Psychopaths (info and experiences)

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Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Sat Oct 01, 2011 6:49 pm UTC

Edit: the first version of this post didn't reflect the intent of this thread very well. Here's the actual rationale: psychopaths are quite common and can be very deceptive. For 'normal' people, and especially those that are at least somewhat naieve, which is very common, there is a high risk of walking into some nasty situation involving psychopathic behaviour. I hope that those people will be slightly better prepared after reading this thread.

A definition, obtained from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy:
Psychopathy is a mental disorder characterized primarily by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptiveness. Psychopaths are highly prone to antisocial behavior and abusive treatment of others, and are very disproportionately responsible for violent crime. Though lacking empathy and emotional depth, they often manage to pass themselves off as normal people by feigning emotions and lying about their pasts.

Some additional facts:
  • Psychopaths can appear very charming and they are skilled manipulators.
  • They also tend to be reckless and impulsive.
  • About 1% of all people is a psychopath. On top of that there are at least as many people who have psychopathic features.
  • There is a 4% chance that someone in a leading position is a psychopath (i.e. psychopaths are attracted to power and are also relatively successful at getting it).
  • If you are concerned that you might be a psychopath, you are almost certainly not a psychopath.
  • You can't change a psychopath. So far there is no treatment that works. In fact, it is thought that therapy might train psychopaths to deceive people even better.
  • Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is a superset of 'strict' psychopathy as discussed in this feature list. APD is more common.
Some additional links:
Hare psychopathy checklist on Wikipedia
What to expect of psychopaths and how to deal with them
About the psychopathy among bosses

Some related threads on the xkcd forums:
How do people become monsters?
Psycopathy?


Everyone, please contribute whatever you want to contribute (as long as it concerns psychopathy or APD).
Note that if you're having trouble with a psychopath, you'll need professional help.
Last edited by Jplus on Sun Oct 09, 2011 7:37 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby curtis95112 » Sun Oct 02, 2011 11:20 am UTC

I think the best way to combat this is by having an effective legal system so that crime doesn't pay. And good education so that the psychopaths know crime doesn't pay.

Also, if your greatest worry is their manipulativeness, it's not a problem unique to psychopaths. Many non-psychopaths that are otherwise emphatic and ethical will happily get you screwed for money in the name of business. The only way to be safe would be being smart and difficult to manipulate.

Question because I'm sincerely curious: Do you know what motivates psychopaths to commit crimes? They don't generally seem to commit crimes of passion. If they only commit crimes because they think it's the rational thing to do, then they should actually be quite easy to control. But my short search for information doesn't seem to suggest that psychopaths are perfectly rational computers. If they're not doing it for personal gain, and they're not strongly affected by emotions, why do they have such a high rate of crimes?
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby felltir » Sun Oct 02, 2011 11:27 am UTC

Because hurting other people amuses them, I believe.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby sje46 » Sun Oct 02, 2011 12:31 pm UTC

The term is antisocial personality disorder, not "psychopathy".
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby curtis95112 » Sun Oct 02, 2011 12:34 pm UTC

Felltir wrote:Because hurting other people amuses them, I believe.

So persuading them that they will get caught and that the enjoyment is not worth prison time would work?


@sje46
Wikipedia on psychopathy wrote:Until the 1980s, the term formally referred to a personality disorder characterized by the inability to form human attachment[3] and an abnormal lack of empathy, masked by an ability to appear outwardly normal. The publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders third edition (DSM-III) changed the name of this mental disorder to antisocial personality disorder, and also broadened the diagnostic criteria considerably by shifting from clinical inferences to behavioral diagnostic criteria.[4] However, the DSM-V working party is recommending a revision of antisocial personality disorder to include "Antisocial/Psychopathic Type", with the diagnostic criteria having a greater emphasis on character than on behavior.[5] The ICD-10 diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization also lacks psychopathy as a personality disorder. The 1992 manual included dissocial (antisocial) personality disorder, which encompasses amoral, antisocial, asocial, psychopathic, and sociopathic personalities.[6]
Despite being currently unused in diagnostic manuals, psychopathy and related terms such as psychopath are still widely used by mental health professionals and laymen alike. In particular, NATO has funded a series of Advanced Study Institutes on psychopathy, both before and after the publication of DSM-III. Researcher Robert Hare has been a particular champion of the term; his Hare Psychopathy Checklist is the standard tool for differentiating between those with antisocial personality disorder and the subset who are psychopaths. According to this scale the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder is two to three times that of psychopathy.[7]
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Sun Oct 02, 2011 1:36 pm UTC

curtis95112 wrote:I think the best way to combat this is by having an effective legal system so that crime doesn't pay. And good education so that the psychopaths know crime doesn't pay.

Also, if your greatest worry is their manipulativeness, it's not a problem unique to psychopaths. Many non-psychopaths that are otherwise emphatic and ethical will happily get you screwed for money in the name of business. The only way to be safe would be being smart and difficult to manipulate.

Question because I'm sincerely curious: Do you know what motivates psychopaths to commit crimes? They don't generally seem to commit crimes of passion. If they only commit crimes because they think it's the rational thing to do, then they should actually be quite easy to control. But my short search for information doesn't seem to suggest that psychopaths are perfectly rational computers. If they're not doing it for personal gain, and they're not strongly affected by emotions, why do they have such a high rate of crimes?

