The psychopath test

Written by on August 31, 2013 in Body & Mind - Comments Off on The psychopath test

psychopath-testAmericans are often criticised for their middle-class, self-indulgent, therapy sessions. Along with their snobby coffee culture and Hollywood smiles, a psychiatrist is viewed to be a service which is as ordinary as an optician. After all, who really needs a therapist? Before therapy was so commonplace, people just talked with their friends and family or even their hairdresser. Perhaps, because a therapist is a qualified stranger, it allows you to open up in a way you wouldn’t with a friend or family member. Probably because you would worry how they would interpret your mental state.

Recently, I read Jon Ronson’s ‘The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry’. I know what you’re thinking, and yes I did get some funny stares when reading it on the tube, but it is story and not a self assessment. The book begins when journalist Jon Ronson is contacted by a leading neurologist after she and several colleagues receive a cryptic book in the post. Jon searches to solve the mystery of this book and it leads him to psychopaths. The book explores what exactly makes you a psychopath and Ronson travels the globe to meet some of the world’s most notorious psychopaths.

Ronson meets a Broadmoor inmate who claims to have faked a mental disorder to get a lighter sentence but now is trapped there. The more he claims to be sane, the more the prison professionals record his mental state as deteriorating. He also meets CEOs and politicians, Toto Constant, the sinister Haitian leader of death-squads. I think one of the most disturbing aspects of the book is that Ronson feels himself warming to these characters, interested by their company and as a reader; so do you.

To measure how psychopathic these people are, Ronson uses the twenty point Hare PCL-R Checklist which was devised by the researcher Robert D. Hare after his work with male offenders and forensic inmates in Canada. According to the checklist, the traits of a psychopath are as follows:

  1. glib and superficial charm
  2. grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  3. need for stimulation
  4. pathological lying
  5. cunning and manipulativeness
  6. lack of remorse or guilt
  7. shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  8. callousness and lack of empathy
  9. parasitic lifestyle
  10. poor behavioural controls
  11. sexual promiscuity
  12. early behaviour 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 book refers to these throughout each meeting and makes you feel like you are experiencing the journey with Ronson. You find yourself accessing each character with the Hare test before Ronson has himself. However, the story is not just a factual investigation, it is written in Ronson’s light-hearted style and often the way in which he presents each psychopath is subtly amusing.

After reading the book you will find yourself assessing everyone you know. My friend, who recommended the book to me, has convinced herself that her neighbour has at least 18 of the 20 points and therefore, he is in fact, a psychopath. Ronson also notes how he worryingly found that some of the traits applied to him.

Personally, I think the American emphasis on therapy is a bit #point 2 and over analysing aspects of your life can open wounds that have long been healed. However, as Ronson comes to realise maybe everyone has a little bit of craziness in them and that’s what makes us human.

About the Author

Christina Latham

Christina is one of our original writers who helped with the launch of allmygoodness. She has a love for finding vintage treasures and organic products in unexpected, undiscovered places. She has previously worked as a journalist for CD News at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy and Bader TV News in Berlin. She also writes freelance articles for Fitzrovia News and BetaTwentyOne. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaLatha