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secondary psychopathyMost of us find the behavior of the true psychopath frightening enough that we have few issues with locking them up and throwing away the key. They seem so very different from us and hearing the facts of their behavior is frightening and leaves us feeling unsafe. If you are not afraid of the psychopath, read a few of our posts on psychopathy and watch your mind change.

Now that you have accepted the reality that all psychopaths are cold, callous and untreatable, here’s something to ponder. A new study tells us that contrary to popular belief, there are some psychopaths who have feelings and might be amenable to treatment—especially if they have intervention while they are young [and that by itself might challenge their being categorized as a psychopath].

Researchers examined 150 male and female juveniles ages 11 to 17 (60% male; 85% White, 5% Hispanic, 3% African-American, and 6% multiracial or other; average age of 15.2 years) who had been classified as “callous and unemotional” and had severe anti-social behaviors that put them at risk of developing psychopathic traits as adults. What they found was that many of these juveniles did fit the classic definition of psychopathy—but others did not. Instead, say the researchers, some of the budding psychopaths had feelings. They call this group with higher internal emotionality “secondary psychopaths”.

“They appear callous and unemotional to others but are actually very distressed, have high levels of anxiety, higher levels of depression, higher levels of emotion.”

Rather than callous and unemotional, the researchers say these secondary psychopaths are actually callous and emotional. That is, the secondary psychopaths do have high psychopathic traits, but they also have higher anxiety and depression. The researchers believe that those who can be identified as secondary psychopaths experience higher levels of negative emotion, more intense negative emotion, and more intense positive emotion than those in the primary (stereotypical) group of psychopaths. In short, they believe the high psychopathy scores of the callous and emotional secondary psychopaths makes them appear unfeeling to the observer, but internally they are in turmoil.

To identify the subgroup of youths with higher levels of internal emotionality, the researchers used comprehensive diagnostic tests (the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits, Impulsivity Conduct Problems and trait Narcissism subscales from the Antisocial Process Screening device, teacher report scores on screening measures, Behavioral Inhibition Scale, Behavioral Activation Scale, Sensation Seeking Scale, Interpersonal Reactivity Index, Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale, Positive and Negative Affect Schedule) and sophisticated statistical analysis to differentiate between those with classic psychopathic traits (i.e., low empathy and insensitivity to the pain of others) and those with a “surplus of unregulated emotion”.

This is the first study to identify girls as especially likely to fall within the high internal emotionality group. In fact, there were more females in the secondary psychopathy group than in the primary psychopathy group. The researchers believe that if we offer treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy that offer strategies for managing emotions—we can actually change the incidence of unwanted behaviors. This would save, according to the authors, as much as $3M across the lifetime of a single young adult.

This is an important first effort and we hope to see more intensive work along these lines. What the article says is not to make assumptions and we would agree. Do not make assumptions that all psychopaths have no internal emotionality. On the other hand, do not make assumptions that all psychopaths have (deep down inside) internal emotionality that makes them amenable to treatment.

Remain curious. And remain wary.

Gill AD, & Stickle TR (2015). Affective Differences Between Psychopathy Variants and Genders in Adjudicated Youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology PMID: 25727716

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The Dirty Dozen Scale 

Friday, May 22, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

dirtydozenThis is not a scale to help you determine if your fruits and vegetables are dirty. This is for a different kind of dirt commonly referred to as the dark triad. Psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism make up the dark triad of personality traits and they are traits we all want to identify at different points in time. You might think of the dark triad as ubiquitous in the truly “bad boy” to whom many are drawn (for brief periods).

This research scale is short (only 12-items) and it is quickly gaining popularity among researchers for ease of use and accuracy in assessment of the traits. The authors of the Dirty Dozen [scale items] Scale wanted to reduce the requirement of using 90 items across three different scales to measure the dark triad and so designed this measure. We’ll just tell you it is psychometrically valid and reliable rather than going into explanations of how the scale was designed across multiple studies.

We first became aware of this scale when reading about it in the study of narcissism and first person pronouns. It’s a great name for a scale and hence, we wanted to share it with you here.

These are a few sample questions from this 12-item scale (although the full-scale has also been published on Facebook—complete with scoring information).

I tend to manipulate others to get my way.

I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.

I tend to seek prestige or status.

I tend to expect special favors from others.

The remaining questions are equally brief and plain language. The author’s comment that, in addition to being correlated with longer measures of the dark triad, scores on the Dirty Dozen Scale tend to show “a consistent pattern of disagreeableness, aggression, and short-term mating.

It’s a nice, face-valid (i.e., it looks like it measures what it is supposed to measure) scale that is brief enough to use in research while also accurate in assessing the presence of narcissistic traits that make up the dark triad. What is amazing—and perhaps adds face validity to the scale—is that people who are low on this scale also are the kind of folk who would consider saying “yes” to these items to indicate very bad character. Those who earn high scores on it? The questions are equally obvious to them, but they don’t mind owning those “yes” answers! A quick review of the Facebook page posting the entire scale shows commenters expressing awe at the scale’s proficiency in describing their “ex”. While we don’t really recommend you do that, it is an interesting scale for consideration in a wide variety of contexts.

