When Articles About Psychopathy Go Wrong
Here we are, back again with the same author as post number one. This is another article about psychopathy that she deemed herself informed enough to write, and again, she was incorrect about that, so let’s get into it.
Can Psychopaths Feel Emotions
How shallow affect presents in individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder
Good lord, we aren’t even in the article yet, and we are already wrong. Psychopathy has nothing to do with ASPD. Again, you can read about this here:
It would be super great if we could stop conflating these things. It is completely inaccurate to do so.
Psychopathy is a personality disorder that presents with bold, disinhibited, and meanness traits, as well as characteristics such as rebellious nonconformity, blame externalization, shallow affect, and manipulativeness.
Shallow affect is an important factor in psychopathy, which is described as a ‘significant reduction in appropriate emotional responses to situations and events’ (APA, n.d.). In accordance with this, psychopaths show significantly less affect-related activity which was observed in fMRI (Kiehl, et al, 2001). Due to this emotional under arousal, psychopaths have often been described as having an incapacity to fall in love.
Let me see, psychopathy is not a personality disorder. People that think that this is the case need to get out of the psychology departments and start looking at the neuroscience side of things.
The quote from Kent Kiehl is on point. Not surprising as he actually has met a psychopath or two in his life. However, he only studies criminals and uses the PCL-R as his screening tool, and we all know from the previous posts that the PCL-R has massive problems with it, which makes his information often only applicable to people with ASPD, but not psychopaths. People with ASPD are a dime a dozen, and psychopaths are very rare. We make up about one percent of the population, and antisocial psychopaths are the exception, not the rule. I spoke about my thoughts regarding Kent Kiehl here:
While I may initially have dismissed him, he has his merits. She then goes on to try to define love. This should be interesting:
What is love though?
Some studies examine the parallels between attachment and addiction showing that there are significant overlaps between these processes (Burkett & Young, 2012, Fisher et al., 2010). After a break-up, we all go through withdrawal, so can we claim love is a form of addiction?
Interestingly, even though substance abuse and psychopathy are highly co-morbid, evidence suggests that psychopaths do not experience withdrawal and craving (Cope et. al., 2014), at least not to the same extent normal people do. This again confirms the existence of shallow affect showing that psychopaths’ addiction does not have a strong emotional component.
…that… that didn’t define love at all though. I mean, not even a little. Psychopaths can’t be addicted to things, and we also can’t bond. They are actually two different functions in the brain, and they aren’t related.
Genetic factors - Recent research has found that psychopaths have variants of an oxytocin receptor gene and the gene for the serotonin reuptake transporter (SERT). The SERT variant is particularly interesting to me, because the long variant is associated with psychopathic traits, while the short variant is associated with anxiety disorders and autism spectrum disorder. So a contextual interpretation suggests that the short SERT variant codes for high fear/defensive behaviors, and the long SERT variant codes for the exact opposite - fearlessness.
Similarly, understanding the functionality of the oxytocin receptor variant common in psychopaths might lead to a viable treatment for opioid addiction (to which psychopaths are immune).
The reason for a lack of addiction is low frontal lobe activity, and the reason for not feeling love is the mutated oxytocin receptor not allowing oxytocin to bing. No oxytocin, no chemical love. Given that chemical love is how many NTs define “love”, meaning the woo-hoo feelings of falling in love, and the bonding, and the fact that all of that is related to oxytocin, no, psychopaths do not feel love, but it has nothing to do with our immunity to addiction, that is something else entirely.
There is, however, cognitive love, and investment, which are discussed here:
Addressing this portion:
“Interestingly, even though substance abuse and psychopathy are highly co-morbid”
once again, psychopathy studies are riddled with people that qualify for a diagnosis of ASPD, not psychopathy, and are only done in prisons, so substance abuse is common. This is what I would refer to as a polluted cohort, which makes study results moot.
So what can psychopaths feel?
Contrary to popular perception, psychopaths can feel a range of emotions. Someone with shallow affect is in a neutral and unemotional state most of the time but events, especially negative ones, can still trigger an emotional reaction for them. And it’s not a case where the person is not able to feel certain emotions but more that their emotions are short-lived and not very intense. Psychopaths are capable of feeling fear and anxiety but it tends to be more of a physical reaction they would feel in their stomach and not something long-lasting. Most of their feelings are experienced as thoughts only. In other words, they would feel anxiety in the form of paranoia and hypervigilance but they are rarely “emotionally” anxious.
