Antisocial personality disorder | Psychopathology | Florida International University, Modesto A. Maidique Campus


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DSM antisocial personality disorder overlaps with both classic descriptions of psychopathy and with criminality. Cleckley (1976), Lykken (1995), and Hare (1991) have all attempted to keep psychopathy separate from criminality, and they have also emphasized certain psychopathic personality traits that may not necessarily be destructive in all cases. An especially telling example is the famous fighter-jet test pilot Chuck Yeager, whom Lykken describes as having many characteristics of a psychopath but without the antisocial tendencies that otherwise might make him a menace to society. For instance, Yeager’s apparent immunity from anxiety permitted him literally to have aircraft fall apart under him without causing him even to reconsider his line of work, much less prevent him from ever flying again—as might be the case for most of us. Given a different background, one might imagine a person like Yeager, insensitive to normal fear of negative consequences from rule-breaking, growing up to be a career criminal. What distinguishes fearless people who grow up to be criminals from those who grow up to be productive contributors to society? One factor might be the strong socializing force of institutions like the military, as in Yeager’s case. It is also possible that high IQ can permit some people to avoid legal trouble even though they have no reservations about breaking the law. A broader appreciation for psychopathic traits makes clear that these kinds ofpeople exist in all walks of life, functioning well as business executives, politicians, lawyers, doctors, and the like, succeeding on the merits of their typically psychopathic superficial charm, lack of remorse, insincerity, and freedom from the distraction of a guilty conscience.  Are there any advantages to being a psychopath? Reflect on this question as well as some of the ideas presented here about the differences of psychopathy and criminality.