Jonason PK, & Webster GD (2010). The dirty dozen: a concise measure of the dark triad. Psychological Assessment, 22 (2), 420-32 PMID: 20528068

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I Me Mine NarcissismConservative commentators like to say Barack Obama is cold and aloof (and narcissistic) because he uses so many personal pronouns in speeches. However, when compared to past Presidents, Obama’s personal pronoun use is actually lower than any President since 1945. It’s an interesting example of how our preexisting beliefs (and political orientation) skew how we hear things and thus form conclusions about others. Those of us who are old enough to remember the Beatles song I Me Mine, might think it an apt description of the narcissist.

Narcissists are characterized by an unrealistic sense of superiority and self-importance, and a persistent self-focus [recall Narcissus from mythology, forever gazing at his image in the water]. While they may seem charming at first, over time their grandiosity, self-focus and self-importance becomes toxic and suffocating and they lose relationships. So can we identify those who use personal pronouns excessively as narcissists? It makes some intuitive sense and it is certainly common wisdom. But, can we really use the frequency of personal pronouns as a good quick-and-dirty screening tool for narcissism? That was the question today’s researchers sought to answer. But they wanted to do it thoroughly and so used 4,811 subjects, across 5 separate labs, with 5 separate narcissism measures, and with English speakers and German speakers. So, large sample, multiple labs, multiple measures of narcissism, and multiple countries/languages.

The researchers say at the outset that while many believe there is a relationship between “I-talk” and narcissism, and this idea makes intuitive sense, there is actually little empirical evidence to support it (and what evidence exists is inconsistent). The researchers accessed 15 samples to examine the relationship of I-talk to narcissism. The samples included the ubiquitous psychology undergraduates, but also social network users in Germany, and German and US Facebook users.

Measures used included the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (in both German and English), the Dirty Dozen Scale, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (in both German and English) and several single-item measures of narcissism. Written samples of various texts participants were asked to generate across different contexts (e.g., talking about some aspect of their own identity, writing about a topic related to themselves, or an impersonal topic) were analyzed by the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software program.

Here is what the researchers found:

“Overall our analyses revealed consistent evidence of a near-zero effect. In short, our high powered investigation provided little compelling support for the often discussed connection between narcissism and I-talk.

In other words, narcissism was unrelated to total I-talk. And that means you can’t diagnose narcissism through self-referential speech. For the grammarians among us, the researchers measured first person singular pronouns as well as participant use of subjective, objective and possessive first-person singular pronouns. There were simply not relationships between the use of self-referential pronouns and narcissism.

The researchers wonder if the “intuitive association between I-talk and narcissism might be based more on a schema-based perceptual process, in the mind of the perceiver, rather than on an analytic pronoun count”. To me, that sounds like “if I don’t like you I will perceive your speech as indicating you are narcissistic”. Which is, in itself, somewhat self-referentially narcissistic.

In everyday language, what that means is that if your attitudes, beliefs and values (and even your political ideology) vary from the speaker, you may be more prone to “hear” narcissism than if you are listening to someone whose values seem to align with your own. If you had a Mom like mine, it mostly means that you talk too much about yourself.

That is a phenomena many of us have seen as we listen to mock jurors react based on mishearing facts and evidence and incorporating their own beliefs into their judgment. We understand this as a problem with the case narrative hitting on “hot button” beliefs that mean mock jurors have defend their pre-existing beliefs.

Just like the conspiracy theorist, these jurors who “just are not listening”, help us refine and re-craft case narratives so they touch on universal values rather than attitude/value/belief/ideology “hot buttons” that result in off-track reactions.

Carey, AL, Brucks, MS, Küfner, ACP, Holtzman, NS, Deters, FG, Back, MD, Donnellan, MB, Pennebaker, JW, & Mehl, MR (2015). Narcissists and Pronouns: “I”, “me” “mine”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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millennial tattooWe’ve written a lot about tattoos here and this writeup is going to be a little different from most of our posts. Rather than spending time on the research findings, we want to cite some of the more unusual and surprising findings the author reviews as a prelude to her results.

So, to be brief, the researcher found that Millennials are growing up and yes, they do know tattoos may be frowned upon in some parts of the business world. Further, many of them say that they will consider how able they will be to conceal a new tattoo in business attire as they approach the job market. That isn’t that surprising to us at all. What was surprising was some of the literature the author cited as she reviewed (oh the many) reasons someone should talk to Millennials and make sure they realize tattoos are permanent and may keep them from getting hired.

Here are just a few of the findings she cites in her review of the literature:

There is a Facebook page called “Tattoo Acceptance in the Workplace” which has over 2 million “likes”! (It seems to be more a place to show your art than to talk about the issues related to having tattoos in the workplace.)

A 2012 study showed that customers who have tattoos are more likely to trust salespeople who also have tattoos and that people associate more positive traits to salespeople with “feminine tattoos”.