I think the problem with psychopaths (and probably also other people with antisocial personality disorder (APD)) is that they don't make long-term plans. Crime generally doesn't pay in the long run, but it always does in the short run (whether there is punishment or not). Also, psychopaths have no fear (they are reckless) so you can't just 'scare them off' (a related phenomenon is that they don't seem to feel even slightly troubled if you discover that they're lying, they'll just add another lie on top of it). So unfortunately neither education nor a good legal system will prevent psychopaths from doing bad things.

On top of that, as has been mentioned by Felltir, they actually enjoy manipulating and hurting people. This is a short-term reward. Long-term consequences will not change their minds.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby felltir » Sun Oct 02, 2011 2:11 pm UTC

curtis95112 wrote:
Felltir wrote:Because hurting other people amuses them, I believe.

So persuading them that they will get caught and that the enjoyment is not worth prison time would work?


No, because that's not really a punishment to them. They have no wish to be part of society, so taking them out of it is not a problem for them.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Duban » Sun Oct 02, 2011 2:19 pm UTC

Jplus wrote:
curtis95112 wrote:I think the best way to combat this is by having an effective legal system so that crime doesn't pay. And good education so that the psychopaths know crime doesn't pay.

Also, if your greatest worry is their manipulativeness, it's not a problem unique to psychopaths. Many non-psychopaths that are otherwise emphatic and ethical will happily get you screwed for money in the name of business. The only way to be safe would be being smart and difficult to manipulate.

Question because I'm sincerely curious: Do you know what motivates psychopaths to commit crimes? They don't generally seem to commit crimes of passion. If they only commit crimes because they think it's the rational thing to do, then they should actually be quite easy to control. But my short search for information doesn't seem to suggest that psychopaths are perfectly rational computers. If they're not doing it for personal gain, and they're not strongly affected by emotions, why do they have such a high rate of crimes?

I think the problem with psychopaths (and probably also other people with antisocial personality disorder (APD)) is that they don't make long-term plans. Crime generally doesn't pay in the long run, but it always does in the short run (whether there is punishment or not). Also, psychopaths have no fear (they are reckless) so you can't just 'scare them off' (a related phenomenon is that they don't seem to feel even slightly troubled if you discover that they're lying, they'll just add another lie on top of it). So unfortunately neither education nor a good legal system will prevent psychopaths from doing bad things.

On top of that, as has been mentioned by Felltir, they actually enjoy manipulating and hurting people. This is a short-term reward. Long-term consequences will not change their minds.


Exactly where is this "enjoy hurting people" idea coming from? Psychopathy isn't seeking to hurt others, it's a lack of aversion to hurting others. If a psychopath can get what they want without hurting someone than why would they cause trouble?

At this point I think I’m probably one of them, but don't really care. I'm quite aware that if I could shoot the person to my right there would be nothing stopping the person to my left from shooting me. Similarly if I were lying on the street bleeding to death I would want someone to call an ambulance. So it's in my own best interests to do the same for someone else in that situation. It's not like picking up a phone and calling the police is much of an inconvenience. Also, if you treat others like a jerk they tend to treat you like one, rightfully so.

All and all it's not really a "problem". The best thing you can do is educate people on the consequences of their actions. People, in general, are better off not causing trouble. The vast majority of that 1% isn't a threat to anyone. It's only that few people, that exist in any group, who are short sighted and prone to error that become a problem to society.

TL;DR: If a psychopath can get what he wants without hurting others, he probably won't. It's just the few impulsive ones are the ones who get "noticed" as a psychopath.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Sun Oct 02, 2011 4:35 pm UTC

Why do you think you might be a psychopath?
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sun Oct 02, 2011 5:29 pm UTC

Speaking broadly, the fundamental issue with sociopaths (or, as pointed out, people with Anti-social Personality Disorder) appears to be that they somehow literally lack the capcity to truly feel love, empathy, compassion, etc. There's a certain range and depth of emotion that's missing there for reasons we don't fully understand (although there are certainly theories); they could understand sexual pleasure but not truly loving your partner, for instance. They are utterly selfish. This often leads to a lack of inhibitions in areas that decent human beings will normally have. The majority are not serial killers or anything of the sort, but simply callous; however, there is a certain subset which DOES derive pleasure from lying, manipulating, cheating, hurting, or even torturing other beings.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Oct 02, 2011 5:31 pm UTC

Jplus wrote:I think the problem with psychopaths (and probably also other people with antisocial personality disorder (APD)) is that they don't make long-term plans.

What are you basing this claim on?
Jplus wrote:Also, psychopaths have no fear

They perhaps don't have an emotional reaction to fear, but I understand that most psychopaths meticulously spend their entire lives ensuring that no one will discover their condition.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Duban » Sun Oct 02, 2011 6:12 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Jplus wrote:Also, psychopaths have no fear

They perhaps don't have an emotional reaction to fear, but I understand that most psychopaths meticulously spend their entire lives ensuring that no one will discover their condition.

One can have a rational concern for their own wellbeing, and not be ostracized as different, without falling into the emotional. Also, I'm not sure that counts as part of the disorder. Isn't that true of most people? I'm sure there are a lot more non-psychopaths obsessed with fitting in and appearing normal than there are psychopaths. Psychopaths are just better at hiding it.

Jplus wrote:Why do you think you might be a psychopath?

Well, that's a very hard question to answer without turning it into a rant about how I find the other 99% of humanity to be the crazy ones. Ironically, while that would support the psychopathy conclusion it wouldn't be very constructive.
Last edited by Duban on Sun Oct 16, 2011 2:22 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby jakovasaur » Sun Oct 02, 2011 7:50 pm UTC

Not a lot of citations here, considering this is SB. It makes it difficult to tell who (if anyone) knows what they are talking about, and who is just pulling stuff out of his ass.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby omgryebread » Sun Oct 02, 2011 9:34 pm UTC

Psychopathy isn't used in any diagnostic manual right now. What people call psychopathy falls under antisocial personality disorder. According to the DSM-IV:


Code: Select all
 Antisocial Personality Disorder

A.    There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

(1)    failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest

(2)    deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

(3)    impulsivity or failure to plan ahead

(4)    irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

(5)    reckless disregard for safety of self or others

(6)    consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations

(7)    lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

B.    The individual is at least age 18 years.

C.    There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15 years.

D.    The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.



Selfish aside: Psychosis and Psychopathy are different! I feel empathy when I'm not having an episode, and people with APD don't have hallucinations or delusions. I'm pretty sure most people here knew that, but it gets confused a surprising amount.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Oct 02, 2011 9:38 pm UTC

Duban wrote: Psychopaths are just better at hiding it.

I don't have a citation, as pointed out, but tell me why you think Psychopaths would even bother hiding it if they didn't fear exposure?
Duban wrote:Well, that's a very hard question to answer without turning it into a rant about how I find the other 99% of humanity to be the crazy ones. Ironically, while that would support the psychopathy conclusion it wouldn't be very constructive.

For what it's worth, it sounds like you're a misanthrope, not a psychopath.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby legopelle » Sun Oct 02, 2011 11:29 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:Psychopathy isn't used in any diagnostic manual right now. What people call psychopathy falls under antisocial personality disorder. According to the DSM-IV:


Code: Select all
 Antisocial Personality Disorder

A.    There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

(1)    failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest

(2)    deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

(3)    impulsivity or failure to plan ahead

(4)    irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

(5)    reckless disregard for safety of self or others

(6)    consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations

(7)    lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

B.    The individual is at least age 18 years.

C.    There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15 years.

D.    The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.



Selfish aside: Psychosis and Psychopathy are different! I feel empathy when I'm not having an episode, and people with APD don't have hallucinations or delusions. I'm pretty sure most people here knew that, but it gets confused a surprising amount.

When I read that list, the points apply to me far too accurately. I start questioning myself: I'm a nice person because I'm genuinely nice, or because the actions I do are what I perceive to be the proper ones?

But I think almost everyone show some symptoms to some degree. Maybe I (and other's in this position) shouldn't worry.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:15 am UTC

jakovasaur wrote:Not a lot of citations here, considering this is SB. It makes it difficult to tell who (if anyone) knows what they are talking about, and who is just pulling stuff out of his ass.


Fair enough. I personally was going off of remembered psychology courses/related books, but I'll try to dig up proper citations later.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Vaniver » Mon Oct 03, 2011 3:21 am UTC

Jplus wrote:Today
Hm.

legopelle wrote:When I read that list, the points apply to me far too accurately. I start questioning myself: I'm a nice person because I'm genuinely nice, or because the actions I do are what I perceive to be the proper ones?

But I think almost everyone show some symptoms to some degree. Maybe I (and other's in this position) shouldn't worry.
You shouldn't worry, especially if you've ever felt a desire to make someone else better off. Being tricky is human; not feeling empathy is what defines APD.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Mon Oct 03, 2011 9:14 am UTC

As for psychopaths not making long-term plans and not having fear: I'm quite sure these properties have been mentioned more than once in at least one of the links that I mentioned in the opening post.

On APD: the Hare psychopathy checklist (see opening post) defines psychopathy as a special kind of APD. There is no point in arguing that 'we should call it APD'; these concepts are related but not the same. Whether psychopathy is or should be used in a diagnostic manual (separately from APD) is orthogonal to the possibility of discussing psychopathy in this thread.

Everyone, please inform yourself before making comments which are based on assumptions of 'normal personhood'...

Duban: I still find your alleged psychopathy intriguing. Can you explain why a psychopath would bother to participate in this thread and identify themselves as possibly a psychopath? And can you maybe try to produce your 'rant about the crazy other 99% of all people' in a digestible format? If the 'crazyness of other people' actually frustrates you, that would seem unexpectedly emotional to me...
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby teacupthesauceror » Sun Oct 09, 2011 4:10 pm UTC

Ah, self-diagnosis, the bane of all psychological discussions.

Let's pause for a little anecdot(al evidenc)e. I live in a house of five students, four of whom display an astounding lack of empathy. They wish pain upon others, and would not go out of their way to help another human being. None of them are psychopaths, as they all actually exhibit empathy for animals, or a specific set of human beings. These could be elaborate ruses, sure, but they're really not subtle enough to pull it off.

On the other hand, there is also someone in my acquaintance who manipulates, rationalises immoral acts and then contradicts those rationalisations when they would be unacceptable, and is generally not a nice person most of the time, though the outside world thinks he is. They are also (probably) not a psychopath, since they have a daughter they show real empathy for.