“And it’s not a case where the person is not able to feel certain emotions”
Yes, psychopaths can feel a range of emotions, but many are missing I spoke about this here:
This paragraph is exactly the same as the one in the previous post of hers that I debunked. If you would like to read said debunking, the link is here:
Now she uses an example that is so widely used, and so incorrect, everyone’s favorite not a psychopath, Ted Bundy:
An interesting example is Ted Bundy, a well-known serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous women. During his interviews, although he was only willing to discuss his murders in the third person, he did admit to feeling guilt for 3 months after his first victim. He also spoke about how he wanted to stop and tried to only sexually assault one of his victims but then killed her by accident. These show that psychopaths might not be as emotionless as we think, even though, their emotions are indeed very shallow. For a normal person, murdering someone would likely be accompanied by years and years of feeling guilt and remorse, whereas someone with antisocial personality disorder can only experience these emotions for a much shortened period.
This just gets tiresome to debunk, and seriously people need to get past this serial killer=psychopath nonsense. It is factually incorrect, most serial killers are neurotypical, and on top of that, Bundy was decidedly not psychopathic. I went through this here:
Bundy was a malignant narcissist, not a psychopath. Again, NPD and psychopathy can never be comorbid. The people who claim that they can be, do not have two working brain cells to rub together, or apparently, the ability to read. Using Bundy in an article about psychopathy demonstrates two things:
You have not bothered actually researching serial killers
You have not bothered actually researching psychopaths.
Neither of those is a good look when writing an article about psychopathy, and including a long-debunked trope about Bundy being one.
Why do psychopaths deny their emotions?
Ted Bundy, the same person who spoke about feeling guilt, claimed that he was the most ‘cold-hearted son of a bitch’ one can ever meet. He also said he feels sorry for people who feel guilt and remorse.
Good lord, again?
Psychopaths do not deny their emotions. The author just has no idea what psychopathy is, so she has drawn both erroneous and laughable conclusions about it through the eyes of neurotypicals that clearly demonstrate the limitations of empathy. If you do not understand someone because you cannot relate to them, emotional empathy fails. Exhibit one-four? The articles this author writes.
Ted Bundy was not a psychopath, so stating anything about psychopaths with him as your example is incorrect and disinformation.
What is the truth then? Is he incapable of feeling these emotions after all?
The answer is a mix of both. Psychopaths have a lower capacity for remorse but it is not true that they cannot feel it at all. Due to the nature of their disorder, psychopaths are preoccupied with not showing any weaknesses or vulnerabilities. They perceive the world as hostile and abusive and emotions such as empathy, guilt, and remorse are weaknesses they believe people will try to use against them to manipulate or subjugate them. As a result, they always present a façade of invulnerability and hide emotions they consider weak.
Three problems with this particular passage.
The wording: “What is the truth then? Is he incapable of feeling these emotions after all?”
She is again using Bundy as her example and extrapolating it to actual psychopaths. He was not, let me again reiterate, a psychopath, so anything said about him regarding psychopathy is incorrect. It could be correct if she had applied this to malignant narcissists, but even then it would be unfair. An MNPD individual that is also a serial killer is not the norm. Trying to draw conclusions about MNPD by using a person that is both MNPD and a serial killer would be an inaccurate representation. You would have to find people that did not have serial killing comorbid with MNPD, and research them. The introduction of the serial killing habit changes the overall picture rather dramatically.
This is again, a word-for-word paragraph from the previous article that I debunked. She doesn’t write new information, she regurgitates the same thing over and over. I do this on Quora, but the reasoning is quite different. I do so because I am asked the same questions repeatedly, sometimes the same one several times a day. I could just pass on them and not answer, but then people who have incorrect perceptions about psychopathy (an example would be this author) will write answers full of disinformation. That is a common problem, and it is one I seek to curtail. This author does not have that excuse. She is not psychopathic, she does not understand psychopaths in the slightest, and instead of researching psychopathy through a critical eye and not repeating the same nonsense that has long been debunked, she instead writes short articles, and reuses incorrect information from previous ones. There is no excuse for that, and demonstrates an abject lack of research.
The paragraph itself has nothing in it that is correct. That is a big problem. She didn’t try to hit the target, and is so far off factual information it is surprising.
It must be noted that a reader questioned her conclusions in the comment section:
Psychopathology and Antisocial Personality Disorder are two completely different mental health disorders. Yes, they both belong to the “Cluster B” group in the DSM V, but are definitely not interchangeable, and quite the opposite, in fact.
You do the public, and those who have mental health problems a disservice by presenting them as such.
Your article has many, many issues. Are you a psychiatrist? Did you consult a specialist?
