The Mystery of Psychopathy

Canadian Dr. Robert Hare has had an international influence on the discipline of psychology and the analysis of criminal behavior for over four decades.

Beginning in the 1960’s at the University of British Columbia, Hare began evaluating inmates to test his theory that criminal behavior was not exclusively related to a person’s environment or upbringing.

The prevailing psychological opinion had been that criminals were made and not born.

Hare’s research revealed that certain individuals had no conscience, no empathy, no remorse, superficial charm, manipulative behavior including pathological deception and lying, and a significant deficit in their emotional IQ. He argued that these personality traits were ingrained in a person, just like their intelligence quotient.

One of Hare’s proteges later discovered that criminals diagnosed as psychopaths (also called sociopaths) were more likely to reoffend than those who had not received that diagnosis.

Based on his findings, Hare devised a test called Psychopathy Checklist, Revised that could be administered to determine if an individual displayed the traits of a sociopath. Today, that test is a key component of America’s criminal justice system and Dr. Hare receives modest royalties when the test is used.

A controversy over Dr. Hare’s testing arose in 2007 when several research psychologists from the University of California and Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland submitted a paper for publication to the American Psychological Association (APA) that criticized Dr. Hare’s focus on criminality and psychopathy.

Drs. Skeem and Cooke opined that Dr. Hare’s focus on criminality was obscuring a broader construct of psychopathy that focused on impulsivity, recklessness and deceitfulness that did not include violence or criminality.

Dr. Hare threatened to sue Drs. Skeem and Cooke for misconstruing his psychological theory which delayed publication of their article until June of 2010, when it finally appeared in print, together with a rebuttal from Dr. Hare and a response from Drs. Skeem and Cooke.

Nonetheless, in the United States it is commonplace for parole boards to administer Dr. Hare’s test to inmates seeking parole and to utilize it in sentencing decisions including death penalty cases.

Dr. Hare’s contribution to his field is extraordinary and in 2010 he was awarded the Order of Canada for his achievements.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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