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BOOK REVIEW: The Psychopath Test (redux)

Back in May and June, the media blitz for The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson, was in full swing. I finally got around to reading the book.

Ronson is a British journalist who apparently specializes in writing about nut cases. He wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was made into a movie starring George Clooney and Jeff Bridges. He has a BBC radio show that, according to the New York Times book review, is considered comedy. But he’s famous, and people like him. I guess I wish that he’d used his clout and notoriety to do some good with this book.

Its full title is The Psychopath Test—A journey through the madness industry. The title is accurate. The book is essentially a history of how the disorder was identified and how the study and treatment of psychopathy evolved, with the stories of a few psychopaths included, most of them killers.

Ronson makes the most important point of the book almost in passing. He describes several meeting with Bob Hare, the respected psychopathy researcher who created “the psychopath test” that gives the book its title (the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, or PCL-R). Ronson includes a scene in which he is in the U.K., driving Hare to the airport.

Hare says that he wishes he hadn’t spent all his time studying psychopaths in prison—he should have also studied them at the stock exchanges. (I’ve heard Hare make similar statements.) Ronson writes:

“But surely stock-market psychopaths can’t be as bad as serial-killer psychopaths,” I said.

“Serial killers ruin families.” Bob shrugged. “Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.”

This—Bob was saying—was the straightforward solution to the greatest mystery of all: Why is the world so unfair? Why all that savage economic injustice, those brutal wars, the everyday corporate cruelty? The answer: psychopaths ”¦ We aren’t all good people just trying to do good. Some of us are psychopaths. And psychopaths are to blame for this brutal, misshapen society. They’re the jagged rocks thrown into the still pond.

I thoroughly believe that psychopaths are responsible for most of the human-caused pain in society. Ronson actually came out and said it. But unfortunately, he didn’t continue to make the case. After the statement on page 112 of the book, he never returned to the thought.

One other part of the book was enlightening. Ronson spends a few pages discussing the evolution of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), now in its fourth edition, with the fifth edition underway. On page 239, he explains why the mental health field has not agreed on what to call this disorder—psychopathy, sociopathy, antisocial personality disorder, whatever. He writes what he learned from Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist who became editor of the third edition of the DSM:

I’d always wondered why there had been no mention of psychopaths in the DSM. It turned out, Spitzer told me, that there had indeed been a backstage schism—between Bob Hare and a sociologist named Lee Robins. She believed clinicians couldn’t reliably measure personality traits like empathy. She proposed dropping them from the DSM checklist and going only for overt symptoms. Bob vehemently disagreed, but the DSM committee sided with Lee Robins, and Psychopathy was abandoned for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

So there it is—the beginning of the dispute about naming the disorder and how to diagnose it, which has only kept the general public confused.

You might be entertained by this book—Ronson’s writing style is engaging, and the historical background is interesting. But if you’ve had a close encounter with your very own psychopath, you aren’t going to learn anything to help in your recovery.

The Psychopath Test on Amazon.com


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129 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: The Psychopath Test (redux)"

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I read this book and reviewed earlier here on LF—I agree with Donna’s take that there isn’t a lot in this book that will help you with your recovery, but…BUT I was actually reassured that the “experts” who developed the DSMs I-IV are really just putting “names” to disorders and what they say in the DSMs is NOT CARVED IN STONE BROUGHT DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN BY MOSES, and it is essentially their OPINION.

That may seem like a SMALL POINT, but to me it was a big point. Many people here at LF keep asking “is he REALLY a psychopath/sociopath/ASPD”? “How can I be SURE”? This book points out that the DSM is the “opinion” of some “experts” and that there are “political” opinions in that “naming.” It is it NOT written by the hands of God himself, and ultimately, it does NOT MATTER what the “name” of the disorder the person who has abused you is called—“a rose by any other name….”

