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Examples and Samples

Essay Sample on Psychopathy

This paper discusses the role of Psychopathy Checklist Revised in providing an insight to the level of psychopathy in an individual. It first dissects the meaning of psychopathy and dissects what it entails. Upon giving a broad discussion of a comprehensive meaning of psychopathy, the piece goes ahead to give the link between psychopathy and crime. It settles on the life of Paul Kenneth Bernardo, an example of a psychopath whose life defines psychopathy at its best. The Canadian serial killer sent a wave of terror across the country through his cruel rapes, sexual assaults and murders. The serial killer worked together with his wife, Karla Homolka to terrorize the country, more so in the township of Scarborough. It gives the scale reading of Psychopathy Checklist Revised of Bernardo and concludes that as much as PCL-R gives exciting and sometimes believable insights on the level of psychopathy of an individual, it does not give a true picture of what a criminal is able to do with the few traits of psychopathy portrayed.
Psychologists have described psychopathy as either personality disorder or an aspect of personality that is characterized by endurance of antisocial and dissocial behavior. Psychopaths have limited capacity to be remorseful or show empathy. They also exhibit fearless dominance and poor behavioral controls. According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, psychopaths have the essential feature of antisocial personality disorder. They have a pervasive pattern of disregarding and violating the rights of other people (Association of American Psychologists, 2012). This behavior begins from childhood and sometimes adulthood, and progresses into a constant conduct in adulthood. The pattern has been referred to by other stakeholders in the field of psychology as Dissocial Personality Disorder or sociopath.
Researchers have linked several factors to the frequency of occurrence of psychopaths. There is the concept of childhood and adolescent precursors that may have influence on how a person views life and other people’s feelings (Fredrich, 2011). Conduct disorder diagnoses one with symptoms similar to ASPD. Onset of psychopathy at childhood is said to be as a result of neurological deficit in the child’s interaction with the environment. It is a life-course-persistent behavior that makes a child a psychopath and instills the mindset of criminality in a child at an early stage. Environment in which a child grows also determines his level of psychopathy (Kirk, 2007). Research by Fellington on a sample of male London residents revealed that children with convicted mothers or fathers or both, low involvement with the boy form the father, low family income, physical neglect of the boy and those coming from disrupted families had higher chances of being psychopaths.. According to research, other factors that lead to the personality disorder include harsh discipline, poor supervision, large family size depressed mother, young mother, delinquent sibling, poor housing and low social class in general.
Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) provides a tool for discerning the degree of psychopathy in an individual. The psychological assessment tool is used to scale the psychopathy levels. For this assessment, the PCL-R used includes a 12-item inventory of recorded behaviors and perceived personality traits intended to be completed based on semi structured interviews of the person whose level of psychopathy is in question. The inventory could also get its character traits from official records in the event that the interviewed is not cooperative (Longstaff, 2010). The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised comprises a manual, a scoring form, a rating booklet and interview guides. The test is specifically meant to be undertaken by a suitably qualified and experienced health professional under licensed and scientifically controlled and standardized conditions. This is because the results of this test often mean a lot to the tested person’s future (McLeod, 2012).
The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised is used to indicate a categorical diagnosis or a dimensional score of psychopathy for legal, research or clinical purposes. A mental health professional rates the level of an individual psychopathy using a list of 12 items. Each of the 12 items on the PCL-R is measured against a 3-point scale in accordance with specific criteria through semi structured interview and file information. Value 0 is applied to those traits and items that do not apply to the patient or person under study (Psychology, Theories of Art, and Cultural Naratives, 2000). If the trait somewhat applies, it is assigned the value 1. If it fully exhibits itself on the person being studied, the testing professional assigns the value 2 to the trait. Other than examining the criminal and lifestyle behavior of the person, PCL-R also tests glib and superficial charm, need for stimulation, cunning and manipulation, callousness, lack of remorse, pathological lying and grandiosity. Additionally, the framework gives information on the tested individual’s poor behavioral controls, irresponsibility, denial, impulsiveness and failure to take responsibility for his actions. The results of the test are useful in determining future criminal prospects of the tested and possibility of rehabilitation.
