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Psychopathic Personality and How It Develops

The psychopathic personality is a scary one. Learn about the personality of a psychopath and how it develops.

Psychopathic personality (or the personality of a psychopath) may be hardwired from birth or may be influenced by external factors; it seems to depend on the individual and researches are split on exactly how much of a psychopathic personality is nature and how much is nurture. Nevertheless, there are factors in early life that contribute to the development of a psychopathic personality (read about child psychopaths).

What is a Psychopathic Personality?

A psychopathic personality is comprised of emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal traits. According to the Society for the Study of Psychopathy, these traits of a psychopath are:

  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Lack of close, emotional bonds with others
  • Narcissism (narcissistic psychopath)
  • Superficial charm
  • Dishonesty
  • Manipulativeness
  • Reckless risk-taking

The diagnosis of a psychopath cannot be done until adulthood but psychopathic traits are commonly seen in psychopaths before they become adults. A child who has little emotion and lack of remorse and is dishonest and exhibits antisocial behavior , for example, may be exhibiting some psychopathic tendencies (read more about psychopathic children and their behaviors).

The Psychopathic Personality Inventory

The Psychopathic Personality Inventory is a checklist, the revised version of which contains 154 items, that is used in research settings to self-report psychopathy. The Psychopath Personality Inventory was created with community members (not felons) in mind. The Psychopathic Personality Inventory was designed to show trait dispositions and thus indicate psychopathic dispositions as well. The 154 items revolve around the following eight factors:

  • Social influence
  • Fearlessness
  • Stress immunity
  • Grandiose egocentricity
  • Rebellious nonconformity
  • Externalization of blame
  • Carefree with lack of plans
  • Coldheartedness

It is these characteristics that make people wonder if the psychopath can cry, love, or experience any feelings at all. If these traits are seen early, it could indicate the development of a psychopathic personality.

How a Personality of a Psychopath Develops

It's unclear exactly how the personality of a psychopath develops but it is known that some circumstance in childhood can increase the likelihood of psychopathology but also some brain and genetic abnormalities also play a part. It is possible that the following are environmental factors that may put a child at risk for developing a psychopathic personality:

  • Negative parenting focusing on punishment and on a lack of rewards or inconsistent parenting
  • Other types of poor parenting
  • A lack of parental involvement
  • Having an antisocial (sociopathic) or psychopathic parent
  • Parental substance use
  • Separation from a parent
  • Child physical abuse or neglect


Of course, few children who experience these factors will develop into psychopaths as other neurocognitive factors must also be present. It is likely, though, that if a child experiences these risk factors and shows psychopathic tendencies as a child, there is a good chance they will grow up into an adult psychopath if intervention is not sought.


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next: The Psychopath Brain: Is It Different From A Normal Brain?
~ all articles on Personality Disorders
~ all Psychopath Articles

Last Updated: 21 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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