Nearly all of the research into sociopathy has involved evaluating the personality traits of adult men in prison. The reason for this is that researchers have easy access to adult prisoners and more prisoners are male. Think about it—how else would a researcher find sociopaths to study? The problem with studying sociopathy in male prisoners is that we learn nothing about sociopaths who never get arrested. We also don’t know if the research results apply to women.
There is actually very little research data available regarding sociopathy in non-criminals and in women. The little research that has been done reveals that sociopathy in women entails two or three main features that are similar to those found in men. Namely, female sociopaths lack empathy and enjoy manipulating and exploiting others. Violent and impulsive behavior is less common in sociopathic women. This fact may make them more dangerous, as they more easily blend in with the rest of society.
The key traits of sociopathic females
A recent study of adolescent girls in detention performed by Crystal L. Schrum, M.A. and Randall T. Salekin, Ph.D. of the University of Alabama and reported in Behavioral Sciences and the Law, revealed the core qualities that best described young female sociopaths. The teens were callous and lacked empathy, had a grandiose sense of self worth and were conning and manipulative. They were also likely to engage in impersonal sexual relationships. Importantly, the researchers revealed that female sociopaths did not necessarily have “shallow emotions.” Again the lack of impulsivity and shallow emotions may make a female sociopath more difficult to spot.
Please read the true Lovefraud story of Michelle Drake. Notice that female sociopaths victimize other women as well as men. This vignette illustrates many of the core qualities of a female sociopath. As I read this case, I was painfully reminded of the male sociopath who was once part of my life; so perhaps the similarities between male and female sociopaths are more important than the differences. What struck me about the story is the elaborate con she perpetrated for really very little money. This case illustrates something truly amazing about sociopaths—the degree to which they derive pleasure from conning others. Their hoaxes are often outlandish and grandiose.
A friend of mine, who was once in law enforcement, says that conning is the sociopath’s profession and that that he/she may not even do it for the money. Conning is instead the work they have a passion for. As my friend says, “When a sociopath wakes up and opens his eyes in the morning, it’s show time!” I can envision Michelle saying that to herself as she donned the fake pregnancy costume.
The public and the courts are sympathetic toward female sociopaths
The case of Michelle Drake also illustrates something else about female sociopaths. The courts are more likely to go easy on them. This attitude of the courts may reflect the fact that many people excuse the behavior of female sociopaths and feel sorry for them. Look at the cases of women in the news lately. We don’t know if the women involved are sociopaths, however, these cases do illustrate the double standard that exists in how we judge female as opposed to male antisocial behavior. Several women teachers have been found guilty of sexually exploiting students. They were treated very leniently for the same crimes that would have put a man in jail for many years.
The NASA astronaut arrested for attempted murder is another example of the way people treat women differently and don’t take their crimes seriously. This week, a restaurant owner in Florida held a benefit night to raise money for the astronaut’s family. News commentators have been quick to voice sympathy for the astronaut, yet I have not heard a one express sympathy for the victim. I remind you that it is alleged that the astronaut sprayed her victim with mace and planned to kill her.
In conclusion, sociopathy is less common in women. Women who are sociopaths may not appear as shallow as men who are sociopaths. They are also less angry and impulsive compared to men. Although violence is less commonly perpetrated by women, if you are the victim, these statistics don’t matter.