I appreciate this topic is of a macabre interest to many and might help bring you readers, but if you are going to write about mental health, you should get your article reviewed.
This subject, unfortunately, is often written about erroneously, so you’re definitely not the only one-but I feel it my duty to let you know there are many issues. I’m sure it’s scintillating stuff for readers, but it’s not based on fact, no matter that you linked some articles at the end. Where in your work are they referenced?
If its purpose is for entertainment and maybe some inspiration for writers, that’s fine, but it does still perpetuate many myths involving people with specific “illnesses”. It is not factually correct. If you would like to make it so, I have resources and can direct you to them. If not, you need to qualify it as such.
She replied to this well-crafted criticism with this:
Disagreed. Some researchers believe they are different disorders — some don’t. A lot of this stuff is just theory anyway — psychology is not a science. There will always be disagreements when talking about human nature.
Also, there is no psychopathy diagnosis anywhere. There is a psychopathy checklist but that is used for risk assessment, not as a diagnosis. The diagnostic label for psychopathy is Antisocial Personality Disorder. The problem is lots of people who are not psychopaths but commit crimes are given the label. I think they need to put a stop to that as opposed to trying to separate psychopathy as a different disorder.
I am finishing off my MSc, going on to do a PhD in the field. You do not need to be a psychiatrist to write about mental health disorders. Actually, lots of psychologists and psychiatrists never come across anyone with ASPD in their lives— you’d have to work in a forensic setting to have the chance to meet people diagnosed with it.
We have talked about the DSM previously, and how it not addressing psychopathy has no value on its existence. It is not a psychological problem, it is a neurological difference. it not being in the DSM has no bearing on the reality of it. Also, you can be diagnosed as a psychopath, and in fact, they diagnose people with it all the time.
This brings us to the most interesting part of her response, which is:
“The diagnostic label for psychopathy is Antisocial Personality Disorder. The problem is lots of people who are not psychopaths but commit crimes are given the label. I think they need to put a stop to that as opposed to trying to separate psychopathy as a different disorder.”
This is true, but she doesn’t make a cogent argument for what change she thinks should happen. She wants them to stop identifying people wrongly as psychopathic. Well, on that we can agree, but in order to make that argument, that some people are given that label that are not actually psychopathic, she is making the very argument she then tries to say is incorrect.
If people are wrongly labeled psychopathic (and again, I agree that this happens all the time) then she is acknowledging that there is such a thing as a psychopath, and it is different than what people think it is. I agree with that as well. We will separate in agreement from this point on because I am well aware that in one of her other articles she attempts to define pro-social psychopaths as those that are serial killers.
I know, I know, it’s a completely illogical argument that completely ignores the research of the people that use that term, such as Kevin Dutton, and James Fallon. We will also separate because of what she stated next:
“I am finishing off my MSc, going on to do a PhD in the field. You do not need to be a psychiatrist to write about mental health disorders. Actually, lots of psychologists and psychiatrists never come across anyone with ASPD in their lives— you’d have to work in a forensic setting to have the chance to meet people diagnosed with it.”
“I am finishing off my MSc, going on to do a PhD in the field.”
If that is the case, then you need to actually buckle down and learn what you are talking about before writing about it.
“You do not need to be a psychiatrist to write about mental health disorders.”
Psychopathy is not a mental disorder.
You do not need to be a psychologist or psychiatrist to write about things. However, you do at least need to know what you are talking about. This person clearly does not, and therefore should refrain from speaking about what she has no education in.
“Actually, lots of psychologists and psychiatrists never come across anyone with ASPD in their lives— you’d have to work in a forensic setting to have the chance to meet people diagnosed with it.”
Actually, this is incorrect. Most do meet them, and several times in their lives. Most psychopaths are very good at blending in and looking like everyone else. It isn’t that they never meet a psychopath, it is that they will never know it.
It doesn’t help that most of them are very poorly educated on psychopathy. They believe the same nonsense that is in these articles. Psychopathy research is a very specialized field and it is difficult to not find people that aren’t suckling on Hare’s teat and using his ridiculous checklist to admit people into their trials.
All and all, this is not a good defense of her own work. It just underlines the problems with people that decide to be armchair experts. As the commenter noted, she did not consult an expert, she is not educated in this subject even slightly, and her article is so erroneous that I would label it misinformation, but as she refused to hear the criticism, and didn’t ask for clarification about how her information might be wrong, it moves into the territory of disinformation.
Quite unfortunate. Another for the long list of terrible articles about psychopathy.