By | June 10, 2013 12 Comments

What’s new in psychopathy research

Last week, many of the world’s top psychopathy researchers gathered in Washington, D.C., for the biennial conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy. I’m an associate member of the organization, so I attended as well.

The scientists presented the newest, most cutting-edge research in the field with 60 oral presentations and 100 posters. I contributed two posters based on the data collected from you, the Lovefraud readers.

Impressions of research

At the conference, it was obvious that there are many very bright people trying to unravel the mysteries of the psychopathic personality disorder. Some of the topics discussed included:

Origin of the disorder: The experts are settled on the idea that the seeds of psychopathy are genetic, and that environmental influences, including parenting, determine whether the disorder actually takes hold in particular individuals.

Parental warmth: Researchers indicated that when a child is at risk for becoming psychopathic, the best thing parents can do to help the child develop empathy and a conscience is to be warm and loving with the child. This can be difficult when the kids are acting out, but punishment does not work. An important technique is to maintain eye contact with the child, because many potentially disordered children avoid eye contact.

Brain research: Several researchers presented evidence indicating that the brains of psychopaths are physically different from those of people who are not disordered. Plus, other research indicated that there are differences in the way psychopathic brains process information.

Development of the disorder: Researchers presented information that shows adolescence is often a critical time, when the disorder either develops or dissipates in a young person. Although I didn’t hear anyone say this, I infer that adolescence may be the last chance to divert a person from becoming a full-blown psychopath.

Fast talkers: Stephen D. Benning, from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, presented research on how psychopaths talk. He discovered that people high in psychopathic traits tend to cram more words into their conversation, and because of this they seem more convincing and create a positive impression on observers.

Novel approaches to treatment

One of the most interesting sessions for me was about novel approaches for treating youth and adult psychopaths.

In a presentation called Brain self-regulation in criminal psychopaths, researchers at Eberhard Karls University in Germany described how they were able to teach diagnosed psychopaths to regulate impulses in their own brains, which led to improved behavior.

Another study was A randomized controlled trial of Omega-3 supplementation in youth with callous-unemotional traits. As the title suggests, at-risk children were given fish oil supplements, with a control group receiving sunflower oil placebos. The researchers found that both groups of children improved.

This was attributed to the “placebo effect,” which is well known in medical literature. Essentially, because people believe they are being treated, they get better, even though they are not receiving any real medication. The kids and/or their parents thought they were being treated, and the belief enabled their behavior to change.

Lovefraud research

The researchers described above all gave 15-minute presentations about their work. In addition to that, 100 more studies were presented in poster fashion. That means researchers created posters summarizing the key points of their research, along with relevant charts and graphs. I presented two posters, called In Love With an Exploiter, based on the 2011 Lovefraud Romantic Partner Survey, which many of you completed.

When I conducted the Internet survey, I asked respondents to rate partners according to the criteria proposed in the first draft of the DSM-5 and answer questions about the experience, including harm suffered. Analyzing the data, I discovered two interesting phenomena, which I reported at the conference:

Sexual deception correlates with increased harm to romantic partners

One of the questions I asked in the survey was, “Did the individual lie about his/her sexual orientation?” Of all survey respondents, 81.5% said the individual was truthful about sexual orientation, and 18.5% reported that they lied.

Analyzing these two groups separately—data about putative sociopathic individuals who told the truth about their sexual orientation vs. those who lied—showed that sexual deception correlated with increased harm suffered by the romantic partner. On almost every measure, individuals who were sexually deceptive displayed more antisocial traits, more antisocial behavior, and caused more harm to their romantic partners, than those who were not sexually deceptive.

The results were particularly striking when comparing sexually deceptive vs. not sexually deceptive in regards to physical violence and sexual demands: Victims reported more physical abuse or injury (46% vs. 33%). They reported having their lives threatened more often (49% vs. 30%). They reported more pets injured or killed (23% vs. 12%). They reported more cheating (87% vs. 72%). And they reported uncomfortable sexual demands (53% vs. 37%).

How age affects the harm experienced by romantic partners

In another analysis of the survey data, respondents were divided into two groups—those who were involved in youthful relationships, where both parties were between the ages of 14 and 30 when they met, and those relationships were both parties were age 31 or older.

Respondents of both age groups reported two of the top characteristics of antisocial personality disorder, manipulativeness and callousness, at similar rates. However, all other traits—deceitfulness, narcissism, irresponsibility, impulsivity, aggression, hostility and recklessness—were reported at higher rates among the younger individuals.

Comparing the youthful vs. mature involvements: Victims reported more physical abuse or injury (54% vs. 29%). They reported having their lives threatened more often (42% vs. 28%). There were more reports of the putative antisocial individual threatening suicide (31% vs. 17%). And the victims themselves more often considered suicide (46% vs. 34%). In regards to financial harm, the youthful victims more often lost their homes (36% vs. 23%), lost their jobs (31% vs. 24%) and incurred debt (69% vs. 56%).

Future directions

Just about every presentation ended with the researchers talking about “future directions” what else needs to be researched.

My suggestion to the SSSP would be to do more research that can have direct impact on what goes on in the real world. The work being done on treating potentially disordered children, I felt, was particularly important. Anything that can be done to help kids not grow up to be exploiters is good for society.

I’d also like to see research on what happens to victims of psychopaths and how people like Lovefraud readers can be helped. None of the main sessions addressed this topic at all.


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It’s really interesting that at risk children seem to avoid eye contact, but when they become adults they have this intense eye contact. The predatory stare. I wonder if the kids who won’t look people in they eye grow up and get over it, or if there are two different types of psychopaths regarding this behavior.

There’s something that I’m beginning to wonder now,as I read these reports,as well as think back on the things my in-laws would tell me about my husband growing up.I actually started thinking about it as a result of a conversation with a friend.I mentioned to her that when we were growing up,we never heard of ADD and ADHD.Both cause behavior problems,and often are seen even in adulthood.

Our youngest daughter was never actually diagnosed as ADHD,but her pediatrician felt from all the signs,she was.We didn’t go through all the testing,as it would have required alot of time~~~but the main reason was that I didn’t want her to be medicated due to such a diagnosis.I decided instead to work with her.To make sure I had her attention when talking to her;and that she understood what I was saying,she was always to make eye contact with me.Then she had to repeat what I said.Before she started school,I taught her shapes,colors,etc.Once she started school,I read with her,and she did her homework in front of me.I attended all parent-teacher conf.She started out shaky in school,but it wasn’t long before she was doing great!I mentioned in a much earlier post,that I spent time with my girls~something my husband missed out on because both parents worked.


Eye contact is a cultural thing.. I dont believe that crap about many potentially disordered children do not maintain eye contact . I work with various ethnic groups native american children rarely give eye contact.. abused children do not give eye contact dosent mean they turn out to be sociopaths… Shy children avoid eye contact children with social anxiety avoid eye contact as I did and still do sometimes I especially avoid eye contact now as an adult with any one I get the feeling is not genuine like the narcissists around especially if I work with any .. its too vague … many situations people avoid eye contact… just sayin


Thanks for sharing Donna! Seems like everything you have been sharing with us is finally becoming a greater conversation in the world! Hurray!

I think I am most bothered with the lack of follow up on the victims of psychopathy abuse. Perhaps this is the greater challenge understanding all the different types of “fall out” that occur and how to understand the types of treatment that can heal their victims.

I will continue to do my part sharing the information.

Thank you Donna!

My son was indeed diagnosed with ADHD as a small child. He was in the first grade. Interestingly, he could look you in the eye if HE instigated the conversation, but would look away when he was spoken to. There was a basic instinct to engage when it suited his needs, and disengage when it did not.

People thought he was shy, but it had more of a defying and manipulating quality of forcing folks to engage with him his way. I don’t think it’s surprising that a disordered person will alter their eye contact based on their goal.

Unfortunately, by the time a disorder child reaches adolescence, they may have become extremely oppositional and defiant. My little angel had been booted out of 3 schools by then. The uproar they cause is not the sort of thing that one can simply tiptoe diplomatically around with gentility and words of endearment. Hugging your adolescent who is spitting, threatening, bullying and screaming at you is hardly practical. Anyone who thinks it is has not raised a child with this disorder.

