Review of Chapter 14: Psychopathic
from Sex-Related Homicide and Investigation, by Vernon J. Geberth
A Clinical Study By Dr. Robert Hare, Ph.D
October 20, 2004
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Psychopathy is a personality disorder defined by a cluster of interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and antisocial characteristics with serious, negative consequences for society. These features generally are measured by the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), which views psychopaths as egocentric, grandiose, arrogant, deceitful, manipulative, shallow, callous, impulsive, and sensation-seeking individuals who readily violate social norms and obligations without any sense of shame, guilt, or remorse. Among its more devastating features are a callous disregard for the rights of others and a propensity for predatory behavior and violence. Given these characteristics, as well as the extensive empirical literature on its association with criminal behavior, it is not surprising that psychopathy is widely regarded as one of the most important clinical disorders in the criminal justice system, particularly with respect to understanding and predicting criminal behavior. However, it is only recently that academic and applied theory and research on psychopathy have found their way into law enforcement. While it is true that some authors and commentators, many of them current or former criminal investigators, have discussed psychopathy with reference to serious crime, especially serial murder, the discussions often are impressionist and presented without serious appreciation of the scientific literature. This certainly is not the case with Vernon Geberth's recently published compendium, Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigation (CRC Press, 2003).
Most criminal investigators are familiar with Geberth's highly respected work on criminal investigation and because this is not my field of expertise I leave to the real experts the evaluations of Geberth's latest book. However, I am familiar with the area of psychopathy, and I will confine my comments to the chapter entitled "Psychopathic Sexual Sadism-A Clinical Study."
Unlike many investigators, Geberth has paid close attention to the scientific literature on the PCL-R conception of psychopathy and, by integrating it with his own extensive experience and clinical insights, has produced an outstanding chapter on practical applications to criminal investigation. His discussions of the differences among several apparently related concepts-psychopathy, sociopathy, and antisocial personality disorder-are right on the mark, as is his appreciation of the behavior of psychopaths during the investigative process. I particularly was impressed by his discussion of their behavior during interviews and interrogations, and by his suggestions about how investigators might handle such sessions. Some investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and intelligence agencies in North America and several other countries, currently are developing their own protocols for applying psychopathy to crime scene analysis, interviewing, and intelligence work. Their efforts are consistent with Geberth's discussions and advice, and there is little doubt that they will derive considerable benefit from his work. Indeed, the topic of Geberth's book may be sexual homicide, but any investigator who deals with psychopaths in any capacity would do well to become familiar with his work.
The section on the psychology of evil was very interesting and informative. Another section illustrates how an experienced and perceptive investigator can arrive at conclusions that are congruent with, or even anticipate, empirical research. I refer to Geberth's comments that the combination of psychopathy and deviant sexual arousal is especially dangerous. While this may not be news to other investigators, it is worth pointing out that it is only recently that researchers have demonstrated the extreme importance of this combination for explaining sexual recidivism and violence in both adult and adolescent sex offenders. Geberth has demonstrated that criminal investigators can learn much from the researchers; clearly, the opposite also is true.
In summary, the chapter is a must read for anyone who wishes to apply the concept of psychopathy to criminal investigation in particular, and to law enforcement in general.
Robert Hare, Ph.D.
October 20, 2004
Dr. Robert D. Hare, Ph. D. is Professor of Psychology working in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC Canada. Dr. Hare has researched psychopaths for more than a quarter of a century. His Psychopathy Checklist Revised PCL-R with reliability and validity has been adopted worldwide as the recognized standard instrument for researchers and clinicians. Dr. Hare has done extensive research and writing on psychopathy.
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