Psychopathic Symptoms: Spotting the Symptoms of a Psychopath
Do you know how to spot true, psychopathic symptoms? While many people would likely see a serial killer as necessarily a psychopath, not all psychopaths kill. So what are the symptoms of a psychopath and how can you spot them?
Types of Psychopathic Symptoms
There are several types of symptoms that, together, form a cluster that defines psychopathy. The number of types of psychopathic symptoms vary depending on the researcher but the four types of psychopathic symptoms used commonly are:
- Emotional (affective)
- Behavioral (antisocial behaviors)
Psychopathy can be thought of as a personality disorder and while the concept of a psychopathic personality is often used interchangeably with an antisocial personality, psychopathy is defined differently by many professionals. Psychopaths are typically diagnosed using derivations of the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (Hare 1991; 2003) and this is not how antisocial personalities are diagnosed (Does A Psychopath Test Exist? Diagnosing the Psychopath).
Symptoms of a Psychopath
According to the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy (Psychopathy Society), affective psychopathic symptoms include:
- A lack of guilt – spot this symptom when a psychopath does something that hurts another and feels no remorse about it.
- A lack of empathy and compassion – spot this psychopathic symptom when the psychopath fails to understand or identify with the pain of others.
- A lack of deep attachment to others – spot this symptom in a psychopath who keeps away from others, particularly emotionally.
Note that because a psychopath is often manipulative and charming, he or she may fake any of the above emotions.
The Psychopathy Society identifies the following interpersonal psychopathic symptoms:
- Narcissism – watch for an inflated sense of self and only caring about the self (more on the narcissistic psychopath).
- Superficial charm – look for a charming personality that always seems to say the right things but whose actions likely don't match the words.
The Psychopathy Society identifies these antisocial behavioral symptoms of a psychopath:
- Dishonesty – while a psychopath may try to charm his or her way out of a lie, look out for them, nonetheless.
- Manipulativeness – this psychopathic symptom can be used in conjunction with any other to try and make the psychopath appear like other, non-psychopathic, people.
- Reckless risk-taking – spot this symptom when the psychopath takes big risks with no regards to the consequences on himself/herself or others.
Psychopath Symptoms in Women
Psychopathy is considerably less prevalent in women and women tend to show less severe psychopathic symptoms and/or fewer of them. However, women psychopaths do exist.
Spotting the Signs of a Psychopath
Remember, psychopaths are typically in touch with reality and know who they are and what they're doing. That means they may work to fit in with others and hide their psychopathic tendencies which can make them difficult to spot. Nevertheless, the vast majority of psychopaths (more than 90%) have had some interaction with the criminal justice system and many are violent or abusive so these are signs not to be ignored as the psychopath will, by definition, not care about their impact but those around him or her certainly will.
Last Updated: 21 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD