Common Misconceptions About Psychopathy

I’m sure most people nowadays have heard of the term ‘psychopathy’ or ‘sociopathy’ and associate it with a certain image. Popular movies such as Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho or even shows like Sherlock or Dexter portray murderous, dangerous and highly intelligent individuals. But how accurately has the media formed our general idea of psychopathy?

1. Psychopathy Is Not A Diagnosis

The words ‘psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ are often associated with individuals that display traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Both terms are in fact not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the guidebook for the diagnosis of mental illness in the United States. Therefore, despite their common use, they are not professionally recognized and are not used for psychiatric diagnosis. Instead, they can be seen as informal and are used in the Criminal Justice System.

2. Psychopaths Feel No Emotions

A common trait associated with ASPD is related to emotions, or rather lack thereof. While the intensity and variety of feelings experienced by individuals diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder are lesser, this does not mean that they are non-existent. In fact, symptoms observed by specialists for a diagnosis include irritability and aggression. In fact, they are very well capable of experiencing a wide range of other emotions, including sadness and anger. The difference to individuals without the personality disorder lies in the attendance and experience of said emotions.  To round it up, ASPD is not to be associated with a complete absence of emotional responsiveness.

3. The Killer Within

Characters such as Hannibal Lecter let ASPD appear synonymous with cold-blooded serial killers or dangerous madmen. However, in reality an individual with psychopathic tendancies is not inherently prone to violence or dangerous crime. In fact, the dominant traits of the disorder are manipulation, selfishness and lack of empathy. Violence does not define psychopathy, it can however be a consequence of the core features. In many cases, people with ASPD/psychopatic traits use their manipulative traits and charming nature to achieve success in the business world. Popular career paths include sales, law and media – not serial killing. What should be taken into consideration should be that the prevalent disorder believed to be linked to serial killers is Antisocial Personality Disorder. To round it up, not all psychopaths are serial killers, most serial killers have psychopathic tendancies.

Studies suggest that around 3% of men and 1% of women are diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder and and estimate of 5% of the population possess psychopathic tendancies. Therefore, this mental condition is not as uncommon as many would think,  This is precisely why it is important not to think that there are emotionless predators lurking around each corner, just seeking new victims to kill (and in Hannibals case – consume). Just like psychopaths have a talent for manipulation, media has done the same by dramatizing the condition for the sake of entertainment.

Vicky x

(Photo credit: NBC’s Hannibal) 

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