I have held off writing about my thoughts on this matter for a while, but the more I think about it, the more it seems to make sense. Clearly, Batman is a fictional character, and one that has appeared in many incarnations, but I believe his overall personality and history seems to make him a close candidate for a diagnosis of psychopath. I’m not a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist, but here is my case.
Young Bruce Wayne witnessed both of his parents murdered together in cold blood. The emotional trauma of this event and the extreme misery to follow could very easily stymie brain development in profound ways. For a child witnessing their parents die in a grotesquely violent act at the hands of a killer, that killer has also just abused the child in a very serious and disturbing way. Child abuse is one of the primary suspects for the development of serious personality disorders, including those that result in a lack of empathy. Presumably, this act also made the young Bruce develop an obsession with criminals and instill in him the need to make sure they are brought to justice.
I don’t know much about the adolescent Bruce Wayne, perhaps someone who is more familiar with the canon can let me know if he was socially deviant, reckless, and callous.
There can be little doubt that Batman himself is extremely violent. Beating villains into a bloody mess seems second nature. Other than the apparent lack of empathy, it is worth noticing that the violence dished out by Batman is very personal; it is close quarter, bone crunching, skin ripping, joint popping, and back stomping violence. In other words, it’s a very intimate level of violence. This seems to point to him getting a thrill out of hurting people, which makes him a sadist. It is widely known that Batman does not use guns (an aversion that could perhaps be explained by his parents being gunned down), but guns are very impersonal. The irony here, which helps enrich the story, is that the Joker also likes to use personal forms of violence, such as knives, on his victims.
There is also an argument to be had that the adult Wayne (and Batman) lack emotion. Batman is usually very clear-minded, cold, and calculated in his behavior. One often hears it is bad to let “emotion” get in the way of making decisions, but perhaps here, Batman has very little to get in the way. Yet clearly, there is always an explosive rage ready burst out of Batman, usually in the form of fists, feet, and head butts. Arguably, he doesn’t have much of an emotional spectrum, which is perhaps one of the reasons he cannot seem to maintain a good relationship (with the exception of Alfred).
There is a parallel between Batman, and the fictional serial killer from Jeff Lindsay’s novels, Dexter. While Batman does typically withhold from killing, he still has a code that provides the parameters for his violence. These parameters help to keep him socially acceptable, as he’s only going after the bad guys. Although, Batman’s code, like all tyrannical codes, have an element of the greater good. Any philosophy that incorporates the greater good will result in the denial of human rights to at least one, but often many individuals. Depending on the group, one could argue that the temporary denial of their rights is necessary, as politicians often do (although not in these words), but nonetheless it places people on different levels of worth. In fact, prisoners, which were at one time criminals, are an incredibly vulnerable group of individuals because they are very much at the mercy of the state, and in scientific research, the use of prisoners is heavily regulated.
Much of these ideas have already been realized in the superhero comics, especially how morality is very often a slippery slope.
Still, if I was asked to write a Batman story, and part of the story included him being diagnosed using Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, I don’t think it would be a stretch to convince people of a score of at least 25.
While the promise of thrill seeking is enough to excite your average psychopath, the Bat Signal clearly gives Batman a raging boner.