The PCL-R used in this assessment has two categories.Categories 1 and 2 provide a summary of the 12 character traits evaluated via factor analysis. The previous versions of PCL-R listed 2 factors named chronically unstable factors and antisocial and socially deviant lifestyles. There is little likelihood of rehabilitation of conversion of people diagnosed as psychopaths under the PCL-R criteria (Jan, Mitho, Bhatti, & Ghulam, 2012).
Psychopathy Checklist Revised factors, items and facets are divided into factor 1, factor 2 and other factors. Factor 1 outlines the interpersonal traits of the person being tested. These include the glib/ superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulation or conning and grandiose of self-worth (Gus, 2012). It also outlines traits considered affective. These are lack of remorse and guilt, callous or lack of empathy, emotional shallowness and failure for one to accept responsibility for his or her actions and be held accountable. Factor 2 lays out lifestyle traits including impulsivity of the individual, his or her irresponsibility, and lack of realistic, long-term goals, parasitic lifestyle and proneness to boredom that calls for frequent need for stimulation. Facet four presents traits that portray an individual’s degree of socialism or antisocial pointers. They include criminal versatility, revocation of conditional release, and early display of behavioral problems, juvenile delinquency and poor behavioral controls (Gee, 1995).
In the view of a research conducted by Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory, psychopathy has an immense relationship with criminality. In an analysis of simple correlation, PCL-R score of averagely 22.1 has been prevalent in North American prisoner samples. Prisoners who score higher in the PCL-R scale have worse criminal records. They are frequent offenders and have done more callous crimes than those with lower PCL-R score (Kietzman, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Sylvester, 2009). The study also found out that high scores of psychopathy according to the scale had correlations with repeated imprisonment, discipline infractions, detention in high security facilities and substance abuse.
As a measure of PCL-R scale within institutional settings, psychopathy has moderate to medium effects on meta-analysis on institutional misbehavior, post release violent crimes and other post release crimes. Other studies not pegged on PCL-R reveal similar outcomes as those postulated by psychopathy rating on criminality of individuals. Although the PCL-R scheme is good at predicting offenses, especially concerned with violence, it is poor at predicting sexually related crimes (Kirk, 2007). There is little correlation between psychopathy and sexual crimes. However, the higher the rating of one’s psychopathy an individual exhibits on the PCL-R scale, the higher his chances of involving in violent crimes.
As traits of psychopaths dictate, they have no remorse or empathy to their victim’s feelings. Research on the brain functioning of a psychopath has shown that the psychopaths only do not see the pain in their victims. They lack the capacity to place themselves in the victim’s shoes. Their lifestyles of proneness to boredom that calls for frequent stimulation of what they perform makes them economically unproductive and hence opt to engage in illegal acquisition of resources to survive (Gee, 1995). This is made worse by their irresponsibility, lack of long term and realistic goals for their lives and impulsivity. If they do not get anywhere to live comfortable, parasitic lives, phsychopaths become criminals to keep alive. Their lack of socially-acceptable behavior puts them at risky position and often finds themselves labeled as criminals by those who cannot condone their behaviors.
Paul Kenneth Bernardo is an example of a psychopath whose life defines psychopathy at its best. The Canadian serial killer sent a wave of terror across the country for his cruel rapes, sexual assaults and murders. The serial killer worked together with his wife, Karla Homolka to terrorize the country, especially in the township of Scarborough (Gee, 1995). Psychopathy of Paul Kenneth Bernardo most probably began at childhood. Kenneth, his father was abusive to his mother and his children. Paul Kenneth Bernardo’s father conducted embarrassing things that may have had a negative impact on the young boy. The father fondled a girl in 1975 and was charged in the federal courts for child molestation. He raped Paul Kenneth Bernardo’s sister, all these sinking into the young Bernardo’s memory and making him a cruel creature. His mother detached herself from family life and lived in solitude in the family house basement.
Such a stressful life of Paul Kenneth Bernardo caused complex trauma, and he grew up to be one of the worst psychopaths of his time. In a book, Lethal Marriage, the author, Nick Pron reports that the young Bernardo was always happy (Fredrich, 2011). He was a young boy who smiled a lot. The author reports that Bernardo had cute dimples that made his face smiley all the time. At school, he was the perfect child every parent wished to have. This must have been a defensive mechanism and lack of empathy the young Bernardo had developed against problems that had gone out of hand back at home. Unlike his siblings who were totally shaken by the family turmoil they had, Bernardo was calm.
Using the PCL-R scale below, Bernardo’s psychopathy level is found to be 25

