4/28/09 - psychopaths

In today's excerpt - psychopaths. Eric Harris, leader of the duo that carried out the Columbine massacre, was a psychopath:

"Eric Harris was neither normal nor insane. Psychopathy (si-COP-uh-thee) represents a third category. Psychopathic brains don't function like those in either of the other groups, but they are consistently similar to one another. Eric killed for two reasons: to demonstrate his superiority and to enjoy it.

"To a psychopath, both motives make sense. Psychopaths ... can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.' ...

"Psychopaths have likely plagued mankind since the beginning, but they are still poorly understood. In the 1800s, as the fledgling field of psychology began classifying mental disorders, one group refused to fit. Every known psychosis was marked by a failure of reasoning or a debilitating ailment: paralyzing fear, hallucinations, voices, phobias and so on. In 1885, the term psychopath was introduced to describe vicious human predators who were not deranged, delusional or depressed. They just enjoyed being bad.

"Psychopaths are distinguished by two characteristics. The first is a ruthless disregard for others: they will defraud, maim or kill for the most trivial personal gain. The second is an astonishing gift for disguising the first. It's the deception that makes them so dangerous. You never see him coming. (It's usually a 'him'—more than 80 percent are male.) Don't look for the oddball creeping you out. Psychopaths don't act like Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates. They come off like Hugh Grant, in his most adorable role. ...

"Psychopaths take great personal pride in their deceptions and extract tremendous joy from them. Lies become the psychopath's occupation, and when the truth will work they lie for sport. 'I like to con people,' one subject told a researcher during an extended interview. 'I'm conning you right now.' Lying for amusement is so profound in psychopaths, it stands out as their signature characteristic. 'Duping delight,' psychologist Paul Ekman dubbed it. ...

"Symptoms appear so early, and so often in stable homes with normal siblings, that the condition seems to be inborn. Most parents report having been aware of disturbing signs before the child entered kindergarten. Dr. Robert Hare described a five-year-old girl repeatedly attempting to flush her kitten down the toilet. 'I caught her just as she was about to try again,' the mother said. 'She seemed quite unconcerned, maybe a bit angry—about being found out.' When the woman told her husband, the girl calmly denied the whole thing. Shame did not register; neither did fear. Psychopaths are not individuals losing touch with those emotions. They never developed them from the start. ...

"Researchers are still just beginning to understand psychopaths, but they believe psychopaths crave the emotional responses they lack. They are nearly always thrill seekers. They love roller coasters and hang gliding, and they seek out high-anxiety occupations, like ER tech, bond trader or Marine. Crime, danger, impoverishment, death—any sort of risk will help. They chase new sources of excitement because it is so difficult for them to sustain.

"They rarely stick with a career; they get bored. Even as career criminals, psychopaths underperform. They 'lack clear goals and objectives, getting involved in a wide variety of opportunistic offenses rather than specializing the way typical career criminals do,' Dr. Hervey Cleckley wrote. They make careless mistakes and pass up stunning opportunities, because they lose interest. They perform spectacularly in short bursts—a few weeks, a few months, a year long big con—then walk away. ...

"Rare killer psychopaths nearly always get bored with murder, too. When they slit a throat, their pulse races, but it falls just as fast. It stays down—no more joy from cutting throats for a while; that thrill has already been spent."


Dave Cullen




Hachette Book Group


Copyright 2009 by Dave Cullen


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