The Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy met in New Orleans, LA April 16-18, 2009. There were several hot topics discussed at the meeting including how psychopathy might be different in men and women. The general consensus seemed to be that psychopathy is under-diagnosed in women because in women the symptoms are different.
Dr. Edelyn Verona is a, leader in the Society. Her group presented, “An Examination of Borderline Personality Disorder and Secondary Psychopathy Across Genders.” To understand these research findings look at the list of traits below:
Factor 1 Traits (Primary Psychopathy)
• Glib and superficial
• Egocentric and grandiose
• Lack of remorse or guilt
• Lack of empathy
• Deceitful and manipulative
• Shallow emotions
Factor 2 Traits (Secondary Psychopathy)
• Poor behavior controls
• Need for excitement
• Lack of responsibility
• Early behavior problems
• Adult antisocial behavior
Dr. Verona’s group looked at the relationship between borderline personality (BPD) traits Factor 1 and Factor 2 in women. They stated, “We hypothesized that gender would moderate the relationship between secondary psychopathic characteristics and features, such that Factor 2 would correlate more strongly with BPD in women than in men. We further expected that primary psychopathic characteristics would be negatively related to BPD.”
The first part of their hypothesis turned out to be supported, that is Factor 2 was associated with BPD in both men and women but more so women.
More important though, is that the second part of their hypothesis was not supported. Primary psychopathic features were positively related to BPD and “F2 was significantly more predictive of BPD in high F1 women relative to low F1 women.”
The authors concluded, “In particular, the combination of F1 and F2 seems predictive of BPD in women, but not men. This suggests that psychopathy (which is typically defined as being high on both F1 and F2) is manifested as BPD in women.”
Their conclusions are supported by other studies showing a positive correlation between psychopathy and BPD scores.
I spoke with Dr. Verona about their findings, commenting that many psychiatrists consider BPD to be a mood or anxiety disorder. She answered that the criteria for BPD are not precise enough. A woman with PTSD and/or mood symptoms can be diagnosed with BPD if she is also impulsive. It does not seem fitting to group these women together with psychopathic women, especially since the treatment may be different for those who have mood/anxiety disorders.
What does this all mean for you who have family members or co-workers with BPD? My advice is consider the degree of harm done by the person in the context of Factor 1 and Factor 2 traits. The more a woman or man has BOTH sets of traits, the more dangerous she/he is likely to be.