Oh, I remember this book! There was a NY Times article about it. Ronson wondered if psychopaths enjoy reading about psychopaths, thus would read his book. (Judging from the small sample of psychopaths I’ve known, I’d say yes (Strangely, they also read a lot of philosophy)). The article went on to say that psychopaths might approve of his message, so I’m a bit curious to see what they would think about it. Maybe I’ll recommend it to my ex.. 😛

I find the following curious “… sociologist named Lee Robins. She believed clinicians couldn’t reliably measure personality traits like empathy…

I think empathy and lack of empathy are very easily definable; therefore, empathy can be measured. Does she mean that sociopaths can easily fake empathy especially when questioned in a test?

I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to after the fact be presented with a comprehensive personality profile of my x-spath on an online dating website. In all, he had answered nearly 1000 questions. He only positive trait was “more giving” than the average gay male his age. Interestingly, he told me that he is “cheap” and was not very giving in any way towards me. Perhaps this was just the perception he had of himself and if he perceived himself as “empathetic” he would have answered such questions in a fashion which did not accurately reflect his complete lack of empathy?

BBE,

Your spath said he was MORE GIVING than the average gay male? Pretty funny! Creating an image, no?

Guess what I did?

I asked my spath to rate HIMSELF on something akin to the HARE checklist. And he did. And he was FULL OF SHIT on the whole thing. He knew it, I knew it.

Ridiculous.

SK

Superkid;

In all the areas profiled, the only one which was accurate in terms of what he presented to me was “more introverted.” The remainder were nearly 180 degrees opposite from the image I had of him including:

“More kinky”
“Less lawful”
“Less well mannered”
“Less optimistic”

There were others that I cannot remember but in general did not paint the picture of a very nice person. One struck me as curious though, “less sexually experienced.”

Given what else I learned about him, I found “less sexually experienced” to be surprising.

so, help me understand

did he say he was more kinky, but was less?
did he say he was less lawful, but was more?

i must have this wrong.

Superkid;

These traits were based on his answers to various questions and tests; thus, they are not self-evaluations. The site is OKCupid and the results come from their “matching” algorithm.

I found him to be very vanilla. He was, at least to me, not flirtatious and even insulted when I asked him back to my place on an early date. The told me he was “reserved and proper.”

He never talked about sex and while chatting with me, used a message name “jamie_virgin_wright.” While the “virgin” part was an allusion to his employer, Virgin Airlines, I thought it very curious and when I started joking about the “virgin” part, he did not say very much other that in fact he had never been with a woman, hence a virgin.

From here, I learned that such games, playing “innocent” are typical for some sociopaths. Several of his online screen names support this, i.e. one like “clueless lad.” His kinkiness is certainly confirmed by the type of porn he favors…

Regarding lawfulness, he was the type that waited for lights to turn red before crossing a street and did not seem like the type, at 5’8″ and 130 pounds, the type with would hurt a fly…

one/joy_step_at_a_time

Oxy – the history of the DSM is sketchy at best. I wish I could remember where I heard about one of the major influences and what his biases were (CRS, taking the lead once again)…but like everything else wrought by the hands of men (sic) it is utterly biased and shaped by the hands that have touched it. given this truth, it doesn’t really matter what the words are to describe certain groups of behaviors and traits, but what does matter is the truth of our experience.

naming things is important as it gives a shorthand label to use in speech; and labels can be hurled like rocks. in some cases this is a damn fine thing.

i could label the spath that hurt me ‘a lying sack of crap *c*’ (which I admit, is quite satisfying to do), but it doesn’t separate her from the garden variety lying sacks of crap. If i call her spath i can let people know that she is unusual, that she is dangerous in a whole other way, and by doing so i can let people know that the effect this woman had on me is different than that of the garden variety toxin. so the label is useful, if i can then explain the experience of being targeted by a spath, the aftermath of the experience, and how to go about healing from the experience.

it was so very important that i had a name for this venomous thing i hadn’t met before in my life (or so i thought) – because i needed to understand how it hooked me and how to avoid meeting another one.

but really, i could just call her venon toxin extreme x –

Curious.. On the note of labelling, have you ever heard of the Rosenhan study?

The DSM-III and IV were significantly revised following this experiment.

OneJoy,
yes, that’s why I research, so that I can know what to expect when I see red flags. The behaviors tend to group together, so when you see one you know that the rest are lurking just beneath the surface. Since there are so many behaviors that the spaths can exhibit, it would take to long to say: The person who cheats, lies, manipulates, fakes, projects, accuses, slanders, destroys, whipsaws, drama addict, sex addict etc….

Instead it’s easier to use the label: spath. ‘nuf said. and you know what to expect.

“Since there are so many behaviors that the spaths can exhibit, it would take to long to say: The person who cheats, lies, manipulates, fakes, projects, accuses, slanders, destroys, whipsaws, drama addict, sex addict etc”.”

So, basically half the disorders in the DSM-IV…. Why don’t we just get rid of therapy and doctors all together and just start executing people who lie and manipulate, because they’re all a bunch of bloody sociopaths…..

one/joy_step_at_a_time

circus:
‘Why don’t we just get rid of therapy and doctors all together and just start executing people who lie and manipulate, because they’re all a bunch of bloody sociopaths”.. ‘

nope, that would have to be: The person who repeatedly and unendingly cheats, lies, manipulates, fakes, projects, accuses, slanders, destroys, whipsaws, dramatizes, abuses, cons, gaslights, lacks empathy, lacks conscience, etc.

Circus:

Yeah, that sounds like a great idea! I would love to execute all of the liars and manipulators!

Behindblueeyes,

your comment that this was NOT A “SELF EVALUATION’ is not quite right me thinks, since HE ANSWERED THE QUESTIONS about how he would respond, of course it is a SELF evaluation.

A non self evaluation would be someone else answering those questions after OBSERVING HIM.

Many of these so called “evaluations” are nothing valid either, so don’t rely on what HE SAYS ABOUT HIMSELF in answering these 100,000 (hundred thousand) questions.

My perspective is that some sociopaths mask their disfunction so well, very few mental health professionals would correctly label them as such.

I bet my x-spath’s friends simply view him as a nice quiet guy who has simply been “unlucky” with love.

Ox;

Good point but since so many questions were answered, its hard to believe he could consistently fake answers. In addition, the results are so “unattractive” one would think that somebody might change some answers to appear more “attractive” on what is supposed to be a serious dating site, not one merely for sexual hookups.

I once mentioned to a friend that what I learned online about the x-spath was so shocking, it was hard for me to believe it was the same person. My friend’s reply was “maybe the online person is the real person.”

All this fits the portrait of a sociopath. Lack of meaningful insight into oneself and lack of shame…

You knocked it down to … I’d say an eighth of the DSM-IV.

Paranoid schizophrenia during psychotic episodes.
Bipolar disorder during manic or hypomanic episodes.
Borderline personality disorder.
Histrionic personality disorder.
Narcissistic personality disorder.
Antisocial personality disorder.
Schizoid personality disorder.
Alcohol/Substance abuse.
Sadism.
ADHD.
Conduct disorder.
Oppositional defiance disorder.
Kleptomania.
Pathological gambling.
Intermittent Explosive Disorder.
Pyromania.
PTSD.
Teenagers.
6-year-olds.

All of these disorders have similar symptoms to all or some of what you’ve described.

Circus- my suggestion is since you love sociopaths so much why don’t you go out there and reuse one. Fall madly in love! Hell he can take your money, lie, cheat, beat you and break you down to the complete core! You can spare some poor woman at leaste a little time before he strikes again! Until then spare me the ungrad psych bs. Read the article on LF by real drs since you think we are all so full of shit!

What is the fascination about with the DSM on lovefraud today? It’s getting as old as the baseball game I’m watching.

The articles I’ve read are written by real doctors. Most of them were written by Dr. Hare. And where in God’s name did you get the notion that I’m defending psychopaths? I’m not. At all. They do horrible things, and people should stay away from them. I’m defending people who have treatable disorders and are often accused of being sociopaths or psychopaths.

