A dark side to the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R)?

Anyone interested in psychopaths and the history of the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist – Revised) should definitely take a look a look at this NPR interview with Dr. Robert Hare.

I don’t know why this surprised me, but it genuinely did. I have read a number of awesome things about the PCL-R, including seeing it noted as “The international gold-standard” for determining psychopathy. The PCL-R is often used in neurobiological studies when putting together an experimental group, to then see if there are statistically significant differences in the brain between psychopaths and non-psychopaths. As the article points out, the PCL-R has also predicted high rates of recidivism of violent criminals released on parole – so it’s good at predicting re-offending.

So what could be the problem?

It turns out that Dr. Hare was always worried about members of the criminal justice system using the test, not in the least because “branding” people a psychopath is a terribly serious thing to do that will effect the rest of that person’s life. Not only does psychopathy point to differences in the brain that are permanent, but there is currently no way to rehabilitate a psychopath (training them to become non-psychopathic). The article notes a man in prison in California, Robert Dixon, who has been branded a psychopath, and he is consequently having a hard time proving he isn’t a psychopath (if he isn’t a psychopath, this will be one hell of an uphill struggle, not in the least because psychopaths are known to be compulsive liars and prone to manipulating people). There are two points to realize here; firstly, if people believe you are truly a psychopath, then your cry for justice has just been silenced, and secondly, as you have just been silenced, you are open to be abused by mental health “experts” and the state.

Hare was also terrified to see that many people in the criminal justice system were not administering the PCL-R correctly (you have to be trained and you have to be a mental health expert). However, there were also differences in scores on the PCL-R when administered by a psychologist hired by the defense (scores were lower, thus less or non psychopathic), and psychologists hired by the prosecution (scores were higher, thus more psychopathic). This has prompted Hare to only want the test administered in scientific settings, where there is no immediate consequence on a person’s life.

Check out the NPR article for more information.

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