In fact, I know no psychopaths, even though many people around me display various forms of the traits. Odds are, even people with a difficulty in experiencing empathy are not psychopaths, and in fact are more likely to be more rationally inclined, have autistic traits, or simply be arrogant. And if you are a psychopath, congratulations. You'll probably fulfill your basal urges much more effectively, even if you will never know true love.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Oct 09, 2011 4:48 pm UTC

Is this anything like communism back in the 50s? They look just like us, act just like us, even talk just like us--but peel away their skin and you'll discover that they're actually made entirely out of spiders!

Seriously though, this is one of the fundamental problems I have with psychology--you've got a bunch of people trying to diagnose what's apparently a neurological disorder behaviorally. It's rather like trying to figure out what's wrong with a car by listening to it rather than popping the hood. Yeah, you might end up getting it right, but wouldn't it make more sense to actually look at the engine? I'm way more interested in what the neurologists have to say on this subject.
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Aka, 'the psychopaths are going to outbreed us!' I'm very skeptical about this--it sounds like an attempt to create a fresh new boogeyman using lots of credible-sounding pseudo-science.

That's not to say that psychopaths don't necessarily exist--I'll certainly buy that there are people out there with near-zero empathy. But I'm betting that there's a lot of chaff to separate from the wheat.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Sun Oct 09, 2011 7:06 pm UTC

That's a good point -- psychopathy is defined by the behavioural symptoms (as in the Hare checklist: lack of empathy, recklessness, deception, etcetera). It has been linked to the prefrontal cortex being less active, less developed or damaged, which makes sense because that part of the brains is involved in empathy, planning and inhibitions. But there is no 'strict' definition in terms of the cause.

You are also right that we shouldn't be demonizing them, but I felt a warning was in place nonetheless. For 'normal', social persons, and especially the more naieve ones, psychopaths can pose a real threat; even if a psychopath has already shown some deceptive and/or menacing behaviour, it can be hard to imagine (and hence to anticipate) that their behaviour might become worse and that there is not much of a defense except for avoiding the person. Add to this that psychopaths are surprisingly common, and you can figure that most people will be confronted with psychopathic behaviour at least once during their lifetime.

I thought that for those 'friendly', at least somewhat naieve people (which are much more common than psychopaths and lots of which must be browsing the xkcd forums), just knowing a bit more about psychopathy might help a lot to prepare them.
(Now this looks a lot more reasonable than the first paragraph of my opening post, so I should probably edit it.)

As for separating the chaff from the wheat: you are right about that, but it doesn't change anything about the prevalence of psychopathy and psychopathic behaviour. Many people have antisocial or other psychopathy-like features, without being psychopaths. However, 2-3% of all people can be diagnosed as having APD (antisocial personality disorder), among them the 'full psychopaths' as defined by the Hare checklist. The latter constitute about 1% of all people, which is still a lot.
Then of course, not all strongly psychopathic people cause serious trouble. But when they do, it can be quite bad.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Puppyclaws » Sun Oct 09, 2011 9:08 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Seriously though, this is one of the fundamental problems I have with psychology--you've got a bunch of people trying to diagnose what's apparently a neurological disorder behaviorally. It's rather like trying to figure out what's wrong with a car by listening to it rather than popping the hood. Yeah, you might end up getting it right, but wouldn't it make more sense to actually look at the engine? I'm way more interested in what the neurologists have to say on this subject.


Imagine that you are blind. Now re-try your car analogy. That is roughly the problem with neurologists and neurology, at least as it exists today. We know, for a pretty well-established fact, that depression is a problem and that it is linked to suicide. Brain scans are pretty much the least effective and most expensive way of diagnosing depression, and we have no verifiable evidence for how SSRI's- the most widely used and most effective treatment for depression- work in the brain. Our understanding of the brain on the level of disorder is not particularly meaningful, at least not yet. We are not nearly at the point of being able to seriously study criminal activity in terms of neurology. Jplus can talk about lack of activity in the prefrontal cortex, but that is also supposedly behind any number of other disorders; Attention Deficit Disorder, for just one example. I am using the example of depression instead of "psychopathy" because it is one I am familiar with; it has not been my experience that many people in psychology actually talk about "psychopathy." Admittedly, however, forensic psych is not my area of interest.

I think you are right that there is a problem with this conception, and the very idea of "psychopathy" has its critics in the psychology community. See for example http://www.npr.org/2011/05/26/136433233 ... aths?tab=2 and http://mindhacks.com/2010/05/31/psychop ... e-critics/

But, the problem is not that psychology is being used to study this issue. The problem is that the idea of inherent criminality goes against much of what we have found from other research in sociology and psychology, and so it would require some fairly amazing evidence to convince me that this is a real brain-based disorder on the same level as depression.

Also, count me in times a million on what everyone has said on diagnosing yourself a "psychopath," or anything else for that matter. Self-diagnosis is nigh meaningless.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Sun Oct 09, 2011 9:47 pm UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:I think you are right that there is a problem with this conception, and the very idea of "psychopathy" has its critics in the psychology community. See for example http://www.npr.org/2011/05/26/136433233 ... aths?tab=2 and http://mindhacks.com/2010/05/31/psychop ... e-critics/

But, the problem is not that psychology is being used to study this issue. The problem is that the idea of inherent criminality goes against much of what we have found from other research in sociology and psychology, and so it would require some fairly amazing evidence to convince me that this is a real brain-based disorder on the same level as depression.

