What makes a sociopath? It's probably not weak dads and controlling mummies. The evidence seems to indicate that they are lacking some fundamental bits of brain wiring that most of us have in the limbic system. Such, at least, is the argument presented in Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, a book that I recently reread. Psychopaths, another word for sociopaths, lack empathy but also seem lack emotional anticipation of punishment. If you tell a normal person that you will give them a painful electric shock when your count reaches ten, they will react with changes in heart rate and other symptoms of stress as the shock approaches. Not so the psychopath, who doesn't react until the shock happens. Repeated exposure to the shock makes normals even more stressed, but not the sociopaths.
This failure to identify with their future distress seems to be related to their lack of empathy. It's also what makes them likely recidivists. A supposedly reliable method for identifying the psychopath is putting them in an MRI unit and seeing how they react to various kinds of imagery that most of us find distressing. Another method, developed mainly through study of criminals, is the Hare checklist that is the title character in Ronson's book. When I read through the checklist, I couldn't help but think about a certain prominent figure. Here is the list and my untrained and inexpert scoring of the items. Each item is scored as zero one, or two, with zero indicating the subject does not exhibit the trait and two indicating that the trait is exhibited to a high degree.
Item 1: Glibness/superficial charm Score: 2
Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth Score: 2
Item 3: Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom. Score: 2
Item 4: Pathological lying Score: 2
Item 5: Conning/manipulative. Score: 2
Item 6: Lack of remorse or guilt. Score: 2
Item 7: Shallow affect. Score: 1?
Item 8: Callous/lack of empathy. Score: 2
Item 9: Parasitic lifestyle. Score 1?
Item 10: Poor behavioral controls. Score: 2
Item 11: Promiscuous sexual behavior. Score: 2
Item 12: Early behavior problems. Score: 1
Item 13: Lack of realistic long-term goals. Score: 1
Item 14: Impulsivity. Score: 2
Item 15: Irresponsibility. Score: 2
Item 16: Failure to accept responsibility for own actions. Score: 2
Item 17: Many short-term marital relationships. Score: 1
Item 18: Juvenile delinquency. Score: 0
Item 19: Revocation of conditional release. Score: 0
Item 20: Criminal versatility. Score: 0
Ronson, Jon. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (pp. 97-98). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.Feel free to guess whom I have in mind, or analyze your friends, neighbors and favorite bloggers. I get a score of 29 for the subject that I have in mind. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders:
A score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy. People with no criminal backgrounds normally score around 5. Many non-psychopathic criminal offenders score around 22.