An evil person is one who exploits or harms most everyone he/she encounters; the question of the utmost importance is do evil people share certain personality characteristics? Perhaps personality type has nothing to do with evil. We all know that every person has made bad moral choices at one time or another so perhaps people who repeatedly make bad moral choices are no different than anyone else.
There are many reasons to consider whether evil people have a special or different personality type. For Lovefraud readers, the best reason is to define and learn to recognize a group of people to avoid.
The assertion that evil people share a common personality type has profound philosophical and practical implications. This assertion implies that while occasionally doing evil is part of all of us, repeatedly doing evil is not. But what does repeatedly mean? Shouldn’t everyone who has made a bad moral choice get a second chance? What about those who have made two bad choices? Perhaps if we can identify an evil person by his/her characteristics, then we can say that he/she should not be given another chance.
The PCLR is born
I believe it was this line of thinking that lead Dr. Robert Hare to develop his Psychopathy Checklist, now Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCLR). He was working in the prison system and he wanted to describe the characteristics of people most likely to re-offend. He wanted to identify the evil doers.
Dr. Hare was very successful. The PCLR does identify a group of people who are likely to re-offend and who are very evil. But, somehow this attempt to define with a rating scale, a group of criminals who are most likely to re-offend has become much more. The results of this one instrument are increasingly seen as defining a personality type called psychopathy. It turns out that fancy statistics on the answers to the PCLR reveal that some of the answers group together in “factors.” These factors have become the basis for defining psychopathy itself.
The psychopathic personality is more complex than the PCLR
As Drs. Lynam and Widiger point out in their recent paper Using a general model of personality to identify the basic elements of psychopathy, “In the original derivations, the authors (Hare and colleagues) were fairly careful about referencing the factor structure of the instrument (PCLR) rather than the composition of psychopathy… Since that time, however, the measure has almost become the construct (psychopathy), and more recent authors are more likely to write about the structure of psychopathy than the structure of the instrument.”
Lynam and Widiger suggest, and I agree “that factor analyses of the PCL-R are unlikely to reveal the core components of psychopathy.” Therefore, the use of the PCLR to define the psychopathic personality is problematic. It is more useful to find out if there is indeed a “personality type” that is prone to evil. The best way to do this is to use a personality test that has been developed to understand personality in general (the NEO PI-R*, method 1), in conjunction with an inventory like the PCLR (method 2) and expert ratings (method 3). With these methods combined we can describe the personality type of those prone to evil and then extend the findings to non-criminals.
The evil personality
Using these methods, Lynam and Widiger have demonstrated that there is a personality type prone to evil. So now I will tell you who to avoid, and also more importantly who to seek out!
“We believe that these 12 traits** for which there is agreement across all three methods, constitute the core elements of psychopathy. According to these traits, psychopathy consists of extremely low agreeableness…The psychopath is cunning and manipulative, greedy and exploitive, oppositional and combative, boastful and arrogant, and callous and ruthless. Relatedly, the psychopath lacks interpersonal warmth. The psychopath is pan-impulsive, marked by the impulsive end of each of the personality pathways to impulsive behavior… The psychopath also appears immune to embarrassment and shame, potentially important emotions for the social control of behavior. Not surprisingly, the psychopath is also undependable and unethical.”
The Inner Triangle again
I believe that the three clusters of personality traits Lynam and Widiger have identified correspond to what I have called The Inner Triangle. The lack of agreeableness and warmth relate to ability to love. Identify a psychopath by his/her inability to really love and take care of others.
Identify a psychopath/sociopath by his/her poor impulse control. Lastly, psychopaths have a lack of moral emotions- embarrassment, guilt and particularly shame. This lack of moral emotions impairs moral reasoning in the psychopath/sociopath.
The combination of poor ability to love, poor impulse control and poor moral reasoning predict evil in people with narcissistic and borderline personality disorder just as these qualities cluster and predict evil in psychopaths/sociopaths.
Who to seek out
Surround yourself with people who have a well developed Inner Triangle! Love people who are warm and have a track record of self-sacrifice for others. Trust only those who can control their own impulses. Admire only those who experience embarrassment, guilt and shame. Depend only on those who are dependable. Since sociopaths/psychopaths are con artists, get proof of these qualities by first hand observation before you ascribe them to anyone.
* The NEO PI-R has been used to develop the five factor model of personality. This model can be remembered with the acronym OCEAN: O-openness to experience, C-conscientiousness, E-extraversion, A-agreeableness, N-neuroticism. Openness to experience (O: fantasy, aesthetic, feelings, actions, ideas, values), Conscientiousness (C: competence, order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-discipline, deliberation), Extraversion (E: warmth, gregariousness, assertiveness, activity, excitement seeking, positive emotions), Agreeableness (A: trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, tender mindedness), and Neuroticism (N: anxiousness, angry hostility, trait depression, self-consciousness, impulsiveness, vulnerability)
**Twelve traits were consistently identified by Lynam and Widiger as either low or high in psychopaths. The psychopath is low in 5 facets of A (Straightforwardness 1, Altruism 2, Compliance 3, Modesty 4, Tender mindedness 5, three facets of C (dutifulness 6, self-discipline 7, and deliberation 8), and one facet each of N (self-consciousness 9) and E (warmth 10); the psychopath is high in impulsiveness 11 from N and excitement seeking 12 from E.