BBE Do you know for sure if your xspath has friends? Longterm friends?

Coping Thanx for that chuckle now I can go to bed…gnite

Circus-I didn’t say you were defending anybody. I’m just talking about the fact that this is a support blog and it’s not psychology class and it’s making me tired, and a little bored.

Elizabeth. I never said you did. I was referring to Coping’s statement.

Hens;

Yes, he has friends. I met too of them, both of whom he has known for 5 years plus. I also know of some others.

TBH, I am a bit jealous as since most of my long-term gay friends have moved elsewhere, as have I, he has a larger circle of local gay friends than I. However, on the straight side I have more, as my bicycling activities were primarily with straights.

one/joy_step_at_a_time

i emailed the master gardener.

good night folks….don’t let the spathbugs bite.

I know-I’m just tired

Hens;

I once saw a picture of him and the two friends I met. Both are 5 years younger than him, seems like OK guys. In this one picture, he carefully photoshopped the picture so that he looked much younger than them. Very telling…

Goodnight ya’ll. My Cardinals will win without me. I’m fading fast and I gotta go give flu shots in the morning. I HATE giving shots. They totally freak me out-I guess it’s the needles!

I went to nursing school so I could stick sharp metal objects into people’s flesh and get paid for doing so, at least that’s what my late husband used to tell people I did. He also used to tell people I was a test pilot….when they’d ask who I flew for, he’d say Cincinnati Broom Company!

I’m gonna get me a sign for my garden that says that! Gonna plant garlic tomorrow too! It keeps vampires away! G’nite!

ogd it. again with the NPD w/spath tendencies. never do what they say. always drama and hissy fit. sooo predictable.

Rock this town, let’s rock this town tonight. Rock rock rock til the broad day light. Yes, i’m gonna rock rock, rock it all night long…. (jiggling my wobbly bits) whew. (end with bump and grind… and rock is what what… I… do. ROCK! T.Q. T.Q very much….

While agreeing Ronson’s book missed an opportunity to go more in-depth about Hare’s insights regarding ‘paths in our society and the inevitable ‘trail of tears’ left behind, Ronson’s less clinical definition of the PCL-R traits were very helpful for me. Having struggled with trying to identify my ex’s conduct as it relates to the Checklist, Ronson’s lay explanations for items such as “Irresponsible” helped me grasp Hare’s intent and confirmed my suspicions my ex is a psychopath. I’m very careful not to label… I am not a professional in the field of mental health.

It’s a shame no one interviewed Hare for the fabulous 2010 documentary, “Inside Job.” His analysis of the key players in our financial meltdown would have been a wonderful edition to the movie. Irresponsible, charming and superficial, lies with ease, no compassion or empathy, sense of entitlement, etc. Having had to deal with my ex for more than three years in numerous and frivolous court battles, it is my unprofessional opinion many attorney’s and judges, (AKA attorneys) have some degree of this personality disorder. Circus’ comment many ‘paths enjoy philosophy, and thus, logic is right on.

Few professionals are better trained at using logic than lawyers. Hell with the facts—it’s how you fashion your argument which wins or loses a case in our court system — or in Congress (more attorneys). Using logic, along with a tad bit of corruption, unethical conduct and outright lies — yet another trait 😉 — is seemingly the only way to ‘win’ in this world. Sad state of affairs.

Occupy the whole damn country! Time to stop the insanity.

Peace and Justice, Jenni

Unfuck the world~!

The more I learn about P/N/S/A the more I am coming to the conclusion that this personality (disorder) is a SURVIVAL STRATEGY.
As an example . . there are sharks and dolphins. Sharks eat people,
the dolphins don’t. We can’t say that the sharks have a disorder. Through years of evolution, this is how they evolved.
I believe some humans evolved by being honest, loving, caring, and others evolved by cheating, lying, and having no compassion. This is what worked for them.
So if you’re an honest, loving, and compassionate person, the only power you have against the “sharks”, is to “run like hell and don’t look back”.
“Sharks” can’t/won’t change, and WE can’t/won’t change.
It is a part of our DNA created & refined through generations of surviving “a la Darwin”.
And further . . (I hate to say it) . . . IMHO P/N/S/A it is NOT a disorder . . . any more than killer sharks, pit bulls, or tarantulas have a disorder.

Thank you, Sarah! How insightful. I don’t agree with you entirely, but I like that you’re not calling them evil, vile monsters and suggesting we kill and torment them. I do think psychopathy and ASPD especially are disorders. Low-anxious psychopathy might be a step in evolution, considering a lot of successful psychopaths end up in board rooms. But, in the end, it is detrimental to society as a whole. So, regardless of whether or not it’s a step in evolution or a disorder, we should at least try to change their behaviour. Yeah, they can’t grow a conscience or develop empathy. They weren’t born that way. But there’s no reason they can’t abide by our rules and still seek jobs that fit their personality. And there’s no reason they can’t seek out “partners” who are only interested in sex like they are. Hare had a similar idea for treatment for psychopaths, as did Doren. If only more people knew about these treatments, it would spare the rest of us a lot of pain, instead of writing them off as monsters and saying they can’t be helped and that we should just kill them all. That’s never going to happen… Because it isn’t moral. Sad that I would have to remind people that killing someone isn’t moral…

I do think antisocials and high-anxious psychopaths are disordered, because they don’t usually like who they are and they experience a lot of suffering themselves. And those conditions seem to be learned (nurture, not nature), rather than a genetic trait.

I agree with ya Sarah, that is why we call them predator’s….survival of the fittest, eat or be eaten, they will rule the world someday…..
The meek shall inherit the earth? BS….
I dont want to be anything like them, but I carry a big ass stick and look out for myself more so than I used to.

Hens;

At least we can take humor in watching a whole camp of sociopaths implode over the “question” of Mormonism!

Hens:

Me, too!!! I don’t mess with people’s BS anymore.

Sarah,
you are right that psychopathy is a survival strategy – for a child or other powerless people. Emotional manipulations are what children do as infants to get taken care of: charm, pity and rage.

The spath is simply an emotionally arrested human being, someone who did NOT evolve.

Human beings are different than most animals because we are extremely adaptable. We don’t just evolve as a species, we evolve as individuals as we progress toward adulthood. The spath is someone who stops evolving in the emotional centers of the brain. They cannot adapt themselves to society so they desperately try to manipulate others to adapt to them. That is what worked for them as infants and that is the strategy that they will continue to use. Your analogy of them as sharks is also correct, in that the shark is a species that has not evolved in hundreds of thousands of years. It’s still the same as it was and it’s still a vicious predator.

Hi Circus,
Scientific research is leaning towards P/S/N/A as well as other personality characteristics (i.e., shyness & agressiveness etc) being INHERITED.
That is also my personal experience. i.e., That these personality characteristics are inherited . . Just as physical characteristics such as colored blindness, height, eye color, and baldness.
PS. My psychopathic son is a clone of his father & his father’s mother…
however, I brought him up (almost exclusively). He didn’t learn compassion, love, kindness from me & my parents. He is genetically aggressive, a bully, a liar, mean spirited and very exploitative in the same way as his genetic father (with whom he had minimal contact). The similarities are BEYOND freaky.
Tiny Monarch butterflies, fly 3,000 miles to a location, where it had NEVER BEEN OR SEEN. Everybody agrees that, “that is genetic”! It wasn’t taught, told, or given directions. It is the genius, magic, and awesomeness of nature (i.e. genetics).

“The spath is simply an emotionally arrested human being”

Skylar;

Interesting comment as it is 100% applicable to my x-spath, at least from what I learned online about. Conversely, his mask to me presented a normal adult image. His only hint at immaturity to me was his clothing style, which seemed very teen-age for a person in his mid-30s.

Only online did I see the full extent of his immaturity — very juvenile, sex and party focused profiles. And his FB profile picture that triggers me, one taken hours before we met — in it, he is sticking out his tongue.

