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Psychopathy: how to identify a psychopathic behavior

You have more in common with a psychopath than you realise

Identify a psychopathic behavior

Psychopathy is among the most difficult mental disorders to diagnose and detect. The psychopath can appear normal and even be charming. However, the psychopath lacks awareness and empathy, making him manipulative, volatile, and often (but not always) criminal. This disorder is the object of popular fascination and clinical distress: adult psychopathy is largely impervious to treatment, although there are programs to treat insensitive and emotionless young people in the hope of preventing them from becoming psychopaths.

Sociopathy x Psychopathy

Many forensic psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists use the terms sociopath and psychopath interchangeably. Leading experts disagree on whether there are significant differences between the two conditions. However, there are clear and significant distinctions between them.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, lists both sociopathy and psychopathy under the title Antisocial Personality Disorder. These disorders share many common behavioral traits that lead to confusion between them. The key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths have in common include:

  • A disregard for social laws and customs
  • Disrespect for the rights of others
  • The lack of remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to show violent behavior

In addition to their similarities, sociopaths, and psychopaths also have unique behavioral characteristics.


Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of anger. They are unlikely to be educated and live on the margins of society, unable to maintain a stable job or stay in one place for long. It is difficult, but not impossible for sociopaths to form groups with others. Many sociopaths can form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they do not take into account society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will look very disturbed. Any crime committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be casual, disorganized, and spontaneous, rather than planned.


Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional bonds or feel real empathy with others, although they often have seductive or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily earn people's trust. They learn to imitate emotions, despite the inability to feel them and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and maintain stable jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and simulation, that they have families and other long-term relationships, without those around them suspecting their true nature.

Behaviors observed in Psychopaths

Good speech

The psychopath is well articulated and a great personal marketer. Like an actor on stage, he conquers the victim by fawning and telling wild stories about himself. With half a dozen difficult words, he pretends to be a sociologist, doctor, philosopher, writer, artist, or lawyer.

Inflated ego

He thinks he's the most important guy in the world. Self-assured, opinionated, domineering. He loves to have power over people and believes that no hunch is worth as much as his ideas.

Pathological liar

You lie so much that sometimes you don't realize that you're lying. He is even proud of his ability to deceive. For him, the world is made up of fighters and predators, and it would make no sense to take advantage of the good faith of the weakest.

Adrenaline thirst

He does not tolerate monotony and is hardly leaning against repetitive work or a wedding. You need to live on the razor's edge, breaking rules. Some venture into rifts, others into drugs, and a minority into crime.

Burst reaction

Reacts disproportionately to insult, frustration, and threat. But the burst goes as fast as it comes, and soon it starts acting as if nothing has happened - it's so emotionless that he can't even hold a grudge.


Although rational, do not waste time weighing the pros and cons before taking action. If you're in the mood for something, go out there and get it out of the way. If you feel like it, drop everything. Your plan is today.

Antisocial Behavior

Social rules do not make sense to anyone who is driven only by pleasure, indifferent to others. Those who become criminals, in general, have no preferences: they like to experience all kinds of crimes.

Absence of guilt

Wherever he goes, he leaves empty pockets and broken hearts. But why feel bad if the pain is from the other, and not from him? For the psychopath, guilt is just a mechanism for controlling people.

Superficial feelings

Emotion exists only in words. If you date, it will be because of lust and power over the other, not out of love. If you lose a friend, you will not be sad, but frustrated at having one less source of favors.

Lack of empathy

He cannot put himself in the place of the next. For the psychopath, people are nothing more than objects to use for their own pleasure. He does not love: if he gets married and has children, he will have the family as his possession, not as loved ones.


Commitment doesn't tell you anything - it tends to be a bad employee, an unfaithful lover, and a sluggish parent. However, as family and friends are a source of status and material goods, each blunder already has a ready promise: “I changed. This will never happen again ”.

