The word itself has become a synonym for a certain type of evil, denoting a specific breed of cunning, bloodthirsty predator who lacks empathy, remorse and impulse control, readily violating social rules and exploiting others to get what he or she wants. We know psychopaths make up 15 to 20 percent of the prison population, at least 70 percent of repeat violent offenders and the significant majority of serial killers and sex offenders.
With his leather jacket, silver goatee and circumspect gaze, Hare looks more like a retired detective than an emeritus academic. Ostensibly, he retired in , when he closed his renowned psychopathy research lab at the University of British Columbia UBC.
But Hare remains an active researcher, developing new assessment tools, giving keynote addresses at conferences around the globe and holding workshops for forensic clinicians, prison staff and FBI profilers. Since his so-called retirement, Hare has spawned variations of the PCL-R to assess youth and children exhibiting early signs of psychopathy.
What makes these people tick? How can we safeguard society against them? Perhaps most importantly, how are these predators spawned? This DSM classification endures today, yet while most psychopaths are diagnostically antisocial, the majority of people with antisocial personality disorder are not psychopaths.
Hare pictured early in his career when he worked as the psychologist at the maximum-security British Columbia Penitentiary. He grew up in a close-knit family in a working-class suburb of Calgary, Alberta. Hare found school easy but had no clue what he wanted to do with his life. He liked math, science and archaeology, but he took a mix of courses at the University of Alberta, including psychology. They married in , and a year later, their daughter, Cheryl, was born. At the University of Oregon, Hare began a Ph.
But when Cheryl had medical problems, they returned to Canada, where treatment would be more affordable. In , Hare took the first job he could get, as the psychologist at the British Columbia Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison on the outskirts of Vancouver.
He was installed in a remote part of the prison, many locked doors away from the guards, making the panic button above his desk useless. Within the first hour, he encountered his first psychopath, an inmate he calls Ray. When Hare refrained from pressing the panic button, Ray said he planned to use his weapon on another inmate.
Hare felt that Ray was testing him, so he chose not to report the prisoner or the contraband weapon to other staff. Hare brought his car to the shop for a tune-up just before his young family took their cross-country relocation trip.
As they drove down a hill, the brakes failed. Luckily they made it to a service station, where a mechanic discovered that the brake line had been rigged for a slow leak. Hare was relieved to escape to the academic world, now with an interest in studying the behavioral effects of rewards and punishment. He hoped to conduct experiments into the biological responses to fear, phobias, motivation, rewards and punishment.
At the time, UBC was a small regional school. The psychology department consisted of World War II-era army huts on the fringe of campus. Hare had no lab space, equipment or volunteers, so he called on colleagues at the BC Penitentiary and persuaded Correctional Services Canada to let him conduct risk assessment studies on the inmate population.
The study, published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology in , revealed that while most criminals and control subjects exhibited significant physiological stress in anticipation of the shock, psychopaths did not. In a similar study published the following year, participants were given the option to be shocked immediately or 10 seconds later.
Eighty to 90 percent of non-psychopaths and community controls chose to get it over with immediately, but only 56 percent of psychopaths chose that option, suggesting that they did not mind waiting for an unpleasant event.
Robert Hare, in a park near his Vancouver home. His work led to a standard test of psychopathy. But I stuck at it. Theory and Research, attracting some attention in academia. They revived me, and often they were the key study authors.
His biggest hurdle became the lack of a valid assessment tool. Using psychometric measures, he weaned the list down from to 22 items and in , he published a paper describing his new instrument, the Psychopathy Check List.
It immediately caught on with other researchers in North America and the U. One Hare Lab study found that 80 percent of PCL-R-rated psychopaths reoffended within three years, compared with only 20 percent of non-psychopaths. Hare had serious qualms about the potential misuse of the PCL-R outside controlled research settings, but after much deliberation, he sold the rights to a publisher in Courtesy Robert Hare While hooked up to an EEG that tracked brain activity, study participants looked at neutral or emotional words — table, desk, carpet, corpse, maggot, torture — followed by scrambled words.
There was no emotional turbo boost. That makes him unique. Eighty percent of the researchers in psychopathy, some of the biggest names, have never actually met a psychopath. So far, Kiehl has assessed more than 5, brains and found that psychopaths have functional and structural anomalies that affect emotions, impulse control and cognition, leading him to view psychopathy as a neurodevelopmental disorder — a belief he shares with a number of other researchers and psychologists.
Neuroimaging is now increasingly used in the courtroom, including at a death penalty trial for Brian Dugan, a Chicago prisoner already serving a multiple murder sentence and who was later convicted of the rape and murder of a year-old girl.
Kiehl was hired by the defense to assess Dugan with the PCL-R and a brain scan, to convince the jury that the convict with an IQ of had a neurological disorder that made him not criminally responsible, as is already the case for people with low IQ a neurological disorder that qualifies for ineligibility for execution in nine states. A year later, the death penalty was abolished in Illinois. But like his mentor, Kiehl believes that brain scans could be just as common in the courtroom as DNA, as long as the information is conveyed by credible experts.
It might turn out that psychopathy is causally associated with functional and structural deficits, but for now the jury is out. We still have a lot to learn. But some researchers think nurture trumps nature, and they equate it with early abuse and trauma.
Could children be vilified as bad seeds or given special resources or medical treatment? Could workers be tested for psychopathic tendencies by employers?
Could criminals be imprisoned for life based solely on brain scans? We have some super-empathetic people and if a fly dies, they feel remorse — one extreme. The other extreme may be the psychopath. Most of us are somewhere in-between. They could be genetically programmed, but what trigger mechanisms might set genes off? Whether the debate is settled soon or not, Hare thinks we need therapy programs designed for psychopaths, including ones for children who are too young to bear the psychopath label but have callous-unemotional traits, alongside conduct disorder behaviors like fighting, bullying and stealing.
A psychopath I met in my research once told me that using his head instead of his heart gave him an advantage. I ask Hare about the root Latin definition of psychopathy, which means a sickness of the soul. Psychopaths can be dangerous and cause very serious problems in society.
I think a better word is conscience, but what is that? Is it the concept of self-awareness? Can a computer think in this kind of abstract sense? Was it like an archaeologist discovering a new world? This is my claim to fame? Do you know that Heimlich did a lot of basic science research? No, you just know the Heimlich maneuver. The clinician scores each item with 0 no presence , 1 uncertain or 2 definitely present.
Psychopaths score 30 to 40 points. The general population typically scores less than 5, while the average score for prisoners is Since its inception, the checklist has remained the same, but the PCL-R manual has grown from a small pamphlet of just a few pages to the current plus-page book packed with statistical data from psychopathy specialists around the globe.