psychopathy yielded three clusters, which were then compared on the general dimensions of personality defined by the HEXACO model, intelligence, sadism and psychopathology variables conceptualized by the MMPI-202. Cluster 1 was characterized by moderate scores on psychopathy factors, Agreeableness and aggressiveness. Cluster 2 was a psychopathic-like group with the highest scores on psychopathy factors, sadism, aggressiveness and paranoia, and with the lowest scores on Emotionality and Agreeableness. Cluster 3 was a non-psychopathic group with the lowest scores on psychopathy factors and aggressiveness, and with the highest scores on Agreeableness and Honesty-Humility. There were no significant differences between the clusters on intelligence, Openness to experience, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, and a number of psychopathological variables, including depression and anxiety. Present findings did not provide support for the distinction between primary and secondary psychopathy. The current study further contributes to the person-oriented research of psychopathy by emphasizing the differences between the individuals with high, moderate and low psychopathic traits.

Keywords: HEXACO Homicide Intelligence Psychopathology Psychopathy Sadism.

Successful’ Anti-social tendencies  and Impulse Control as a Function of Psychopathy

  If we remove the violent tendencies that define history’s most disturbed individuals, there are behavioral features to aspire to. Most of these have to do with calculation.

Successful and unsuccessful psychopaths tend to be linked by self-motivation. Once an objective is decided upon each will commit to the math necessary to achieve it. 

By all accounts, the difference between the skin collector and the CEO cutting your check is directive. 

After analyzing data of 1,354 serious juvenile offenders with a specialized model developed at Virginia Commonwealth University, the researchers behind the new paper discovered that psychopathic criminals and wealthy elites share a lot of personality traits with one another. Further analysis proved that the latter learned to temper their aggression very early in life.  

“The compensatory model posits that people higher in certain psychopathic traits (such as grandiosity and manipulation) are able to compensate for and overcome, to some extent, their antisocial impulses via increases in trait conscientiousness, specifically impulse control,” Lasko says, explained i n a media release. 

Ironically, an aversion to interpersonal dynamics forces some psychopaths to develop a  gregarious persona in the pursuit of their desires. As a result, they pick up on social cues that most of us wouldn’t, not unlike a blind man who arrives safely on the other side of the street by hearing cars several miles away.

Although there are some neurological indicators of the condition, psychopathy is ultimately a construct. As such, it can be expressed and clinically interpreted in a number of different ways. 

The authors themselves concede that the parameters that define a psychopathic individual’s success are routinely debated among psychologists. 

The researchers choose to define ‘successful psychopathy’ as antisocial traits that at once contribute to personal achievements in life domains (most notably occupational success) and prevent adverse outcomes (most notably imprisonment). Non -incarcerated membership in society versus incarceration for criminal offending.  A conscientious outlook attended the vast majority of the favorable upshot.

“There is good reason to expect that the most robust trait dimension underlying the development of ‘successful’ psychopathy is conscientiousness. Conscientiousness refers to a collection of psychological traits that are organized around the themes of planning for the future, being goal-directed, following rules, being self-disciplined, and delaying gratification,” the authors continued. 𠇊 core feature of conscientiousness is inhibitory control, through which individuals are able to stifle their prepotent impulses. This ability can assist in the inhibition of antisocial impulses that are prevalent among individuals high in psychopathy.”

This find highlights the problem with limiting mental instability to a genre. When our only insight into neurological illnesses is through an LCD screen it encourages us to engage with it from afar.  The factor of the matter is every single disease has the potential to teach us the value of normalcy.

It is undeniably thrilling to witness serial killers unravel at the hands of masterminds, but cases like Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, and Jeffrey Daumher have a lot more to say. 

For a start, they remind us of how incredibly lucky we are that our compulsions rarely demand something of others. For most of the population, giving in to temptation leads to self-destruction. But for a tragic minority, giving into temptation can just as easily yield sadistic activities. 

By that same token, we can take solace in the fact that our desires and weaknesses are authored by a series of chemicals and synapses. This doesn’t mean we have to be resigned to them. As demonstrated by the new paper, any shortcoming can be converted into a strength with time and meditation. 

“Psychopathic individuals are very prone to engaging in antisocial behaviors but what our findings suggest is that some may actually be better able to inhibit these impulses than others,” says lead author Emily Lasko, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, in a release . 𠇊lthough we don’t know exactly what precipitates this increase in conscientious impulse control over time, we do know that this does occur for individuals high in certain psychopathy traits who have been relatively more ‘successful’ than their peers.”

Examining the construct validity of the elemental psychopathy assessment

Lynam and colleagues recently developed a new self-report inventory for the assessment of psychopathy, the Elemental Psychopathy Assessment (EPA). Using a sample of undergraduates (N = 227), the authors examined the construct validity of the EPA by examining its correlations with self and stranger ratings on the Five-Factor Model, as well as self-reported ratings of personality disorders, social cognition, and love styles. The EPA psychopathy scores manifested expected correlations with both self and stranger ratings of the Five-Factor Model, particularly with the domains of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, and were significantly related to various forms of personality pathology such as narcissism and antisocial personality disorders. The EPA also manifested expected relations with aggressive social cognitions. Finally, the EPA psychopathy scores were correlated with romantic love styles indicative of game playing and infidelity. The current results provide further evidence of the construct validity of the EPA as it manifests relations consistent with the nomological network of psychopathy.

Construction of the PPI and PPI-R

The PPI, consisting of 187 items, was developed over the span of several years in the late 1980s. It was constructed largely in response to a perceived need for an easily administered questionnaire measure of psychopathy that would facilitate research on, and the clinical assessment of, psychopathy. In contrast to most previous measures of psychopathy, it was developed to be applicable to nonclinical (e.g., student, community) as well as clinical (e.g., offender, substance abuse) samples. Prior to the construction of self-report measures of psychopathy, most of the research on this condition was limited to offenders, primarily because extant measures of psychopathy required access to detailed file information. The development of the PPI and other self-report measures of psychopathy has facilitated research concerning the manifestations of this condition in community and student settings, permitting investigators to examine the characteristics of “successful” or “adaptive” individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits.

The PPI was designed to detect the key personality traits of psychopathy, such as superficial charm, dishonesty, manipulativeness, guiltlessness, callousness, fearlessness, self-centeredness, externalization of blame, and poor impulse control. The initial constructs targeted for inclusion in the PPI were derived from a comprehensive review of the clinical and research literatures on psychopathy, including the seminal writings of Hervey Cleckley, Benjamin Karpman, David Lykken, Robert Hare, and Herbert Quay. In an effort to distinguish psychopathy from cognate but separable constructs (e.g., antisocial personality disorder, crime proneness), items explicitly assessing antisocial and criminal behaviors were not included in the prospective item pool. To enhance the likelihood that the psychopathic respondents would be willing to endorse trait-relevant items, most PPI items were phrased to be socially normative.

The PPI items and constructs were progressively refined by means of factor analyses on three successive undergraduate samples, with a total sample size of 1,156 participants. The eight lower-order factors that make up the PPI emerged across all three rounds of test development and appeared to assess the core affective and interpersonal traits of psychopathy. The three validity scales of the PPI assist with detection of socially desirable responding and malingering, which may be particular causes for concern in forensic settings.

The PPI was revised in 2005 to reduce its length, decrease its reading level, eliminate psychometrically suboptimal and culturally specific items, and develop norms for general population and offender samples. Based on factor analyses of large student, community, and offender samples, a number of inadequately functioning PPI items were eliminated or rewritten. The revised version of the test, the PPI-R, consists of 154 items divided into the same eight content scales and three validity scales as the PPI.

4. Conclusion

Recent literature in psychology has studied the geographic distribution of various psychological characteristics. Using data from Rentfrow etਊl. (2013) and a methodology derived from Hyatt etਊl. (Forthcoming), we are able to derive state-level estimates for psychopathy. To our knowledge, these are the first subnational measures of psychopathy for the general population. It also differs from most empirical treatments of psychopathy whereas most treatments view psychopathy as a binary question to be expressed as percentages of a population, the aggregate numbers created in this paper are closer to psychopathy as a spectrum, which is actually consistent with Hare (1991).

Areas of the United States that are measured to be most psychopathic are those in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The least psychopathic are predominantly rural areas, both in the South and the West. The District of Columbia is measured to be far more psychopathic than any individual state in the country, a fact that can be readily explained either by its very high population density or by the type of person who may be drawn to a literal seat of power (as in Murphy, 2016). Additionally, Wyoming is an odd data point, ranking high in psychopathy given its place in the country and its lack of population. The inclusion of Maine along with the high population areas of the United State support the interpretation that psychopathy is clustered around the Northeast and not just population centers, although Vermont and New Hampshire contradict this interpretation. As a practical matter, it is recommended that empirical analysis making use of this data excludes the District of Columbia as a robustness check in some specifications.