No one would see anything overtly peculiar in the way either my son or his father looks at them. But I’d be surprised if they’d both score less than 30s by Dr. Hare’s system of analysis.

I was on the train yesterday with a father and his two children. The younger boy, around 4 years old was in a rage when he walked into the car. His father tried to coax him to sit down and he hurled himself at him with both fists swinging and his little foot trying to kick the man in his shins. Everyone watched silently as the father patiently withstood the child’s meltdown, maintaining his composure. The boy also went after his brother and the father stepped in between. It became a game to the little boy of how much his father was going to put up with before he put his foot down. Eventually, the child got tired of the sport and sat down with his video game which blew up the victims for him to succeed.

I wondered whether the father had even a clue that his son could be a psychopath in the making.


Thank you Donna for going to these things and for sharing what you hear. I’m glad that there are people out there that are interested in finding out the causes, the physical mainifestations etc. But you are right on about not doing much about the victims of these people.

I was raised by a sociapath, then I married one and had 2 children with him. His father left his mom while she was visiting family in another state. He called and told her not to come home, he was leaving her for the neighbor lady next door with 4 kids. So, of his 3 sons, 2 turned out to be sociopaths. I married the oldest one. He cheated on me the whole time we were married(5 years) and always managed to fast talk his way out of everything. He made me think I was crazy for ever doubting him. I found out the truth about him after he left me for someone, she called me and realized that he had lied to her about everything. She found our divorce decree and realized that we hadn’t been divorced for a year, just a month. She married him anyway, and said he’d never cheat on her, right! He did, they had a daughter, they divorced. But they kept on getting back together and breaking up. They did that dance until he died of brain cancer 2 years ago. His 2nd ex-wife put up a facebook page in his honor. She called him the love of her life. She did mention all of his children ,3 girls, they were together for the first time in their adult lives in their dad’s hospital room. He told them he loved them all and died a week later.

So, of the daugthers I had with him, the oldest showed sociopatheic tendancies from a young age. I didn’t know what they were back then, but looking back with what I now know, I see it very clearly. I was very loving and affectionate with her. I spent alot of time teaching her about values, honesty, love for her Creator and others. She started telling “stories” at 4 years of age. I would talk to her about what is the truth and what is a lie. The lies continued on into teenage years, she basically did whatever she wanted no matter what I said. She did it right under my nose. She was very good at manipulating and charming people to do what she wanted. She always had free cell phone service, and other gifts from guys that she would charm. I worried about her night and day, she always said, “As soon as I turn 18, I’m out of here” She was. She got herself into a world of trouble. She lied to and stole from her grand parents, her sister, her aunt, her great grandmother and her great aunt. I kept telling them all not to trust her, but no one would believe me until something happened.

The final terrible thing she did to her great grandmother and great aunt, she managed to open a credit card in my dead uncles name and charged $10,000.00 of hotels, booze and cigarettes with her boyfriend before the credit card company called my aunt. She knew it was my daughter because the phone number for the account was a cell phone that my aunt and grandmother had gotten for her. She pretended to help her great grandmother by taking care of some things around the house. Her g.g. would give her $4 or $5 worth of change everday for driving over to her house. My daughter got hold of her bank card and got away with $6000.00 before my aunt and grandma caught on to her. The bank refused to replace it because they said my grandma had given her permission. So my 87 yr. old grandmother was out $6000.00. When confronted with this, my daughter said over the phone that she was sorry, and would write a letter of apology to my grandmother. She never did, my daughter left the state and didn’t contact me for years. She kept in contact with my sociopathic so called mother, they are very much alike.

She continued on a bad course, got involved with who knows what out there. She knew I was the only one that could tell when she was lying. I learned how to read her father, and I could read her.

Fast forward 9 years, and she is now married to a man that lost his wife and was left with 2 young children. She married him and she has my first grandchild. They live in another state and we have little contact. She is still in contact with my sociopathiic mother. They are visiting family (his is in same state as hers) and I contacted her to tell her that I want to have a relationship with my grandaughter. She said she wants her to daughter to have that.

She tells me(through emails) that the person she was is dead. She is saved and she just wants peace in her life. So do I. The only fly in the ointment is that I choose to no longer have a personal relationship with my so called mother. We found out in the last 3 years what she has really been up to for the past 50 or 60 years. She was always a cheater, and a liar. My dad was the perfect patsy for her. He stays with her because he is too old to change things now. My daughter was upset when I told her about her grandmother cheating on her grandfather and a list of other horrible things. But now, all is forgiven, as Christians we are supposed to forgive. I do forgive my mother, but I also can choose to protect myself and my family from her. So my daughter stays at her grandmother’s house when they come to visit. I asked my daughter and her family to come to my house so I could meet my grand child. I told my daughter that we can just be cordial to each other. My other 2 children want nothing to do with their sister, and I don’t blame them. So it’s just me and my husband. It was so wonderful to see my grand babies, do I trust her? No, but I will allow her to be at my home with the children until they are old enough to stay here without her. I hope for her husbands sake that she really has changed. The report above from Donna gives me hope. I was very loving and kind to her and tried to teach her empathy. She seems to be a good mother. Time will tell.

I wish I could go to some of these conferences and share my life long trials with sociopaths. The crazy peices of my life finally fit together now that I know about sociopaths, my childhood finally makes sense. I have worked very hard to stop the madness. To not let it go on for another generation. My grandaughter is very strong willed and as I was enjoying my first visit with her, I couldn’t help but look for any sign of trouble. I watched for things like things like, did she make eye contact? Yes. Would she let me hug her, not so much, she wants to be down and crawling . I hope she will be ok and not carry on the legacy of her grand father and great grandmother. I know for sure that there is a genetic component, I don’t need any studies to show me that. But I do hope that a nurturing environment can stop the formation of a future sociopath. I am praying that is true!!! Thank you again Donna and all the rest of you on this sight, it’s the best thing I’ve found for us all to help deal with the real life issues.


Thanks a lot, Donna! In a way, it makes the whole experience less personal and hurtful to know that there is a biological basis for the reptile’s behaviour, he does not purposely do it only to me…really grateful for all you do, actually I was most inspired by how you took matters in your own hands and taught your ex-husband a lesson.. most other people talk of not avenging anything, and while that maybe great in theory, it just does not allow you to move forward, either in logistics or psychologically… wish you all the best in your endeavours..


Donna, I am very grateful that you go to these types of conferences and share what we WE say is happening to us. That adds a facet that many researchers never receive in their research. You are making a difference in the way they think and research for years to come.

Several things caught my attention. One was a correlation with ADHD. I have a couple people in my family, and one was treated with medication and one was treated as I think jm stated. Given more personal attention, talked to about the way the world works, etc. Of the two, the one that was given a bunch of medications from a young age for OCD and ADHD has a lot more personal problems. His father was a sociopath, so the genetic factor was there. But, he was the one more like his mother (my sister) until they began stuffing him full of medication. I often wonder if there is more of a problem of giving too much medication to kids (which the schools often demand) who might need more stimulation and creativity in their lives instead.

I also was interested in the results of Donna’s sexual information. My sociopath gave me hints that he had gay or bi-sexual tendencies. I was told a story that made me feel he was a victim or there were other things I thought he was joking or being silly. IE: sexual same sex victim: He was drunk at a party at 17 and a teacher gave him oral sex. He told me about it and I told him that the teacher had taken advantage of him. He said, “It was OK, I guess. My ex-wife got turned on by it.” I thought, “That’s odd.” I talked to my counselor about it and she said that because his father was cold and distant (according from what I could figure out from him), he may have been looking for a father figure and the teacher swooped in. I also found it strange that a man who usually stuck to adventure, mysteries and slasher (like that shouldn’t be a warning) films told me one day that he had seen a great movie called “To Wong Foo. Thanks for Everything….” I tried to watch the movie which is about drag queens and I didn’t see the greatness in it. The therapist told me to ask him if he was gay and he said, “No,” so I didn’t think about it again and tried to have what I thought was a special relationship with him. He showed indications of cheating with women during that time, but I did not have proof. He also asked for a type of sex I didn’t feel comfortable with and had not ever had a straight man ask me for that type of sex.

