Psychopathic Traits and Characteristics of a Psychopath
There are many traits and characteristics of psychopaths. While psychopaths are individuals, they share many aspects of their personalities. The Hare Psychopath Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) outlines 20 characteristics of a psychopath categorized into four validated factors.
Interpersonal Traits of a Psychopath
Perhaps the most well-known interpersonal trait of a psychopath is their pathological lying. Psychopaths lie constantly to cover up their psychopathic traits and antisocial (often illegal) behaviors.
Other interpersonal characteristics of a psychopath include:
- Glibness and superficial charm
- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Being conning and manipulative
Affective or Emotional Characteristics of a Psychopath
Of course, the emotions of a psychopath also have specific traits. One such emotional characteristic is the lack of remorse or guilt. This psychopath emotional characteristic explains why psychopathic killers can commit heinous acts such as murder and not feel bad about them.
Other affective psychopathic characteristics include:
- Shallow emotions (emotions may be felt but in shallow and fleeting ways)
- Callousness and lack of empathy
- Failure to accept responsibility for own acts
Lifestyle Psychopathic Traits
Not only can psychopathic traits be seen in the emotions and interpersonal aspects but they can also be seen in the lifestyles of psychopaths as well. One such lifestyle trait is a parasitic lifestyle where the psychopath uses and feeds off of others. He or she likely does this by utilizing the interpersonal traits noted above.
Other lifestyle psychopathic traits include:
A need for stimulation
- A lack of realistic, long-term goals
Antisocial Traits of Psychopaths
Antisocial traits of psychopaths are traits that go against society's conventions. For example, juvenile delinquency and early behavioral problems are antisocial traits that many psychopaths have. These severe problems leave parents wondering, "Is my child a psychopath?"
Other antisocial traits of a psychopath include:
- Poor behavior controls
- Revocation of conditional release (i.e. a revoking of parole)
- Criminal versatility (i.e. where a psychopath is active in multiple types of crime)
Other Psychopathic Characteristics
Not all 20 checklist items on the PCL-R fit neatly into these factors. Additional psychopathic characteristics include:
- Promiscuous sexual behavior
- Many marital relationships
When Looking at Psychopathic Traits and Characteristics
When looking at a person and assessing psychopathic traits and characteristics, the PCL-R scores each item as a 0, 1 or 2 for how well each checklist item fits the person. That means that if these psychopathic traits only fit an individual somewhat, they likely aren't a psychopath even though they may share traits with one. The highest possible score on the checklist is a 40 and psychopaths score 30 or above. An average non-psychopathic criminal scores a 22 while a non-psychopathic, non-criminal scores about a 2. Essentially this indicates that many people do have several psychopathic characteristics but that doesn't make them a psychopath – only a preponderance of severe psychopathic traits does.
Last Updated: 21 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD