UCI News

UC Irvine News Brief: Psychopathy misunderstood disorder

Psychopathic personalities are portrayed in popular media as charming, intriguing, dishonest, guiltless, and in some cases, downright terrifying. But scientific research suggests that psychopathy is widely misunderstood.

December 16, 2011

Jennifer Skeem, professor of psychology & social behavior, is the author of a new study in the December issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest that dispels some myths and assumptions about psychopathy. Although many people assume psychopaths are ‘born’ not ‘made’, Skeem and her colleagues stress that environmental factors can affect the complex, multifaceted condition marked by blends of personality traits reflecting differing levels of disinhibition, boldness and meanness. Many criminal offenders labeled psychopathic are actually more emotionally disturbed than detached. In fact, youth and adults with high scores on measures of psychopathy can show reduced violent and other criminal behavior after intensive treatment. “Decisions about juvenile and adult offenders that are based on faulty assumptions about violence risk, etiology, and treatment amenability have adverse consequences, both for individual offenders and the public,” Skeem says.