Fast forward 10 years, when we are together again, he is pouring on the love bombing because he wants to live on my property and be off the radar. I had simply asked him if he wanted to live here. I no longer felt attracted to him, and needed a lodger. He said he did want to live here again, but worked hard to make the relationship more than that….for a couple of months. He was a wreck. His career was a wreck. He had a heart attack. He lost a kidney to cancer. He was really just old and needed a final resting place before death. That’s what I know now. He knew good old fightforwhatsright would take him in for money and then become a caregiver. Fine, needed the money. He overpays. BUT, he had drawn me back in with love bombing. I thought, “I’m in love with him again.” I would share my concerns about old behaviors and he would tell me he “wasn’t that person any more” and he loved me.

I did an internet search. The guy had gotten old and lost his touch. He gave me a password. I began an extensive search and found several emails (he has a very unusual name so it was easy) and found the truth. One had a ton of drag queens as friends. He had written a post that he liked to “play” and he had a wonderful girlfriend who let him play as long as she got to play, too! This was the woman who he had been with through our entire first “relationship” without my ever knowing anything about her. She had been his boss at a temp job. I found emails to and from her. So, I was able to contact her anonymously stating that he wanted to move back in with me and I wanted to know the truth about whether or not he had cheated on me with her. I “compliment bombed” her first and it sucked her right in, so I know how easy it is! I had learned from a sociopath! I told her how young she looked and how much younger than me she was. She was younger, but not up to my caliber in any way. It was like a stab to the heart, but I wanted him to move in to my rental and make the money off of him without having to deal with any more strangers…too many of those have been sociopaths also.

I questioned him about the drag queen “friends” on line. I had also found that he was visiting drag queen porn sites when I was able to trace his online usage on some accounts that maintain that history. He told me that he thought it was “funny” to watch drag queens having sex and he had only looked at that stuff when he was drunk. I wanted to believe it, but I began to detach at that point and just look forward to making more money when he moved in next door.

He moves in and two weeks later, the withdrawal begins, the name calling when asked a simple question about why the relationship changed, all of the begging for love from someone who can’t love because he is a sociopath. Wah! Wah! Wah! from me and him acting superior and telling me I’m pathetic.

Fast forward two years. I am making good money with him as my lodger. He has no access to me, or my home unless I allow it. It is a lot easier than with a stranger because if I need repairs done, I’m not bothering anyone who is officially a “tenant.” I’m just bothering a sociopath to get repairs done! The begging and pleading for attention and empathy is now gone. After a year of that, I began to try to find out what I was dealing with. I began with narcissism and worked my way to anti-social personality disorder and sociopath.

At first, it is devastating. But, now I know it is him. He is a problem. I have a lodger and money and we live separately and every time I visit this website and keep reading my books about these people, I get stronger and stronger. The truth is everything.

The part of this article I found most interesting was the possibility of “self regulating” for sociopaths. I can see my spath doing that. He has no other choice now. He is old, sick, has no transportation, has to give me most of his pension for rent and food and transportation. He’s on a walker. He is headed for a second leg surgery on a leg shattered by cancer. If I go over to talk with him, I can walk out if he does anything I don’t want to put up with. He now calls to apologize quickly because there are consequences. Who will go get his groceries? He now knows he is stuck. He has two options left in life. He can go to VA temp housing and then Section 8 housing and pay more for what he gets here (meaning less groceries and he is a food addict) or he can “self regulate” and get what he wants and what he can afford by living here. I have someone to talk to in an emergency who will respond decently most of the time now. I don’t need love or compliments from a pathetic sociopath any more. He has no other choice now.

I would be curious to know if these “self regulating” sociopaths are all old, sick, and poor now. I think those things are the factors that would have ever made mine self regulate in his words and actions towards me. I stay in this situation because of money and I have truly drawn boundaries that he can’t cross. IE: No knocking on my door. Call first. He still comes over on his walker and knocks. But, I never answer, so that is lessening because he finds that he walks through the heat on a walker in pain and he could have called from air conditioning, so that trick is ending. All he could possibly have left are his online shenanigans. And I just don’t care any more. But, that is what happens when we get old. Survival becomes more important than love for me or tricks from him. Survival becomes more important for victims and sociopaths alike maybe.


It sounds to me like the research is tying to avoid reality and fix what cannot be fixed. How did the professionals go from “It cannot be cured” to “Maybe it can be prevented”. I know hope springs eternal; mine did for 40 years. I first had the hope that the psychopath father of my children would change; now I hope my children are not like him but I know they are. I did not know what a psychopath was when I married him but I found out soon enouth that he was dangerous and I tried to protect my children from him. I devoted my life to being a good mother, limiting their contact with him and hiding their dad’s psychopathic dirty secrets from them. And they are both psychopaths, just like their dad.

I still try to deny it but their behavior refutes my denial. I am constantly confronted with my children’s lies, deceit, irresponsibility, lack of generalized learning and my grandchildren are bing medicated for ADHD”but aren’t all children medicated for ADHD in this day and age? See, I still have hope for my grandchildren.

I guess it is hard for the experts to give up hope but I do not believe there is any hope. I did my best to give my children the love of both mother and father, I gave them unconditional love and taught them my honesty, empathy and responsibility but it did not take. They lie, manipulate and use others. I failed with my children and I was doomed from the start by thier sperm-donor’s genes.

I still love my children. I cannot not love them. I still hope that they will wake up from a bad dream and that my grandchildren will survive and thrive but I fear for them all. I do not claim that I was a perfect mother, but I did everything these professionals suggest as a preventative to psychopahy and it did not work. It was born into them and my efforts were futile. All I can say is maybe they would be worse if I had not tried to lead them to love, honesty, empathy, understanding and responsibility. I suspect they could be worse.

But now they say I love them too much, I enmesh them, I feel enough for everyone, I am too controling. According to them, I was a perfect mother when they were growing up but now I am too emotional, too angry and too controlling. I suppose it seems that way to them. As I watch them become more and more like their dad, I cannot hide my fear and disaproval. They say I will not let them be who they are and perhaps they are right. They could have been anyone they wanted to be except psychopaths like their dad. I cannot condone that.

Before the psychopath decided to come back into their lives it seemed ok”they had psychopathic traits but were still loving and caring. They are now his targets, all of my efforts are undermined and they think I am the villain. Maybe I am. I just could not continue the charade with him active in our lives again after 30 years. He imposed himslf on them and tried use them to impose himself on me again. I was forced to tell them the truth to save myself and they do not want to know the truth.



I am sorry to hear about the pain you’ve endured. I hear you when you say you feel there is no hope. I don’t think there is hope for victims who still have them in our lives in some way. I am glad the experts are willing to study them as that gives us more information. Thinking of you today and thank you for sharing your many years of abuse to remind us that they don’t change.


My ex spath had the environment to nurture that disorder… holy cow, to a T! His mother would not hug, nor give eye contact… it was so difficult to try to create a relationship with her… she never hugged her kids. I remember asking my ex about growing up without hugs and he said, “thats just not what we did in our home.” My mom told me she thought my ex’s dad was the same as my ex… I did not see that until well into the marriage. Perhaps the gene was there and the environment promoted and developed it… he was angry as a child… signatures in his elementary yearbooks state how he was a fun guy but pissed off all the time or mean, or an asshole… I was shocked to read that after he was removed from my life and really discovered who he is.

Having a background in psychology and social work, maybe someday I would consider venturing into this area for either research or counseling. Not nearly ready yet, perhaps in due time. I enjoy reading Donna’s work, it makes so much sense. Back in the day when I practiced social work, I had one Borderline Personality client… I was only 24 at the time and had a regular upbringing and saw only good in people, and was so easily taken by her… my mentor had to work with me to see what was really going on and maintain appropriate boundaries… her other side eventually came out when she realized she didnt have me. Wow, it can happen even in professional relationships… I guess my disposition in life set me up to be easily taken in my personal life as well. Thanks for sharing the details of the conference…

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