The idea of psychopathy is not the same as the idea of inherent criminality! Not all psychopaths are criminals (in fact, most aren't) and not all criminals are psychopaths (most aren't). Or at least not according to any of the sources that I've seen so far.

Apart from that, I agree with you that there is a problem with the concept of inherent criminality. Also, there certainly is a danger of confusing psychopathy with inherent criminality. I think your first link clearly explains that danger.

If we return to the set of behavioural symptoms discussed in this thread, which includes lack of empathy, impulsiveness, deception and recklessness, would you believe that set occurs in about 1% of the human population? Would you believe that there is currently no effective way to treat it? Please elaborate.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Puppyclaws » Sun Oct 09, 2011 11:36 pm UTC

You are right; the two ideas seem endlessly bound up in one another to me (after all, it implies that at least some percentage of the time criminal activity has its locus in an in-born matter of brain structure), but I am really equivocating two different concepts. Still, I don't think you can get away from the fact that talking about psychopathy in this manner is going to lead to a view that is both prevalent in society and is also generally agreed upon by most experts to be wrong.

I can't estimate the percentage of the population experiencing those symptoms, but I think that it would be more accurate to say that some people are highly manipulative. An individual who appears to lack empathy may in fact just be lacking empathy for certain people or in certain situations. I look at the DSM definition for Antisocial Personality Disorder and am struck by what looks, to me, like a description of ideas tied up more in culture than in the brain. It is roughly the way that many poor people who are raised in cultures of extreme inequality act towards a society about which they don't care very much, because they feel some mixture of ignored and exploited by it. But that is an aside, sort of.

I keep drifting from your idea of psychopathy, I think because I find it difficult to pin down. Yes, it is difficult for psychologists to treat manipulative people who are likely to lie to them and who may be very good at hiding their lies. However, the notion that psychopaths "hone their skills" on psychologists (ala a problematic episode of The Sopranos) is based on very poor research by the types of criminologists who like to assume their conclusions before proving it. One of the problems here is that there are no real Tony Soprano cases; generally, people who are labeled with this type of "disorder" are steeped in the depths of a culture that is not very conducive to recovery, commonly including prison.

Sure, it's grand that you want to warn others about manipulative people and how they can handle them more effectively. That has its uses and can be helpful. But I think that labeling people as psychopaths (whatever that word entails to you) is not especially helpful. I look at the definition, and at the articles talking about these issues, and there is a disconnect. Reckless and impulsive people do not generally become bosses in corporate structures, and if they do they do not maintain those positions very long. The idea that psychopaths are successful at getting power suggests to me that either a) this definition is bogus, or b) in fact we are talking about two different things. Because manipulative people are successful at getting power, are attracted to power, and are not very nice to be around. BUT, they are calculating, they plan, and they do not make reckless decisions-- that is how they obtain and hold onto power. I feel that calling this psychopathy is a poor label. And it is worth noting that we cannot read other people's intentions; a lot of people behave in seemingly antisocial ways, but they justify these actions to themselves for any number of reasons. These types of people are most certainly influenced by treatment in therapy.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Vaniver » Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:11 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:we have no verifiable evidence for how SSRI's- the most widely used and most effective treatment for depression- work in the brain.
I suspect that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors selecitively inhibit the reuptake of serotonin.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Angua » Mon Oct 10, 2011 7:33 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Puppyclaws wrote:we have no verifiable evidence for how SSRI's- the most widely used and most effective treatment for depression- work in the brain.
I suspect that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors selecitively inhibit the reuptake of serotonin.

Really? How shocking.

Now tell me whether or not that treats depression by having more serotonin in the synapses (all serotonin synapses, or just some of them?) leading to you immediately feeling happier, or whether or not it's because they somehow lead to enhanced neuronal growth in the hippocampus leading to different connections which eventually make you feel happier, or if it's something entirely different (ie some other subtle downstream effect), and maybe you'll have a point.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Oct 10, 2011 10:59 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:Imagine that you are blind. Now re-try your car analogy. That is roughly the problem with neurologists and neurology, at least as it exists today. We know, for a pretty well-established fact, that depression is a problem and that it is linked to suicide. Brain scans are pretty much the least effective and most expensive way of diagnosing depression, and we have no verifiable evidence for how SSRI's- the most widely used and most effective treatment for depression- work in the brain.
Completely fair, and I beg pardon if I came off as sounding frivolous--I just loathe the certainty with which we discuss matters like these when we don't even understand the nature of the disorder--or if it even really exists. "Psychopathy is incurable"? Really? Can we say that without even knowing what causes it, or what it actually is? "Psychopathy affects 1% of the population"--isn't that like saying "Cracked transmissions affect 1% of all cars in America" based on 1% of all cars in America making a weird noise? And the whole 'psychopaths may be outbreeding us' thing--I can't even begin to describe how much statements like that frustrate me. It's incredibly irresponsible, and ridiculously unprofessional.

It'd be one thing if these broad statements somehow helped address the problem--there's measurable gains to be had by making some broad conjectures about depression (encouraging those who may be suffering from it to seek professional help, for instance)--but the only thing these sort of statements do is create a new type of boogeyman. "Hey, I think Bill's exhibiting the traits of a psychopath. Since psychopathy is incurable, let's stay the fuck away from Bill."

I'll stay away the fuck away from Bill because Bill is a crazy manipulative douche; I don't need a pseudo-scientific medical reason to justify it.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Mon Oct 10, 2011 11:42 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:[...] But I think that labeling people as psychopaths (whatever that word entails to you) is not especially helpful. I look at the definition, and at the articles talking about these issues, and there is a disconnect. Reckless and impulsive people do not generally become bosses in corporate structures, and if they do they do not maintain those positions very long. The idea that psychopaths are successful at getting power suggests to me that either a) this definition is bogus, or b) in fact we are talking about two different things. Because manipulative people are successful at getting power, are attracted to power, and are not very nice to be around. BUT, they are calculating, they plan, and they do not make reckless decisions-- that is how they obtain and hold onto power. I feel that calling this psychopathy is a poor label. And it is worth noting that we cannot read other people's intentions; a lot of people behave in seemingly antisocial ways, but they justify these actions to themselves for any number of reasons. These types of people are most certainly influenced by treatment in therapy.

If I'm right, the article that said "psychopaths are somewhat more likely to be your boss than average" was saying that psychopaths were successful as bosses exactly because they lack empathy and are reckless and impulsive. With a lack of empathy, many 'hard' decisions become easy. Being reckless helps them to take risks. Being impulsive doesn't hurt because in the competitive environments that they find themselves in, the requirements may change with the day and often the only thing that matters is being faster than your competitors (whether those are other companies or other managers within the same company).

Of course it doesn't work like that in every company. But to be honest, I think you're a bit too optimistic of our society if you believe that reckless and impulsive people generally have a hard time becoming a boss or maintaining a leading position. Perhaps a reckless or impulsive person may get into trouble after reaching the very top; we see sometimes that a CEO is fired because of behaviour that with hindsight was very irresponsible. But the fact that someone can become a CEO and stay so for several years while behaving irresponsibly is telling us enough.

However, suppose you are right and we are talking about two different kinds of psychopathy here; it wouldn't change anything about my motivation for starting this thread. You seem to be sceptical about the possibility that someone is manipulative, without empathy, reckless and impulsive at the same time. It's a natural thing to be sceptical about because for 'nice' people it can be very hard to grasp. But people with this set of features appear to exist, in great numbers, and they seem to hide these features better than you might expect. People who are just manipulative are already worth to be warned about, but people who have all these features at the same time are even more so.

Perhaps the word 'psychopath' is problematic, but it's shorter than 'someone who lacks empathy while also being deceptive, impulsive and reckless'. Should we call it a 'slewdir' instead?

The Great Hippo wrote:Completely fair, and I beg pardon if I came off as sounding frivolous--I just loathe the certainty with which we discuss matters like these when we don't even understand the nature of the disorder--or if it even really exists.
The set of features seems to exist (just like cars that make weird noise seem to exist). The fact that we haven't identified some kind of reduced source of causation doesn't make the problem less real. In fact, that we don't know exactly what causes the behaviour (and whether there is a single cause) might be part of the problem.
The Great Hippo wrote:"Psychopathy is incurable"? Really? Can we say that without even knowing what causes it, or what it actually is?
I believe that the right phrasing would be "So far, no treatment appears to work".
The Great Hippo wrote:"Psychopathy affects 1% of the population"--isn't that like saying "Cracked transmissions affect 1% of all cars in America" based on 1% of all cars in America making a weird noise?
No, it's like saying "1% of all cars in the USA makes a weird noise". Nothing more.
The Great Hippo wrote:And the whole 'psychopaths may be outbreeding us' thing--I can't even begin to describe how much statements like that frustrate me. It's incredibly irresponsible, and ridiculously unprofessional.
Yes, I agree with you that this part is completely bullocks. Let's assume that Wikipedia is quoting it for completeness and agree that Hare is utterly wrong about it. Now we can drop this red herring.
The Great Hippo wrote:I'll stay away the fuck away from Bill because Bill is a crazy manipulative douche; I don't need a pseudo-scientific medical reason to justify it.
Well someone might realize a lot sooner that Bill might be a crazy manipulative douche if they heard about psychopathy some time before, right? (Edit: not because that helps them to diagnose Bill as a psychopath, but because it helps them to realise that someone can be so extreme.) There are lots of people out there who display varying degrees of naievety...
Besides, this is not pseudoscience, this is just plain statistics that bugs you because there is no reductionistic explanation behind it. Ignore Hare if you want, he is just one person in the field.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Oct 10, 2011 11:55 am UTC

If 1% of the population exhibits the symptoms of psychopathy, we treat that 1%, and afterward, 50% of them stopped exhibiting the symptoms of psychopathy, what would happen--would we determine that psychopathy is treatable 50% of the time, or that 50% of the 1% didn't actually have psychopathy? Would it even matter which way we went?

This is the problem you face when you're defining things very tightly without actually understanding them.
Well someone might realize a lot sooner that Bill might be a crazy manipulative douche if they heard about psychopathy some time before, right? There are lots of people out there who display varying degrees of naievety...
And you think feeding them nebulous terms with which they can incorrectly diagnose their coworkers is going to improve things?

Naive people need to be told that crazy manipulative douches exist, and should be avoided. Diagnosing psychopaths--even if they exist--is something which trained professionals should be doing, not Sally and Charles over in marketing.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Mon Oct 10, 2011 11:57 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:If 1% of the population exhibits the symptoms of psychopathy, we treat that 1%, and afterward, 50% of them stopped exhibiting the symptoms of psychopathy, what would happen--would we determine that psychopathy is treatable 50% of the time, or that 50% of the 1% didn't actually have psychopathy? Would it even matter which way we went?