Given that findings in this paper concern an indirect measure of psychopathy, the weight given to the empirical exploration as “tests” of the relationships between psychopathy and what it is thought to be associated with ought to be minimal. The purpose of the exploration was not to challenge previous findings, but to understand whether the conventional associations mapped to regional aggregates. Of the occupational and socioeconomic variables considered, psychopathy at the state level did not always correlate, or even relatively frequently correlate, with variables in the expected direction. The lack of correlation includes all three measures of crime, all of which actually enter negatively when the District of Columbia is excluded from the sample. Numerous explanations could be given for these results, but the fact will remain that it is too noisy of an indicator to reliably behave as expected in the bivariate context.

Still, that several regressions achieved such large t-statistics in small sample sizes suggests that this methodology is measuring an actual underlying signal. Additional waves of surveys of the Big Five personality traits by state (of sufficient sample size) would be what is needed to generate denser longitudinal data by state. Other extensions could develop similar subnational measures of psychopathy for already existing Big Five personality trait data in Britain (Rentfrow etਊl., 2015), Germany (Fritsch etਊl., 2018), and Switzerland (Götz etਊl., 2018). Ultimately, if longitudinal data were to be generated of a sufficient length of time, more credible empirical investigations of causality regarding the macro socioeconomic effects of psychopathy, conceived through the lens of geographic psychology, could be performed.

Cross-disciplinary cooperation is needed to save civilization

What, then, can be done? Such technological challenges go beyond the reach of a single discipline. CRISPR, for example, may be an invention within genetics, but its impact is vast, asking for oversight and ethical safeguards that are far from our current reality. The same with global warming, rampant environmental destruction, and growing levels of air pollution/greenhouse gas emissions that are fast emerging as we crawl into a post-pandemic era. Instead of learning the lessons from our 18 months of seclusion — that we are fragile to nature's powers, that we are co-dependent and globally linked in irreversible ways, that our individual choices affect many more than ourselves — we seem to be bent on decompressing our accumulated urges with impunity.

The experience from our experiment with the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement has taught us a few lessons that we hope can be extrapolated to the rest of society: (1) that there is huge public interest in this kind of cross-disciplinary conversation between the sciences and the humanities (2) that there is growing consensus in academia that this conversation is needed and urgent, as similar institutes emerge in other schools (3) that in order for an open cross-disciplinary exchange to be successful, a common language needs to be established with people talking to each other and not past each other (4) that university and high school curricula should strive to create more courses where this sort of cross-disciplinary exchange is the norm and not the exception (5) that this conversation needs to be taken to all sectors of society and not kept within isolated silos of intellectualism.

Moving beyond the two-culture divide is not simply an interesting intellectual exercise it is, as humanity wrestles with its own indecisions and uncertainties, an essential step to ensure our project of civilization.


The story of Narcissus features a man who falls in love with his own reflection in a pond. Arguably, the reinforcement-seeking nature of social media itself has snowballed into the explosion of narcissism in the digital age.

With a worldwide movement of curating highlight reels, it’s now easier than ever to project an ideal image of one’s lifestyle.

The media shamelessly flashes overt narcissism around (pun intended). It’s comparable the extravagant celebrity who feels the need to start drama to be on a headline. Covert narcissism, on the flip side of the coin, is far more difficult to detect.

Examples include the use of self-deprecating humor, and subtle conversational power moves to direct the attention of others back onto themselves.

Can anyone be born narcissistic? The answers suggest that the environment and child-rearing methods an individual is exposed to is tenfold more affective at producing narcissism.

Behaviors of a Narcissist:

  • Persistent contempt and superiority complex
  • Demands of special treatment
  • Lack of concern for social rules
  • Shameless self-promotion and attention-seeking
  • Displays of distinguishing awards and possessions

Understanding Psychopathy Using the Basic Elements of Personality

Psychopathy is a form of personality disorder characterized by arrogance, self-absorption, callousness, exploitation, and impulsivity that is also strongly associated with antisocial behavior. The present paper argues that psychopathy can and should be understood as a configuration of personality traits from a general model of personality functioning – the five-factor model (FFM). In this paper, we demonstrate that previous theoretical conceptualizations of psychopathy and current empirical ones converge on a general FFM profile characterized by very low scores on agreeableness and conscientiousness and mixed relations to aspects of neuroticism and extraversion. Further, we articulate the advantages to understanding psychopathy in this way. The FFM provides an assay of extant inventories, explains the factor structure of various inventories, accounts for the epidemiology of psychopathy, and makes sense of the litany of putative psychopathic deficits. Perhaps most importantly, the FFM provides a connection to basic research in personality.