BBE,
I know what you mean. My spath put on a cloak of adulthood in the world at large. At home, he would go thru phases of walking around the house with no clothes on except a tee-shirt and eating cheerios… who does that? a two-year old.

I think you are being very kind called them child-like. I think it’s more that because they are Narcissistic, they are unaware, of other people, society, and what is appropriate. Since, in their minds, they are the ONLY ones that exist, they don’t naturally censor their behavior.
In a crowd though (or to people they want to impress), they LEARN to censor their behavior somewhat, temporarily, in order to get what they want, and make a good impression.

Skylar;

In one online profile mine actually said something like “I have given up a grown-up job to travel the world working for an airline…”

Sarah999;

You point is well-taken too. For whatever reason, my x-spath’s Narcissistic view of himself appears to be that of an early 20s gay “boy.” Probably did him well for a while too in terms of filling his stated hobbies of “boys, beers and fooling around.”

Hard for him to do now at 38, given his crow’s feet and other pronounced facial lines. The beach, booze cigarettes and lord knows what else are catching up with him…

Justice and Sarah,

Good points both of you! Thanks for sharing!

Skylar, whatever “arrests” their development in learning to love, feeling remorse, empathy etc. it does appear that they are in some ways “stuck” at that egocentric emotional stage, which a two year old is “normal developmental behavior.” What they are NOT stuck in is the ability to MANIPULATE and FAKE the appropriate adult emotional responses. A two year old many wish to manipulate but they are not successful, like the young kid in the cookie jar, and the parent HEARS the kid moving the lid and says “Johnny are you in the cookie jar?” from the other room and the kid can’t comprehend that daddy could HEAR the jar lid clink and KNOW he was in the jar, so he LIES “Oh, no daddy” thinking he can get away with it because how could daddy possibly know he was lying? The thing is that in many ways the psychopath doesn’t realize that their lies are UN-believable, but other times they can be quite convincing.

Some are more successful at manipulation and lying and end up in the White House or the Governor’s mansion, or congress or the senate or as dictator….but it doesn’t make them any nicer people, only that they have evolved better camo to mask their true predatory selves.

Yep BBE,
and mine said, “I shouldn’t have to work, I should just play and people should give me money so I can just play.”

At the time, I thought he was saying that he enjoyed the creative aspect of work and that a job that required creativity was what he was looking for.

LOL! My spath could have shown up with a severed head and I would have made the excuse that he obviously was trying to return it to its rightful owner.
😛

Sarah,
I believe that the childish behavior is narcissism, as you say, but to me, narcissism is simply a childish attitude of seeing the world from an ego centric perspective, just as we all did when we were infants. When the spath walked around eating cheerios, he was simply regressing to his true nature.

Sarah and Justice,

Good points both of you! Thanks for sharing!

Skylar, whatever “arrests” their development in learning to love, feeling remorse, empathy etc. it does appear that they are in some ways “stuck” at that egocentric emotional stage, which a two year old is “normal developmental behavior.” What they are NOT stuck in is the ability to MANIPULATE and FAKE the appropriate adult emotional responses. A two year old many wish to manipulate but they are not successful, like the young kid in the cookie jar, and the parent HEARS the kid moving the lid and says “Johnny are you in the cookie jar?” from the other room and the kid can’t comprehend that daddy could HEAR the jar lid clink and KNOW he was in the jar, so he LIES “Oh, no daddy” thinking he can get away with it because how could daddy possibly know he was lying? The thing is that in many ways the psychopath doesn’t realize that their lies are UN-believable, but other times they can be quite convincing.

Some are more successful at manipulation and lying and end up in the White House or the Governor’s mansion, or congress or the senate or as dictator….but it doesn’t make them any nicer people, only that they have evolved better camo to mask their true predatory selves.

Yep Oxy,
nature did not intend for grown adults to continue with infantile emotions, because it makes them too dangerous to society to have so much power and no responsibility.

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