I agree that is an interesting question.

The Great Hippo wrote:This is the problem you face when you're defining things without actually understanding them. We have 'depression' versus 'clinical depression' for a reason.
Well someone might realize a lot sooner that Bill might be a crazy manipulative douche if they heard about psychopathy some time before, right? There are lots of people out there who display varying degrees of naievety...
And you think feeding them nebulous terms with which they can incorrectly diagnose their coworkers is going to improve things?

Naive people need to be told that crazy manipulative douches exist, and should be avoided. Diagnosing psychopaths--even if they exist--is something which trained professionals should be doing, not Sally and Charles over in marketing.

Agree, I realized this directly after my post and went to add a remark between parentheses. I think my edit crossed your post.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby teacupthesauceror » Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:27 pm UTC

And this is why psychology is a wonderfully fluid science. Don't forget, in medicine we also group together similar sets of symptoms while having no idea of the mechanism that causes them. They're called syndromes.

So yeah, while we may not know why APD exists, we're fairly sure that grouping of symptoms has a common cause. Now we just have to catalogue the brain, or upload ourselves to machines before we can truly know what that cause is. For now, the car bonnet is sealed, and we have to try and fix it by banging on the sides.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:37 pm UTC

teacupthesauceror wrote:And this is why psychology is a wonderfully fluid science. Don't forget, in medicine we also group together similar sets of symptoms while having no idea of the mechanism that causes them. They're called syndromes.
The thing is, in medicine, it's much easier to measure the efficacy of a given treatment; 'yeah I gave him a shot of cortisone and the symptoms disappeared'. In psychology? 'I talked with him for six months and the symptoms disappeared' -- 'Well, what did you say?' - 'It was, uh, complicated'. Diagnosis is even harder--in medical fields, we can run a test to determine if you have symptom X. If we don't trust the people who gave you that test, we can run it again. In psychology? A guy who spent a week with you tells us you're a psychopath. What if we don't trust you? We'll need another guy and another week, and maybe we realize that we don't trust that guy, either.

I know that if we're going to deal with things we don't understand, we have no choice but to accept our lack of comprehension and proceed with conjecture and guestimates as our only guide. What rips my bonnet, though, is this habit of making broad, baseless statements based on little to no data--particularly when those statements serve no purpose beyond stirring up a bit of fear and revulsion. If you can't give me hard data, fine--but don't act like the soft data is hard. We're stumbling through the dark, here; let's not pretend otherwise.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby teacupthesauceror » Mon Oct 10, 2011 6:01 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:The thing is, in medicine, it's much easier to measure the efficacy of a given treatment; 'yeah I gave him a shot of cortisone and the symptoms disappeared'. In psychology? 'I talked with him for six months and the symptoms disappeared' -- 'Well, what did you say?' - 'It was, uh, complicated'. Diagnosis is even harder--in medical fields, we can run a test to determine if you have symptom X. If we don't trust the people who gave you that test, we can run it again. In psychology? A guy who spent a week with you tells us you're a psychopath. What if we don't trust you? We'll need another guy and another week, and maybe we realize that we don't trust that guy, either.

I know that if we're going to deal with things we don't understand, we have no choice but to accept our lack of comprehension and proceed with conjecture and guestimates as our only guide. What rips my bonnet, though, is this habit of making broad, baseless statements based on little to no data--particularly when those statements serve no purpose beyond stirring up a bit of fear and revulsion. If you can't give me hard data, fine--but don't act like the soft data is hard. We're stumbling through the dark, here; let's not pretend otherwise.


Well, you're forgetting psychological conditions are also treated with drugs, cognitive behaviour therapy, and other things that aren't just talking. If you don't trust one person, then transcripts, videos, and many other forms of evidence can be sent to enough people that you trust their collective decision. Yes, it is probably going to be qualitative data, but it's still data. Unfortunately, people lie, where as pancreases do not, which makes diagnosis more difficult but not impossible.

So far, it seems like what we "know" is:

1. People have different capacities to feel empathy
1.1 This is correlated with function in a particular area of the brain
2. There are people with very little to no capacity for empathy
2.1 There is evidence that this may have a genetic element
3. This lack of empathy correlates with certain behaviours
4. There is no known way to restore empathy

I am uncertain of sample sizes on any of these, but I believe these are the fact generally accepted to be probably true.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Puppyclaws » Mon Oct 10, 2011 8:39 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:I suspect that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors selecitively inhibit the reuptake of serotonin.


Yes, I get what the name implies, thank you. However, we do not actually have proof that this is how these drugs work, and some of their effects are not explained by this behavior. For one example: serotonin's effect on the brain is pretty much immediate, and not a matter of slow cumulative build up over multiple days. Yet SSRI's take two weeks at a minimum to start having any effect. Why is that? Although research is being done into the topic, we do not currently know. If you actually look at the literature you will notice that there is a lot of uncertainty with phrases like "It is believed that SSRI's do this" and "The exact way SSRI's improve depression isn't clear."

But this is thread derail.

re: JPlus, the article can say what it wants, but for me logic and evidence suggests otherwise. People do not make it to the top by being reckless and impulsive, because reckless and impulsive things generally are likely to get you fired. The only way that being reckless and impulsive can get you ahead is if you are reckless and impulsive about the right things, and not reckless and impulsive about the wrong things. But that's not being reckless and impulsive at all; that's being in control and taking risks. I think you have to change the definition of these words very significantly to continue to say that these people are impulsive and reckless. This is the heart of my point. The reason that this is important is that people already know that reckless individuals out for their own benefit exist; we don't need to create a bogeyman of secret Dexters pretending to be nice but actually having no feelings of their own (my apologies if the character has changed since season 1, I pretty much stopped watching there).

I don't buy the "great numbers," I don't buy the limited research from one researcher (using self-reports no less) that contradicts-- not my intuition as a "nice" person-- but my experience as a student of psychology/neurology/sociology. The secret lurking really gets me about this faux definition, too. The "snakes in the grass." People are not that good at hiding their motivations, not least of which because most of us "nice" people already assume that everybody is looking out for themselves. That, and the fact that this seems to be pretty much one researcher's pet project. It is not a good sign that Hare appears to be the only person talking about this issue, using his own special terms and his own special checklist no less.

The Great Hippo pretty much says everything I feel needs saying with this: "I'll stay away the fuck away from Bill because Bill is a crazy manipulative douche; I don't need a pseudo-scientific medical reason to justify it."
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby sje46 » Sun Oct 16, 2011 6:13 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
teacupthesauceror wrote:And this is why psychology is a wonderfully fluid science. Don't forget, in medicine we also group together similar sets of symptoms while having no idea of the mechanism that causes them. They're called syndromes.
The thing is, in medicine, it's much easier to measure the efficacy of a given treatment; 'yeah I gave him a shot of cortisone and the symptoms disappeared'. In psychology? 'I talked with him for six months and the symptoms disappeared' -- 'Well, what did you say?' - 'It was, uh, complicated'. Diagnosis is even harder--in medical fields, we can run a test to determine if you have symptom X. If we don't trust the people who gave you that test, we can run it again. In psychology? A guy who spent a week with you tells us you're a psychopath. What if we don't trust you? We'll need another guy and another week, and maybe we realize that we don't trust that guy, either.

I know that if we're going to deal with things we don't understand, we have no choice but to accept our lack of comprehension and proceed with conjecture and guestimates as our only guide. What rips my bonnet, though, is this habit of making broad, baseless statements based on little to no data--particularly when those statements serve no purpose beyond stirring up a bit of fear and revulsion. If you can't give me hard data, fine--but don't act like the soft data is hard. We're stumbling through the dark, here; let's not pretend otherwise.

Yeah, no.

That is a stupifyingly simple conception of psychotherapy.

Therapists don't simply "talk" aimlessly to their patients. There's a vast amount of different therapies and techniques for them to use. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_psychotherapies

They know what school they're using and they know *how* whatever they're doing aims the patient. Cognitive aims to point out logical fallacies in a person's thinking; this is helpful for cases of depression. There are many techniques for cognitive therapy. Behavioral is good for things like phobias, for example. Rogerian involves attempting to truly empathize with the client (they don't use the term "patient") without judgement, and is apparently all around good. Etc. The fact is that it isn't psychologists just randomly talking. There are *specific* methods they use to help people understand themselves and work on their problems.

You are aware that psychology actually does studies and stuff, right? They test if medicines or different technique in psychotherapy work on different people, what with direct and indirect variables and ANOVA and alphas and levels of confidence and all that fun statistical stuff, right? It isn't just "well, this therapy *seems* to work on antisocials, in my experience!".
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Amarantha » Sun Oct 16, 2011 6:23 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:...if I'm watching a fantasy, I want my princess to stab some motherfuckers, claim the crown herself, then invade the prince's kingdom and sleep with his sister.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Jplus » Sun Oct 16, 2011 12:37 pm UTC

Amarantha wrote:Interesting letter from a self-described psychopath (via the weekly linkspam on Not Exactly Rocket Science).

Thank you for this very interesting contribution. We need more of that!
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Oct 16, 2011 3:51 pm UTC

sje46 wrote:That is a stupifyingly simple conception of psychotherapy.
What--that it's complicated and therefore difficult to summarize?
sje46 wrote:You are aware that psychology actually does studies and stuff, right? They test if medicines or different technique in psychotherapy work on different people, what with direct and indirect variables and ANOVA and alphas and levels of confidence and all that fun statistical stuff, right? It isn't just "well, this therapy *seems* to work on antisocials, in my experience!".
Change 'in my experience' to 'as far as we can see, though we're not yet positive why', and I'd bet you'd actually have a fairly good working summary of most approaches in psychotherapy.
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Re: Psychopaths (info and experiences)

Postby Glass Fractal » Sun Oct 16, 2011 10:05 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:If 1% of the population exhibits the symptoms of psychopathy, we treat that 1%, and afterward, 50% of them stopped exhibiting the symptoms of psychopathy, what would happen--would we determine that psychopathy is treatable 50% of the time, or that 50% of the 1% didn't actually have psychopathy? Would it even matter which way we went?


The most likely to results of that development would be a to say that either that 1% weren't technically psychopaths (if we make "incurable" part of the definition, then by definition a person who can be cure doesn't fall into the category, obviously that's not a very useful change) or the technique works about 50% of the time. I don't see where "it's treatable 50% of the time" comes from to be honest.
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