Another survey completed in 2012 in a rural hospital showed patients did not view male health care professionals with tattoos positively. Caregivers with tattoos are seen as “unsanitary” or “dirty”. It is imagined that the judges of the tattoos are not, themselves, owners of tattoos. No ink-bonding there. Another 2010 health care setting survey resulted in concerns about infection control since tattoo cover ups could hamper good washing of the hands. We imagine that there is concern that some people who cover up tattoos don’t realize that they need to be uncovered for the sake of cleaning skin. An odd concern, we think.

Undergraduate accounting students in 2011 thought accounting professionals should not have visible tattoos (even though 26% of the survey participants had their own tattoos!). Further, those students had less confidence in the tattooed accountant and were less likely to recommend the services of a tattooed accountant.

A man in Pennsylvania sought employment as a “Liquor Enforcement Officer” in 2012 and was told in order to be hired he would have to remove his tattoos. He filed a lawsuit alleging multiple violations and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the lower court ruling (for the Defendant) saying “having a tattoo is not a fundamental right”.

Another ruling in 2006 involved lawsuit by several police officers who claimed their police chief did not have the authority to force employees to cover up tattoos because they were “offensive” or “unprofessional”. The court said that public employees may expect to have their first amendment rights more curtailed in order to “promote effective government”.

It is intriguing that self-expression tends to lose in court. Even more so, it is a testament to the power of the tattoo to divide even those with tattoos. Tattoos are going to be judged and they are almost always going to be judged negatively (even by those who also have tattoos)—so if you are a tattooed attorney or have a tattooed client, you may want to cover your own and have your client cover theirs as well while in court.

Foltz, KA (2015). The Millennial’s perception of tattoos: Self expression or business faux pas? College Student Journal

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murdered black maleIn December of last year, we wrote about investigative case files in Shreveport, Louisiana. One of the findings in the analysis of those investigative files was this:

Overall, say the researchers, cases with White female victims resulted in the highest number of case file pages (i.e., the most investigative work) and the most severe sentences. In contrast, Black male homicide victims received the least investigative attention and the least severe sentences.

Now, data from the Capital Jury Project has been used to see whether there was a “White female victim effect”. The “female victim effect” describes the tendency for longer sentences or the death penalty when the victim was a female and especially when the victim was a White female who was killed by a Black male.

The Capital Jury Project study involved examining 249 cases of which 57.4% resulted in the death penalty and 42.6% resulted in a life sentence. A little over half (58.2%) of the capital trials took place in a southern jurisdiction. 56.2% of the cases had White male defendants and 43.8% had Black male defendants.

In 41% of the cases, the victim was a White female and of those cases, 61.8% resulted in a death sentence and 38.2% resulted in life sentences.

37.8% of the cases involved White male victims, and of those cases, 59.6% resulted in a death sentence and 40.4% resulted in life sentences.

12% of the cases involved Black male victims, and of those cases, only 38.7% resulted in a death sentence and 61.3% resulted in life sentences.

8.8% of the cases involved Black female victims and in those 22 cases, 54.5% resulted in a death sentence and 45.5% resulted in a life sentence.

Even just reading those numbers, it is apparent that if you are a White victim, your killer is more likely to receive a death penalty sentence and if you are a Black male victim, the opposite is true. The researchers say that the difference is “not as pronounced in Black female victim cases” but for Black males, the difference is statistically significant and sobering.

If that isn’t disturbing enough, comments from the jurors seem to indicate they don’t see the Black male homicide victim as having “suffered” as much as other victims. That is, they perceived suffering for the victim in 76.8% of the White female victim cases but only in 31% of the Black male victim cases. “Nearly 79% of Black male victim cases are perceived by jurors not to involve brutality and another 69% of the cases are perceived by jurors not to involve suffering.”

Here’s a representative comment from a male juror: “you shoot somebody and they die right there and then I don’t think there is any suffering to happen”.

And a representative comment from a female juror: “I don’t know if you’d call it brutal or not. He [the defendant] just got it over with…if there was torture involved then I would call it brutal…but there was no torture involved. He just shot him.”

The researchers conclude that “victim race, not victim gender, appears to be driving juror decision-making in capital cases”. They focus on what they say is a “black male victim effect”: and define it this way:

“It appears that defendants who kill Black male victims are significantly less likely to receive a death sentence compared to defendants convicted of killing White female and White male victims”.

Ultimately, this research finds (through involved archival work and juror interviews) what they found in Louisiana by just measuring the thickness of the investigative files.

Black male victims do not get justice at either the investigative stage or the criminal trial stage. The investigations are far shorter and less thorough than for White victims.

This disparity at the investigative stage appears to be an artifact of what prosecutors deem to be most worthy of effort in homicide investigations, but it is offensively unfair to those murder victims who are Black males, and arguably, to a justice-minded populace.

For all of us, it is a sad statement when a measure like simply counting pages in a prosecutorial file shows us what the system values and then when presented in court, decisions are made that reflect what the system says is valuable.

Girgenti, A. (2015). The Intersection of Victim Race and Gender: The “Black Male Victim Effect” and the Death Penalty Race and Justice DOI: 10.1177/2153368715570060

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