Child misconduct

Your problems appear early. He has already started to steal, use drugs, skip classes, and have sexual experiences between 10 and 12 years. For his wickedness, he spares no classmates, brothers, or animals.

How to identify Psychopathy

When we talk about psychopathy, we are talking about a spectrum. It can be identified or diagnosed using a 20-item checklist, developed by a Canadian psychologist named Robert D. Hare. Hare is a specialist in criminal psychology and psychopathy, having written important works such as "Psychology of Criminal Investigations". According to the checklist devised by Hare, the threshold for clinical psychopathy is achieved by obtaining a score of 30 or more. A person's brain anatomy, genetics, and environment can all contribute to the development of psychopathic traits.

Robert Hare scale

The Robert Hare scale is a checklist for psychopathy, also called the Hare Scale. In the test, a clinician interviews a potential psychopath and classifies him into 20 criteria, such as "promiscuous sexual behavior" or "impulsivity". In each criterion, the subject is classified on a 3-point scale: (0 = item does not apply, 1 = item applies a little, 2 = item definitely applies). The scores are added together to create a rating from zero to 40. Anyone who scores 30 points or more is likely to be a psychopath.

In 1991 Hare created the method of assessment to diagnose a person's degrees of psychopathy and identified the criteria that are now universally accepted for diagnosing people with this personality disorder. The instrument weighs prototypical personality traits of psychopathy. It was designed to safely and objectively assess the degree of dangerousness and adaptation to the community life of convicts, and the countries that instituted it showed a considerable rate of reduction in criminal recidivism. Only in 2000 did the Hare PCL-R Scale (Psycopathy Checklist-Revised) be translated and validated in Brazil.

The test

The following test is to determine your degree of psychopathy. This test was based on the Robert Hare Scale, the leading expert on the subject. This scale is used by psychiatrists, so try to answer it as properly as you really are, otherwise, the result may not be pleasant.

  1. You have “excess shine” or superficial charm
  2. You have an excess of self - esteem
  3. You need constant stimulation, don't like monotony, and are prone to boredom
  4. You are a pathological liar, one who is proud to deceive people
  5. You are always manipulating
  6. You have a total lack of remorse or guilt
  7. Do you have “superficial affection” or “superficial feelings”
  8. You are insensitive or have a complete lack of empathy
  9. You have a “parasitic lifestyle”, you are always taking advantage of others
  10. You have great difficulty in controlling your attitudes
  11. You have a history of promiscuous sexual behavior
  12. You have a history of childhood behavioral problems
  13. You don't have realistic long-term goals
  14. You are overly impulsive
  15. You have a high level of irresponsibility
  16. You don't take responsibility for your own actions, you always blame other people.
  17. You have had many short-term “marital relationships”
  18. You have a history of juvenile delinquency
  19. Have you experienced a “repeal of probation”
  20. You exhibit “criminal versatility”


If you scored more than 30 points (that is, you answered "a little" or "definitely" most of these questions) then you can be a psychopath. If you rated less than that, take a breath. You are normal!


Psychotherapy is one of the main treatments for people with this mental disorder. Psychotherapeutic follow-up can be essential to relieve some symptoms.

Psychotherapy can be carried out individually between a psychologist and the patient or in a group setting and even for affected family members.

Psychopathy on the screens

Mindhunter, the original Netflix series that debuted last October, brings psychopathy to the screens once again. The series, set in the late 1970s, shows two FBI agents investigating the minds of serial killers and psychopaths.

Between 1970 and 1980, murderers who committed violent crimes in the United States became the subject of study by the FBI, which sought to understand the triggers and motivations of criminals. The material collected by the investigation work of special agents John Douglas and Robert Ressler, at the beginning of what would become forensic psychology, gave rise to the book Mindhunter: The First American Serial Killers Hunter (published in Brazil by Intrinsic).

In the past, films like Seven (1995), Hannibal (2001), and The Men Who Didn't Love Women (2011) also addressed the behavior of psychopaths and serial killers. And who does not remember the character Joker, which originated in the Batman comics?

Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
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