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The Psychopath Test – Pass or Fail? September 16, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Okay, I’ll tell you straight off that my personal book shopper told me this book was “all over the place” when she handed it to me on the playground. I tucked it under a stack of fliers to send home, so as not to appear callous and indifferent to my young charges.

The last book she slipped me was Taft 2012, a rolicking fun read. Most of the books she slips me are a bit “off the beam” as my Scottish friend Lesley would say. Author Jon Ronson also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was made into a movie starring George Clooney. I was disappointed with the movie as I expected way more  footage of adorable goats. Alas.

The subtitle of The Psychopath Test is “A Journey Through the Madness Industry.” The quote on the front from The New York Times Book Review calls it, “Engagingly Irreverent.” That’s something I’d like to have on my tombstone only I plan to be scattered. Alas.

The premise of the book is….well, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated.

Here goes. Ronson meets Tony who feigned insanity to avoid prison and ended up at Broadmoor in the UK. Tony has found it’s much harder to get out of the nuthouse than the Big House.

Trying to root out whether Tony is in fact a psychopath, Ronson finds himself meeting with those psychology-hating Scientologists. I admit to a certain bias here as the Church of Scientology bought an entire building where my favorite restaurant used to be and promptly evicted all the tenants. No, me/and he thinks these are strange people indeed though I perked up when I read that L. Ron Hubbard loved Coca-cola.

Armed with Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, or PCL-R, which was designed by Candadian psychologist Robert Hare, Ronson sets out to meet famous and notorious personages to see if they meet the criteria. Here a check, there a check….you get the picture.

Along the way he meets some incredibly charming and predatory people. We also learn how the DSM-3 walked out of the primordial soup as a 30-something page booklet that evolved into the 943-page bible for the American Psychiatric Association. At the onset, Ronson cracks open the DSM-IV and promptly diagnoses himself with 12 different mental disorders.

We learn how Big Pharma has an interest in new diagnoses as there’s certainly got to be a pill to swallow for THAT disorder. (No surprise there.) And many of those people at the top of the food chain are indeed psychopaths. (Ditto.)

While Ronson did attend one of Robert Hare’s seminars and interviewed him, he’s inserted Hare as an ongoing character throughout the book and I have to admit I wondered how much of this actually happened. I do have a link to Robert Hare’s Site on Psychopathy (Without Conscience) on my blog and sure enough, “Bob” Hare, as Ronson refers to him, offers a disclaimer to the book “On Ronson.”

A book reviewer on Amazon thought the book had all the makings, but….  Oh, here’s a link to The Most Helpful Positive Review and The Most Helpful Negative Review of the book.

After reading the book, this was one thing that stuck in my mind. Two researchers in the early 1990s undertook a detailed study of the long-term recidivism rates of psychopaths who’d been through a program at Oak Ridge run by Elliot Barker in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It involved a hefty dose of LSD and a lot of hugging it out to learn empathy, something both psychopaths and narcissists lack. Barker’s program was viewed by many as proof that psychopaths can indeed change and develop empathy. Some were released.

Now in regular circumstances, 60 percent of incarcerated psychopaths released into the outside world go on to reoffend. So what did the researchers find about those psychopaths who’d been through Barker’s program and “learned” empathy?  A whopping 80 percent went on to reoffend. Ultimately, the psychopaths only became better at feigning empathy/not learning it.

It’s a cautionary tale for those who think that anyone lacking empathy, whether they be a psychopath or a narcissist, can truly change. But those who’ve had A Close Encounter with a Narcissist already know this.

“Both terrifying and hilarious.” – O, The Oprah Magazine


1. Richard - September 16, 2012

Excellent Post! Don’t loan it out yet as I want to read it.


2. Tracy - September 17, 2012

How naive to think that “showing empathy” to an NPD would do any more than to give them ever more knowledge of how to “fake it”? I mean, that’s what they do! They observe & copy (& improve it- so that their fake empathy is more believable than the real thing).

I just might have to read this one, Jan- though I already lived through the inevitable conclusion of being a target.


They can change, but it seemed to be only for the worse. Jan


3. The President Elect - September 17, 2012

I think the best part was when he talked about the “re-invention” of the DSM. Well, that and the funny mental image of naked LSD-tripping psychopaths hugging it out. I can’t believe people thought that would work!

I was wondering while reading how much of Hare’s list could be applied to kids. If one can’t rehabilitate a psychopath, then once a psychopath always a psychopath– so when does it begin? But I guess if there is truly no hope to fix these people, getting that diagnosis as a child, right or wrong, would almost be a death sentence.

As I wrote in my post “Ted Bundy’s Third Grade Teacher,” I have had students who exhibited a lack of empathy and were extremely manipulative – in the 2nd and 3rd grade. So although these are red flags, the psychiatric community decided that labeling children would be unethical as we always like to think of children as a work in progress and don’t want to write them off as incurable. Thus the diagnosis of Conduct Disorder until they turn 18 and can officially graduate and become psychopaths. Jan


4. lesley - September 17, 2012

Hi Jan, Great article..it’s surely true that you and I both love’off the beam’.
I’ve read ‘Without Conscience’ and Hare uses key examples within it to show us that these sub psychopaths are indeed working with us,interacting as acquaintances or even teaching/managing us.
This book seems to flesh out these real life examples but also show us the flip and darker(if possible)side of the coin….those who make money from the ‘Cure’.The Big Pharma companies and the billion dollar research companies they employ to find ‘solution’.
Everything I’ve read personally,studied or indeed witnessed tells me there is no cure for Psychopathy. As a disorder one of the things that makes it so interesting is that most explanations involve both Nature and Nurture. Physiologically, is it the role of the Amygdala,damage to the frontal lobes,neural activity across the cerebral cortex…the list goes on..or is it environment,parenting,early trauma,abuse….the list goes on.
At the moment all we can do is list what we know.. and why not?
In fifty years time there may indeed be a greater understanding of the making of a cluster B and maybe even a pill to take.
All most of us can do in the meantime is notice when those boxes start to be getting ticked and remove ourselves from their influence…pronto!


Yes, all we can do is use what we know to be true now to protect ourselves and others. I think it might help to brandish a cross and carry cloves of garlic too. >wink< Jan


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