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The study of psychopathy emerged toward the early 19th century and investigated by the eminent German psychiatrist of that time Koch (1891). People who displayed immoral, violent, criminal, and deviant traits prior to Kosh’s work, were labelled morally insane. Koch (1891) preferred the term ‘psychopathic inferiority’. The term ‘psychopath’ was born. Koch differentiated between those individuals who were clinically insane and those who suffered from personality disorders.

Although many individuals who commit crimes – especially those who commit the most extreme violent crimes have been found to suffer with psychopathy. Many thousands of individuals from all walks of life suffer with this personality disorder but do not commit crimes, at least, to which they have avoided detection. Some of the most powerful and influential people in the world are psychopaths and include presidents, prime ministers, police, doctors, nurses, teachers, surgeons, receptionists, investigators, clerks, judges, and homeless people. Individuals may be young, old, male, or female. There is some debate as to whether the condition of psychopathy is predominantly found in men. However, it could be argued that women are more likely to simply evade detection based on the perception of gender. People suffering psychopathy exhibit personality traits including egocentricity, irresponsibility, delinquency, superficial charm, and manipulativeness. In early childhood, behavioural traits include impulsivity, not learning from mistakes (or punishment), resorting to physical aggression, charm and lying.

Psychopaths have a deep sense of entitlement, a need to control others and will often use people to meet their needs at a given time. Those needs will be fluid. Psychopaths are cold and callous but can be extremely charming and persuasive. They are experts at lying and gaslighting – the higher the IQ, the more adept they are at mimicking empathy, sympathy, and love, passing themselves off as trustworthy responsible individuals. What differentiates psychopaths most from ‘normal’ individuals is their insidious lack of moral code. They are unable to empathise with others, lack feelings of guilt but do have the ability to ‘feel’ hate, anger, and lust. They are grandiose in nature and can be at their most dangerous when threatened with exposure. 

Hare (1980) created the PCL-R psychopathy checklist which identifies many of the psychopathic traits as listed above. Although psychopaths can display delinquency and antisocial behaviour, some also conform to social norms and confine their psychopathy covertly. Crimes committed by psychopaths include financial crime, robbery, and conning. They are most notorious for committing crimes that cross ethical and moral boundaries such as murder, rape, and genocide. Psychopaths have no fear or concern for the legal, moral, or social consequences of their behaviour. 

Glenn and Raine, (2014) argue bio-social and environmental factors contribute to triggering genetics in some individuals predisposed to psychopathy (parenting, war, abuse, and other trauma). This can manifest in individuals suffering brain dysfunction associated with the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Various chemicals and hormones play a role in human behaviour, including alpha-amylase, testosterone, and cortisol (which can flood the body of individuals suffering the fight/flight of experiencing prolonged exposure to trauma). For these individuals, treatment may be tailored to target the imbalance of chemicals and hormones, thus mitigating behavioural psychopathy.

The anatomy of psychopathy