What follows is a summary of key traits and behaviours of psychopathy. The list is adapted from my book Without Conscience (published by Guilford Press). Do not use these features to diagnose yourself or others. A formal assessment requires professional qualifications, access to the PCL-R scoring manual, and the integration of a considerable amount of information from different sources, contexts, and areas of a person’s life. That is, the features are part of the person’s personality and typical interactions with others, and not descriptive of functioning in only one or two domains, such as family or business.
Each feature can vary from absent to extreme. Some people may have a few features (e.g., impulsive, or glib, or cold and unfeeling) but this does not make them psychopathic. Psychopathy is viewed as a dimensional clinical construct in which people differ in degree rather than in kind. Most people fall at the very low end of this dimension. Some people are higher up the dimension, and although they may be problematic or distressing in various ways to those around them, they would not be considered to be psychopathic. Researchers and clinicians define individuals as psychopathic if they fall at the upper end of the dimension; that is, they have the majority the defining features in an extreme form over much of the lifespan. Only about one percent of the general population meets these conditions.
If you suspect that someone you know conforms to the profile described here, and if it is important for you to have an expert opinion, you should obtain the services of a registered forensic psychologist or psychiatrist. Readers may wish to view my website for material on psychopathy (www.hare.org), and a website for victims (www.aftermath-surviving-psychopathy.org).
Discover the ten key features of psychopathy: