By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on July 3, 2006
Are some corporate CEO’s, doctors, lawyers, politicians and scientists psychopaths? The answer could be “yes” if you use a definition which labels individuals who are often intelligent and highly charismatic, but display a chronic inability to feel guilt, remorse or anxiety about any of their actions. Tack on the use of violence and intimidation to control others and satisfy selfish needs and the label expands.
Typically the term “psychopath” evokes thoughts of violence and bloodshed – and evil of the darkest kind. But during 25 years, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has built a body of work that may help temper such deeply ingrained perceptions.
Sure, people do commit horrific, unimaginable crimes. But does that automatically mean they are psychopathic? And what is “psychopathy” anyway? With unique research access to prison inmate populations in Wisconsin, Joseph Newman has devoted his career to answering such questions.
The proper understanding of psychopathy has implications for the treatment of inmates everywhere – particularly for those who are wrongfully labeled. Newman’s work could also serve as the backbone of new behavioral interventions that target psychopathic behaviors.
“My main concern is that the label (of psychopath) is applied too liberally and without sufficient understanding of the key elements,” says Newman, who is chair of the UW-Madison psychology department. “As a result, the term is often applied to ordinary criminals and sex offenders whose behavior may reflect primarily social factors or other emotional problems that are more amenable to treatment than psychopathy.”