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The New Yorker writes about researchers’ struggle to study psychopaths

Two Lovefraud readers brought an article in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine to my attention. It’s entitled Suffering Souls—the search for the roots of psychopathy, by John Seabrook.

The article starts off describing the work of a researcher, Dr. Kent Kiehl, who is using an fMRI machine to study the brains of prisoners in the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility, searching for physical indications of psychopathy. The author provides a brief history of the evolution of scientific understanding about this personality disorder, and describes today’s conflicting opinions about it. Seabrook reviewed the literature and interviewed experts, including Dr. Robert Hare.

All in all, the article provides an excellent summary of the state of scientific research about psychopathy. If you want to understand how the researchers think about this personality disorder, I recommend that you read it.

Never met a psychopath

Although the story is comprehensive, one of the points made me think that we at Lovefraud have a better understanding of psychopaths than researchers.

“Unlike most academic psychopathy researchers, Kiehl has spent many hours in the company of his subjects. When he meets colleagues at conferences, he told me, “they always ask, ‘What are they like?’ These are guys who have spent twenty years studying psychopaths and never met one.” Although the number of psychopaths who are not in prisons is thought to exceed the number who are—if the one-per-cent figure is correct, there are more than a million psychopaths at large in the United States alone—they are much harder to identify in the outside world. Some are “successful psychopaths,” holding down good jobs in many types of industries. It is generally only if they commit a crime and enter the criminal-justice system that they become available for research.”

This is scary—many researchers in psychopathy never met one? We should consider ourselves better informed, because we’ve all had extremely close encounters with these predators. And we know exactly how the ones who are not in jail behave.

More information is needed about psychopaths in the community. That’s why our contributions to the study, Victimizations, coping, and social support of adult survivors of psychopaths, are so important. If you haven’t yet filled out the survey, be sure to do it.

Parents and children

According to the New Yorker article, Dr. Robert Hare does not approve of using his Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) in child custody disputes. Although I can understand where Dr. Hare is coming from—his test was designed specifically to predict recidivism among offenders—it is still the gold standard in identifying psychopaths. As we at Lovefraud know, psychopaths make terrible parents. Unfortunately, there is no scientific documentation—yet—of what we know to be true.

This points to the need for more research on psychopaths who are not in jail. First of all, we need to be able to identify them, especially in family court cases. Secondly, we need research documenting that psychopaths do, indeed, harm their children. I know this cause is very important to Dr. Liane Leedom, and we hope to contribute to more thorough understanding of these problems.

The article also touches on the issues of children with psychopathic traits. On the one hand, it states that psychologists don’t want to label children as psychopaths. On the other hand, there is some evidence that children with psychopathic traits can be helped, “if you catch it young enough.” That means they need to be identified.

It’s a circular problem. There is a very strong genetic component to this personality disorder, so it is crucial to identify psychopathic parents, because their children may be at risk of also becoming psychopaths. We also need to identify children who have inherited the dispostion to the personality disorder and are, in fact, at risk. That means diagnosing them so we can try to help them.

The issue of at-risk children is not one in which we should be squeamish or politically correct about identifying the disorder. Lives are at stake.

Mental illness?

In scanning prisoners’ brains, Dr. Kent Kiehl hopes to find a biological cause for the psychopathic personality disorder. By finding a cause, there is the chance of developing drugs to treat the disorder.

This raises philosophical and ethical questions. What if he succeeds? What if he proves that psychopathy is a form of mental illness? But what if people are diagnosed and treatment doesn’t work? If psychopathy is a mental illness, does that mean that these predators aren’t responsible for their crimes?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I do know that here at Lovefraud, we are building a valuable knowledge base beyond that of the scientific researchers. We know how psychopaths behave when they are free, out in the community, and doing what predators do.



95 Comments on "The New Yorker writes about researchers’ struggle to study psychopaths"

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  1. OxDrover says:

    Dear Peregrine,

    Yes, it is sad, but I actually think he believed that his and his illiterate stock broker friends had it all figured out–yea, like Madoff! ha ha I actually think that because of his arrogance and lack of life experience outside of prison these “get rich quick” schemes sound reasonable to him. I don’t doubt that they had some kind of quasi illegal angle to it, but he wouldn’t have directly profited from my “investment” since I would have been managing it myself using his program. What was funny though was it wasn’t “His” program to start, with but one of those $495 get rich quick late-night-TV deals. LOL Though he had modified it.

    I never for once thought about investing in anything he and any of his friends came up with, that’s for sure, even before I found out these people were on the level with carnival barkers. (chuckle)

    When I finally realized though, that he HAD NO REMORSE and was continuing to try to scam me and others, though, and I cut off financial support and disinherited him, that was when he really got mad and tried to have me killed. I wish the $5000 scam would have been the worst of it. My son is a monster! The saddest part is that it took me so long to get out of denial about that. It is also very sad that a kid with an IQ in the 99th percentile chose to be a common thief and thug instead of the “rocket scientist” he could have been.

    It IS DIFFICULT to grasp, and I don’t think we can truly know how they think any more than they can know how WE think. It is almost like a cross-species communication problem.



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  2. athas says:

    Donna Anderson wrote:

    “I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I do know that here at Lovefraud, we are building a valuable knowledge base beyond that of the scientific researchers. We know how psychopaths behave when they are free, out in the community, and doing what predators do.”

    This is an unbelievably arrogant and ignorant statement. I am not attacking you. Just stating a fact. To think that you know more than scientific researchers is a delusion. There is actually quite a bit of ignorance here. You don’t even know whether or not the men you were involved with were actually sociopaths.

    “In scanning prisoners’ brains, Dr. Kent Kiehl hopes to find a biological cause for the psychopathic personality disorder. By finding a cause, there is the chance of developing drugs to treat the disorder.”

    First of all, psychopathy is not a personality disorder. Personality disorders ARE mental illnesses. A cause has already been found. Sociopaths are born with a gene cluster that causes them to develop brains that are radically different from ours. This is the cause of sociopathy. It is NOT a disorder. It is just a difference.

    “What if he proves that psychopathy is a form of mental illness? But what if people are diagnosed and treatment doesn’t work? If psychopathy is a mental illness, does that mean that these predators aren’t responsible for their crimes?”

    He is not trying to prove that sociopathy is a form of mental illness. It’s already been established that sociopaths are sane and are aware of it when they are breaking the law. They just simply don’t care. He is trying to understand exactly how sociopathic brains differ from “normal” brains. It’s already know that they differ very significantly. But Dr. Kiehl has taken on the monumental task of trying to completely understand the sociopathic brain. If he can do this he may be able to develop a treatment that will turn sociopaths into normal people. But it will not be a medication for a mental illness. Sociopaths will then be able to choose whether or not they want to become normal or wish to stay sociopaths. But either way sociopaths will not become categorized as mentally ill. They will still be held responsible for their actions. So I would stop worrying about this.

    You people here need to do your own research and stop thinking your experiences are some kind of accurate information about sociopaths. A lot of you don’t even know for sure if the person you were involved with was really a sociopath. How many of them took Hare’s test and were diagnosed? You’re accusing every jerk that comes along of being a sociopath whether you have any proof of that or not. Many normal people have sociopathic characteristics but they are not sociopaths. I suspect that a lot of you were just involved with a normal jerk.

    You need to quit depending on what you learn in this little isolated place and get out and read some of the scientific data. Listen to what sociopaths have to say about themselves in places where they are allowed to be themselves. You might actually learn something. There’s a forum for sociopaths and their victims at www. sociopathic.net. There’s also a blog for sociopaths but normals are welcome. I can’t remember the url right now I’ll post it later. These are places you can observe sociopaths you’re not involved with being themselves and talking about themselves. These places were a real education for me. You don’t have to participate. You can just read their posts. Well, I’ll shut up now. I guess I’ll get stoned for what I’ve said.



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  3. henry says:

    Let’s see – we have hundreds of people that post here describing sociopaths and physcopaths that never picked up a book about them. Dr. Hare and Mr. Know it all dont know jack shit about them unless they have been plowed over by one. If someone is just a big jerk they usually dont reak the havoc that spaths do, Jerks are easy to spot – you dont have a clue what is going on here at lovefraud or the type of physcopath/sociopath/narcissist that rip’s your fucking heart out and jump’s up and down on it with glee as they are leaving you in a fetal position on the bathroom floor. I dont give a rats ass what the prison therapist have to say – the s/p/n in prison is harmless to me – it’s the mentally ill jerks that think they know more than they do that scare me…..



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  4. learnthelesson says:

    Dear Athas,

    OPINIONS are always welcome here. And perhaps its best/wise to leave my post at that….but….

    Glad you are finding an education at “Sociopathic” websites and glad you are confident that none of them are mentally ill or personality disordered or normal jerks over there…

    Doesnt really matter here… LF covers a wide range of toxic relationships… and most of us openly admit we have no idea what we came across – except a dysfunctional situation. From Psychopaths to Sociopaths to ASPD, to Bi Polar to Jerks to a combination…Personally, I got my education first hand from a sickminded soul… you can label him or them all you want! And I learned how to recover here at LF! Mission accomplished!

    IMHO, I disagree with your assessment of Psychopathy and its origination. Although to an extent, I agree a certain percentage emerge from your belief of solely genetics.

    I still have more to learn…for example…posting this post LOL! But its a learning process!!

    Henry — TOWANDO!



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  5. Jim in Indiana USA says:

    Athas…thanks for your input. “You need”.., “You people…”

    I visited the “sociopathic.net” site….once.

    And, there is actually quite a bit of ignorance (as you say), and lack of empathy, everywhere.

    I’ll choose my own sources for education, thanks.



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