I went to some great Pint of Science nights recently, the annual festival where scientists give talks in pubs. I saw Professor Jon Cooper speak about his research into Batten’s Disease, Dr Claire Troake describe the Brain Bank where people can donate their brain tissue after death, Dr Gemma Modinos describe her research into social and emotional aspects of psychosis and Dr Nigel Blackwood talk about psychopathic traits.
Psychopathic traits are measured by a questionnaire called the psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R). They include callousness, a lack of empathy, a tendency towards relating to others in a grandiose way, or trying to manipulate others. Psychopathic behaviours also include persistent aggressive acts, both as a reaction and as a way of trying to get something. Studies also show people with psychopathy have difficulty being able to recognise fear and sadness in other people’s facial expressions.
Psychopathic traits can be thought of on a spectrum, like most human characteristics. The presence of a high level of these traits is really dangerous, as high levels usually go along with committing severe violent crimes. It is possible to have lower levels of these traits as well, perhaps not reaching a clinical cut off but still suggesting some problems in the same areas.
I asked Nigel Blackwood, clinical academic in forensic psychiatry, if it’s possible to spot someone with high levels of psychopathic traits when you’re dating. He acknowledged it could be difficult at first, that often they are very charming, although they might not be that interested in you. His top tips were “take your time, and seek collateral information.” Good advice for us all.