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Related: antisocial personality disorder - personality disorder - psychiatry - psychological thriller - psycho - serial killer
Fictional psychopaths: American Psycho (1991) - Psycho (1960)
Non-fiction: Psychopathia Sexualis (1886)
Though in widespread use as a psychiatric term, psychopathy has no precise equivalent in either the DSM-IV-TR, where it is most strongly correlated with antisocial personality disorder, or the ICD-10, where it is correlated with dissocial personality disorder. [Nov 2006]
To the creator of films as well as other forms of literature, the dark side of human nature has often proved more rich and interesting than the bright. Films and books on the lives of saints have not been as popular as murder mysteries and works of horror. While we may have no desire to experience them in our own lives, terrible deeds and evil people exert their perverse attraction on our psyches. We who consider ourselves moral and upright are often fascinated by the behavior of the pitiless, merciless, and guiltless psychopath. Like a magnificent black panther: powerful, dangerous, and alien, the psychopathic character can have a dark, perfect beauty that simultaneously attracts and repels us. --Gordon Banks 
A psychopath is defined as having no concern for the feelings of others and a complete disregard for any sense of social obligation. They seem egocentric and lacking insight and any sense of responsibility or consequence. Their emotions are thought to be superficial and shallow if they exist at all. They are considered callous, manipulative and incapable of lasting relationships, let alone of any kind of love. It is thought that any emotions which the true psychopath exhibits are the fruits of watching and mimicking other people's emotions. They show poor impulse control and a low tolerance for frustration and aggression. They show no empathy, remorse, anxiety or guilt in relation to their behavior, in short, they truly seem devoid of conscience.
Psychopaths have been shown to be unable to learn from punishment and behavior modification. They have been regularly observed to respond to both by becoming more cunning and hiding their behavior better. It has been suggested that traditional therapeutic approaches actually make them, if not worse, then far more adept at manipulating others and concealing their behavior. They are generally considered to be not only incurable but also untreatable.
Most studies of the psychopath have taken place among prison populations, though it has often been suggested that the psychopath is just as likely to sit on a Board of Directors as behind bars, concealing his true nature behind a well crafted Mask of Sanity (also the title of the one of the first definitive studies of psychopathy written by Hervey Cleckley in 1941). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopath#What_is_a_psychopath.3F [Jan 2006]
Hervey Cleckley defined psychopathy thus
- Superficial charm and average intelligence. *
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking. *
- Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations.
- Untruthfulness and insincerity. *
- Lack of remorse or shame.
- Antisocial behavior without apparent compunction. *
- Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience. *
- Pathological egocentricity and incapacity to love. *
- General poverty in major affective reactions. *
- Specific loss of insight.
- Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations. *
- Fantastic and uninviting behavior with drink, and sometimes without. *
- Suicide threats rarely carried out. *
- Sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated. *
- Failure to follow any life plan.
Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)The two factors that determine whether you are a psychopath are: emotional detachment and lifestyle.
Factor One looks for a selfish, remorseless, individual with inflated self-esteem who exploits others.
Factor Two describes a lifestyle that is chaotic, antisocial and/or criminal, marked by impulsiveness, a lack of responsibility and reactive anger . According to Hare, a psychopath will score high on both factors, whereas someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder will score high only on factor two. 
The checklist items are as follows:
- 1. Glibness/superficial charm
- 2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
- 3. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
- 4. Pathological lying
- 5. Cunning/manipulative
- 6. Lack of remorse or guilt
- 7. Shallow affect
- 8. Callous/lack of empathy
- 9. Parasitic lifestyle
- 10. Poor behavioral controls
- 11. Promiscuous sexual behavior
- 12. Early behavioral problems
- 13. Lack of realistic, long-term goals
- 14. Impulsivity
- 15. Irresponsibility
- 16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
- 17. Many short-term marital relationships
- 18. Juvenile delinquency
- 19. Revocation of conditional release
- 20. Criminal versatility
The psychopath in fiction
Psychopaths in popular fiction and movies generally possess a number of standard characteristics which are not necessarily as common among real-life psychopaths. The traditional "Hollywood psychopath" is likely to exhibit some or all of the following traits which make them ideal villains.
- High intelligence, and a preference for intellectual stimulation (music, fine art etc.)
- A somewhat vain, stylish, almost "cat-like" demeanor
- Prestige, or a successful career or position
- A calm, calculating and always-in-control attitude
It is this last feature which is probably most at odds with the typical real-life psychopath: a psychopath is much more likely to be impulsive, disorganised and short-tempered rather than the smooth-talking, self-disciplined characters portrayed by Alain Delon (Tom Ripley in Purple Noon), Richard Gere (Dennis Peck in Internal Affairs), Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs), Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman in American Psycho), Alec Baldwin ("The Teacher" in The Juror), Kiefer Sutherland ("The Caller" in Phone Booth), John Malkovich (Mitch Leary in In the Line of Fire), Kevin Spacey (John Doe in Se7en), and Christopher Meloni (Chris Keller on the HBO series, Oz).
Clearly psychopathic characters can be found in black comedy with characters such as Charlie Chaplin as the title character in the murder farce, Monsieur Verdoux, and Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder in the Blackadder television series. More recent examples of this type include Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman; John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as casually murderous postmodern-hipster hitmen, Vince Vega and Jules Winnfield, in Pulp Fiction; Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as giddy white-trash spree killers, Mickey and Mallory Knox, in Natural Born Killers; Peter Stormare as the taciturnly thuggish kidnapper/murderer, Gaear Grimsrud, in Fargo; and John Cusack's hitman, "Martin Blank" in Grosse Pointe Blank, a nice, ordinary guy who doesn't have the slightest qualm about committing murder for a living.
Perhaps more accurate portrayals of psychopaths are Bob Rusk (Barry Foster in Frenzy), Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet), Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci in Goodfellas), Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting), Doyle Hargrave (Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade), and Don Logan (Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast) -- all of whom are crude, impulsive characters who relentlessly torment other people.
Michael Madsen's notorious portrayal of Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs appears to combine the stylized secondhand Hollywood stereotype of the criminal psychopath with the more realistic aggressive deviant behavior of the true-life psychopath.
The character Fred Frenger, played by Alec Baldwin in the film Miami Blues, fits the profile of a psychopath. He lies and steals habitually, attacks and kills people without provocation, makes and breaks promises to get what he wants, and does not show remorse. Roger Ebert described him as "a thief, con man and cheat. He also is incredibly reckless... He wanders through the world looking for suitcases to steal, wallets to lift, identification papers he can use." Leonard Maltin writes in his Movie Guide that Frenger is a "psychopathic thief and murderer." Other critics have simply dubbed the character a sociopath.
Angelina Jolie's character, Lisa, in the film Girl, Interrupted is diagnosed as a sociopath, but, in the end, we are left wondering just how valid that diagnosis might be.
The Japanese novel, Battle Royale, features a character named Kazuo Kiriyama who appears to suffer from a form of Pseudopsychopathic Personality Disorder. In the movie, Cry Wolf, the character Dodger exhibits many characteristics of a psychopath, but the movie never states that she is one.
It has also been suggested that Bram Stoker based the character of his Count Dracula on a real person (actor manager Henry Irving) and, in so doing, may well have left us one of the first ever detailed, fictionalised pen portraits of a psychopath. Count Dracula fits the stereotype of the "Hollywood Psychopath," and predates it so perfectly that it would be reasonable to consider him something of a prototype.
Adapted from a June 2006 version of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fictional_portrayals_of_psychopaths [Nov 2006]
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