How was Ted Bundy not a psychopath

Not just serial killers

Whether the film character Hannibal Lecter, the serial killer Ted Bundy or the sect leader Charles Manson: Such unscrupulous, cruel and at the same time cold-blooded murderers are considered the prototype of the psychopath. But what exactly is a psychopath? And is a psychopath automatically violent?

Manipulative, cold-hearted and unscrupulous

Psychopathy is - like the closely related sociopathy - a severe form of so-called antisocial personality disorders. According to the official definition, these are disorders that are "characterized by a disregard for social obligations and heartless disregard for feelings for others."

The Canadian psychologist Robert Hare first examined what exactly characterizes a psychopath around 40 years ago in a “checklist” (PCL-R) that is still valid today. Accordingly, people with psychopathic traits feel superior to others and do not adhere to social and moral norms. They hardly have any empathy or profound emotions and do not suffer from remorse or remorse.

At the same time, however, psychopaths are often skilled manipulators of other people's feelings. They are often quite charming, charismatic and adept at using others for their own ends. According to Hare, pathological lying is also one of these core characteristics - the primary dimension - of a psychopathic personality. Interestingly, even psychopathic prison inmates seem to benefit from their ability to manipulate and “blind” others. According to one study, they are three times more likely to be released early than their non-psychopathic fellow inmates.

Impulsive and violent

But there is also a second dimension of psychopathy, which can vary in strength depending on the type. This includes a hunger for new stimulating experiences - for example through risky behavior, criminal acts or drugs. Most of these psychopaths also have problems controlling their spontaneous impulses or setting long-term goals. Closely related to this is a propensity for violence and promiscuity. These traits are particularly evident in psychopathic criminals - it is they who have shaped the classic image of the psychopath as a serial killer.

But there are also psychopaths who can better control this so-called self-centered impulsivity. In other words, a psychopath is not automatically a violent murderer - even a successful businessman can have psychopathic traits. "These psychopaths certainly have the intellectual ability to recognize the rules of society and the difference between good and evil - but they decide which rules to follow and which to ignore," says Robert Hare, describing the phenomenon.

The psychopath in us

But when are you a psychopath? And how many are there? The PCL-R checklist developed by Hare comprises 20 criteria, each of which is rated with up to two points depending on the degree of severity. If a person reaches 25 out of 40 points, he has a high degree of psychopathy, from 30 he is considered a diagnosed psychopath. According to Hare, about one percent of the population is psychopathic.

However: "There is no on / off switch that determines whether you are a psychopath or not," explains psychologist Brian Bundle from Baylor University in Texas. Instead, this personality disorder manifests itself more or less depending on the person - it is a range with flowing transitions. Accordingly, many “completely normal” people can also have psychopathic traits - mostly without being aware of them.

But what exactly is going on inside a psychopath?

March 20, 2020

- Nadja Podbregar