Sanctuary for the Abused
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
WHO ARE THE PSYCHOPATHS AMONG US?
Canadian develops test to measure those with psychopathic personality on a 40-point scale
Diagnostic tool was used in Brampton courtroom this week to declare man dangerous offender
by BETSY POWELL -- CRIME REPORTER
In everyday parlance, people may refer to a "psycho neighbour" or "psycho boss," but the real measure of a psychopath is "the Hare" — a diagnostic tool developed by Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, the world's foremost authority on psychopaths.
Technically known as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised or (PCL-R), the Hare uses a 40-point scale to score its subjects. A result of 30 or more usually indicates a person with a psychopathic personality disorder.
The Hare was cited in a Brampton courtroom this week as Jeffrey Michael Campbell was declared a dangerous offender, putting the 26-year-old behind bars, perhaps for the rest of his life.
Mr. Justice Casey Hill called Campbell an "incurable, untreatable psychopath" in his judgment, which followed Campbell's conviction two years ago in the "thrill kill," hit-and-run death of 65-year-old Frank Groves as he cycled to a Brampton coffee shop.
A passenger reported the Windsor native smirked when the car hit Groves.
Prosecutors told the court Campbell scored higher on the Hare than serial killer Clifford Olsen and sex slayer Paul Bernardo. Campbell, who set two playmates ablaze when he was 5 and has more than 40 convictions, scored 38 — compared to Olsen's 37 and Bernardo's 36.
Based on studies with small samples, an average Canadian would score no more than three or four on the test, Hare said in an interview yesterday from his B.C. home.
Any less than three or four is "sliding into sainthood," said Hare, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia.
Hare estimates that about 1 per cent of Canadians would meet the "strict criteria for psychopathy ... if the PCL-R was administered," meaning they scored 30 or higher. But anyone scoring between 25 to 30 likely has enough psychopathic characteristics that "we would be concerned, particularly if he or she has a history of criminal behaviour," Hare said.
The average score for incarcerated male offenders in North America is 23.3.
Hare said Campbell's marginally higher score doesn't mean he is more dangerous than his infamous brethren, because other factors must be considered when assessing a person's capacity for violence or chances of rehabilitation. That information would include court transcripts, police reports, criminal records and previous psychologists' reports.
The Hare takes its subject's measure in 20 categories that include "glibness/superficial charm," "grandiose sense of self-worth," "pathological lying," "callous/lack of empathy" and "lack of remorse or guilt."
Administered by a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist, each category or "trait" is assigned a score of zero, (item doesn't apply) one (applies in some respects) or two (in all respects) with the sum yielding total scores, ranging from 0 to 40.
An interviewer aware of Campbell's post-carnage "snicker" would likely have boosted his score in the "callous/lack of empathy" category, for instance.
There is a substantial array of research backing its reliability, Steven Stein said in a separate interview from Toronto. He is CEO of Canada's Multi-Health Systems, which publishes Hare's manuals, rating booklets and "quick score forms."
But there is also a measure of error, Hare cautioned, similar to what pollsters refer to when releasing polling data. "It's conceivable someone scoring a 37 or 38 could be a true 30 to 34."
For example, if the Hare test is to psychopathy what the Richter is to earthquakes, Hare notes the Richter scale is a "physical measurement" and therefore more precise. "Any kind of personality trait you try to measure ... there is measurement error," and different clinicians can come up with different scores.
Hare also warns that test results should not — and they weren't in the Campbell case — be used as "the sole determining factor in assessing a court disposition. It is only part of a package of risk factors," he said.
He compares this to assessing a patient's risk of a heart attack based only on high blood pressure without looking at such things as cholesterol levels or lifestyle habits. "With psychopathy ... we're not quite sure, but we're beginning to believe you aren't either a psychopath or not a psychopath, there are gradations of severity of the symptoms that define psychopathy."
Hare began studying psychopaths in the 1960s and first published a manual in 1991 aimed only at assessing incarcerated males, either in forensic psychiatric hospitals or detention facilities.
Asked for a lay definition of a psychopath, Hare suggests someone "who lacks a conscience but (is) otherwise is intellectually intact, so knows right from wrong, but simply feels that the rules don't apply to them," he said.
He finds the term is often misused.
"Newspapers often have the headings, psycho boss or psycho this — well, psycho implies somebody is psychotic and this is not an appropriate term here," he said.
"But a lot of people have a pretty good understanding. These are not warm, loving individuals. These are people who are concerned primarily for Number 1.
"I think one of the essential characteristics is they seem to lack the capacity to construct an emotional facsimile of other people. They can't become socially or emotionally connected to other people in a really deep, meaningful way."
He likens it to a colour-blind person trying to understand colour. "You can explain ... what it's like to really feel fear, anxiety, remorse, and deep dejection, and things of that sort, basic emotions, but they don't understand except in some sort of verbal way because they themselves have not experienced this complete range of emotions."
In his 1993 book, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, Hare devoted a chapter to psychopaths in the corporate world. His latest research is taking him further into the executive suite.
Hare's upcoming book, co-written with a colleague, is called Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work.
Also coming soon is a screening program called the B-Scan, which tests for psychopathic tendencies in the office.
The individual being evaluated doesn't take the test — their superiors, subordinates and peers rate the subject in four categories: organizational maturity, personal style, emotional style and social style, with subcategories on issues like reliability and honesty.
Hare said the B-Scan can help identify employees with psychopathic tendencies, even though traits such as being impulsive and ruthless "are in fact valued in organizations," he acknowledges.
"We would say sure, up to a point — (but) how psychopathic do you have to be before it becomes really dysfunctional?"