Factor 1 (Affective/Interpersonal Symptoms

Item 1: Glib and Superficial…………………………………… 0 1 2
Presentation is shallow and difficult to believe 0
Display of emotions do not appear genuine 0
Attempts to portray self in a positive light 2
Tell unlikely stories; has convincing explanations for behavior 0
Uses technical language and jargon, often inappropriately 0
Conversation and interpersonal behaviour are engaging 1

Item 2: Egocentric and Grandiose…………………………… 0 1 2
View of abilities and self worth are inflated 1
Self-assured and opinionated 0
Exaggerates status and reputation 0
Considers circumstances to be result of bad luck 0
Sees self as the victim of the system 0
Displays little concern for the future 1

Item 3: Lack of Remorse/Guilt…..…………………………… 0 1 2
Appears to have no capacity for guilt/no conscience 1
Verbalizes remorse in an insincere manner 1
Displays little emotion to actions 2
Does not appreciate impact on others 2
Concerned more with own suffering than with that of others 2

Item 4: Lack of Empathy……………………………………… 0 1 2
Cold and callous 2
Indifferent to the feelings of others 2
Unable to appreciate the emotional consequences of others 2

Item 5: Deceitful and Manipulative…………………………… 0 1 2
Manipulates without concern for the rights of others 0
Distorts the truth 0
Deceives with self-assurance and with no apparent anxiety 0
A fraud artist or con man 0
Enjoys deceiving others 0

Item 6: Shallow Emotions………..…………………………… 0 1 2
Expressed emotions are shallow and labile (change spontaneously) 0
Verbal and non-verbal expressions of emotion are inconsistent 0

Factor 2 (Behavioral/Social Deviance Symptoms

Item 7: Impulsive……………….…………………………… 0 1 2
Does things on the “spur of the moment” (including crimes); spends little time considering the consequences of actions 0
Frequently changes jobs, schools, or relationships
A drifter; lives a nomadic lifestyle with frequent changes of residence 0

Item 8: Poor Behavioral Controls..………………………… 0 1 2
Easily angered or frustrated, especially when drinking 0
Often verbally abusive (swears, makes threats) 0
Often physically abusive (breaks or throws objects; pushes, slaps, or punches people)
Abuse may be sudden and unprovoked 1
Outbursts are often short-lived 0

Item 9: Need for Excitement….…………………………… 0 1 2
Easily bored; has difficulty doing things that require sustained attention 0
Likes to do things that are exciting, risky, and dangerous 0

Item 10: Lack of Responsibility……………………………… 0 1 2
Behavior frequently causes hardship to others or puts them at risk 1
Unreliable as a spouse or parent; lacks commitment to relationships, fails to care adequate for children; etc. 0
Job performance is inadequate; is frequently late, absent, etc., 0
Untrustworthy with money; has been in trouble for defaulting on loans, not paying bills, not paying child support 0

Item 11: Early Behavior Problems.………………………… 0 1 2
Conduct problems at home and at school as an adolescent 0
In trouble with the law as a youth/minor 1
Antisocial activities were varied and frequent 0

Item 12: Adult Anti-social Behavior………………………… 0 1 2
Disregards rules and regulations; has had legal problems as an adult 0
Has been charged with or convicted of criminal offences 1
Antisocial activities are varied and frequent 0

Bernardo’s psychopathy displayed itself in callousness and lack of empathy. Although the man married only once, and was not reported to have other short-term marriages, he had a craving for sex that psychologists have a problem explaining its cause. He conducted a series of rapes and attempted rapes from May 4th 1987 to May 26th 1990 without being caught (American Life and Society Organization, 2009). He inflicted as much, brutal pain as he could on his victims. He stabbed, killed and inflicted all sorts of pain including biting the victims before escaping. He was not sensitive to anyone’s feelings, and this began from the moment her mother revealed to him his real biological father at an age of 16 ((AMCIS), Americas Conference on Psychological Systems, 2009). He called her names like ‘whore’ and this extended to his adult life.
On average, Paul Kenneth Bernardo does not exhibit most of the 12 character traits considered to portray the highest degree of psychopathy. According to an analysis on the PCL-R scale, he scores 25, a score that should not raise alarming concerns over one’s psychopathy. However, the degree of harm that the serial rapist and killer created sent ripples of apprehension on every parent and girl in the township. As much as PCL-R scale provides helpful insights to the level of psychopathy in anyone’s life, it does not reveal the real capability of a person based on the few traits he possesses.


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