Is criminal behavior a central component of psychopathy? Conceptual directions for resolving the debate

Jennifer Skeem, David J. Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The development of the Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (PCL–R; R. D. Hare, 2003) has fueled intense clinical interest in the construct of psychopathy. Unfortunately, a side effect of this interest has been conceptual confusion and, in particular, the conflating of measures with constructs. Indeed, the field is in danger of equating the PCL–R with the theoretical construct of psychopathy. A key point in the debate is whether criminal behavior is a central component, or mere downstream correlate, of psychopathy. In this article, the authors present conceptual directions for resolving this debate. First, factor analysis of PCL–R items in a theoretical vacuum cannot reveal the essence of psychopathy. Second, a myth about the PCL–R and its relation to violence must be examined to avoid the view that psychopathy is merely a violent variant of antisocial personality disorder. Third, a formal, iterative process between theory development and empirical validation must be adopted. Fundamentally, constructs and measures must be recognized as separate entities, and neither reified. Applying such principles to the current state of the field, the authors believe the evidence favors viewing criminal behavior as a correlate, not a component, of psychopathy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-445
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Assessment
Volume22
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010

Keywords

  • construct validity
  • criminal behavior
  • violence risk assessment
  • psychopathy

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