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NPR story about psychopathy test

NPR recently aired a two-part series about the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), the test created by Dr. Robert Hare to measure a person’s degree of psychopathy. It was designed to predict a prisoner’s rate of recidivism, and many, many studies have demonstrated that it does exactly that.

Part One discusses the case of Robert Dixon Jr., a California inmate who was determined to be a psychopath, and consequently is unlikely to be released, even though he feels like he is reformed. Part Two features an interview with Dr. Hare, in which he says that the worries that the PCL-R is being misused.

Listen to the stories on NPR.org:

Part One: Can a test really tell who’s a psychopath?

Part Two: Creator of psychopathy test worries about its use

Here’s an online debate about the stories:

Expert Panel: Weighing the value of a test for psychopaths

Links supplied by a Lovefraud reader.

UPDATE: More NPR discussion of the PCL-R, with NPR staff taking the test. This segment repeats some of the stories aired previously.

This American Life with Ira Glass: The Psychopath Test

Link supplied by a Lovefraud reader.



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  1. UPDATE: More NPR discussion of the PCL-R, with NPR staff taking the test. This segment repeats some of the stories aired previously.

    This American Life with Ira Glass: The Psychopath Test

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/436/the-psychopath-test

    Link supplied by a Lovefraud reader.

  2. Redwald says:

    Hi Kim,

    Actually no, I’m not in the criminal justice field at all. I never considered it as a career either. I suppose I could imagine myself as a forensic scientist, “CSI”-style—or possibly a detective. That seems natural to me. I’m sure lots of people enjoy a good mystery, and solving a mystery, which is what much of that work is about.

    But as a policeman, I think I’d do a lousy job. There are parts of the job I might enjoy, like the variety, but parts of it I wouldn’t enjoy at all. That’s because I wouldn’t want to be harassing people by enforcing laws made by someone ELSE that I didn’t approve of in the first place!

    Theft, fraud, serious assaults, murder, and other real crimes, fair enough. But as an example, when it came down to lying in wait, catching drivers and handing out citations to them for exceeding a speed limit set by someone else, I just wouldn’t want to do it. Not unless they were doing something that really made them a danger to others.

    Otherwise I’d be bothered by what a load of hypocrisy this all is! I’d be thinking “Gee, in their place I’d be doing 80 mph on this road too. It’s perfectly safe as long as you’re paying attention, which you should be doing anyway if you’re driving.” Having to drive at an artificially slow speed is intolerably boring. So why should I punish someone for doing the same thing I’d do myself? Besides, it’s all a load of BS anyway, when half of it isn’t about ‘safety’ so much as the city or the state ripping off drivers to get revenue. So that’s just something I wouldn’t want to do.

    Or take drug laws. That’s a different and perhaps better example because I don’t use any drugs myself and never really have done. I’ve smoked pot literally about three times in my life, including college days, and that’s it. It didn’t seem to do a lot for me. Maybe I have a natural “high” or something and don’t need it! :) But if someone else wants to smoke it, where’s the big deal? It’s no skin off my nose! (Basically I’m a libertarian.) All right, we don’t want to see drug dealers selling junk to schoolchildren, people getting hopped up and assaulting others, and that kind of thing. And we wouldn’t want to see our own children ruining their lives through drugs. But I’ve watched that “Cops” show on TV—it’s enjoyable as a show, of course—and quite frequently there’s an episode where someone gets stopped in a car, the cops find some weed, and the poor driver or passenger ends up being dragged off in handcuffs. And they weren’t bothering ANYBODY! In those situations I’d sympathize with them, more than with the cops!

    As for myself, I’ve spent my career in a totally different field… computers. In later years this was about computer communication and network management. So that’s all about “machines.”

    Now some people regard “people” and “machines” as totally separate. For instance, there’s a guy named Art I’ve worked with whose job was largely “education.” He conducted courses to teach customers and others how to use certain software. But he wasn’t always good with it himself, and he often had to turn to others for help. He said to me once, “I’m a ‘people’ person. I like working with people best. These machines, they confuse me!” On the other hand, another guy named Bruce graduated from MIT and was brilliant with computers and system design. He spoke as if he was the opposite of Art, because he could always work well with machines. Yet when it came to working with people, he never wanted to be a manager. He said “People are a pain in the ass!” It was quite funny, because he actually was very good at working with people too. People liked him, and he was an excellent communicator who could make things clear and also understand what was going on in other people’s heads. But to him, “people were a pain in the ass.”

    But the way I see it myself, the two spheres of life don’t have to be so different. After all, a computer is only a kind of “thinking machine,” and what is the human mind but another kind of “thinking machine?” It’s immensely more complex, but there are inevitable parallels between the two. That includes the way computers these days communicate with one another, just as humans communicate with one other… or try to! And the way machines often malfunction is echoed in the way some people’s minds malfunction, as they do when people have personality disorders.

    Come to that, what I said at the beginning about imagining myself as a “detective” and “solving mysteries” is a lot of what I’ve actually done in my career. Specifically, debugging software. Finding out “why something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to” and putting it right is a large part of software development. Investigating “what dun it” is not too different in principle from finding out “whodunit.” It’s only a different kind of mystery.

    As for being a “bleeding heart liberal,” and what you said about “bias,” I doubt very much that you could be as extreme as Karen Franklin, who was so dead set against the use of the PCL-R. One reason I didn’t say much about her article is that while there’s plenty I could have said, most of it would be irrelevant to the topic of the PCL-R. That’s because so much of what she said herself was irrelevant!

    As you said yourself, on the one hand people can be biased, and these biases can affect test results. On the other hand, yes, “we have to rely on something to predict who will re-offend and who won’t.” So we end up “weighing” one concern against another, trying to determine which is greater and which is less. Do we get better decisions with such a test, or without it? One factor here is that there’s always a risk of bias anyway, whether we use a test or not. If a parole board makes decisions entirely on their own, “by the seat of their pants,” they could well be biased too. But Karen Franklin wasn’t even trying to do any “weighing” of this kind. She didn’t acknowledge that there might be any value at all in the test—or that we have to make decisions on some basis, test or no test. In fact she wrote quite literally as if psychopaths were not even real! To her, that sole issue of “bias” (and “labeling” and related fears) was so HUGELY inflated that it filled her entire field of vision, so that she couldn’t SEE any other issues at all, let alone that other issues were important.

    Also, you may be a “femiNIST,” but I’d be inclined to guess you’re not a “femiNAZI.” ;) There is an important distinction between the two—though I have to admit there’s also a problem with choosing labels. Christina Hoff Sommers made the essential distinction, though “feminazi” is not the word she used herself! You may have read her classic book about what she called “equity” feminism versus “gender” feminism. Take care!

  3. eb92044 says:

    Joanie:

    I am reading up on this now…

  4. mommom says:

    I dont think a 1 size fits all diagnosis works. My spath is now over 50. The intensity of which he tortured me emotionally got worse when he was in his early 40′s,now he is over 50 and is worse than ever.
    Also,with this test cant the more accomplished liars say that the photo of a dead family bothers them when it actually doesnt? Pathological liars are very good at telling people what they want to hear as long as it serves their purpose

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