Dr. Helen

The Female Psychopath

Psychology Today has an article called “The Field Guide to the Female Psychopath … and why we rarely see her coming” (thanks Charlie):

For years, the research has told us that psychopaths are usually male. Research on psychopaths largely stems from studies conducted from prison samples, but remember that those in prison are there because they have been caught. We will never truly know the exact prevalence for male or female psychopaths because many only come to light once they have been arrested for a crime. (Hare estimates that approximately 1% of the population are psychopaths.) Is it possible that women can get away with certain crimes more than men because society is less likely to expect certain antisocial or violent behaviors among them? It certainly is…

Warren et al. (2003) found female occurrence rates of psychopathy of approximately 17% in prison populations—significantly lower than the rates for men in prison (Winn et. al, 2012). I attend trainings regularly and hear experts talk about how the number of female psychopaths is much higher than currently reported. Until we have research to inform us, however, it does not make sense to entirely contradict years of research which says that more men are psychopaths than women.

Research suggests that young women who later become psychopaths may look different than young men who later present the same disorder. Specifically, Verona (2006) found that young women who later develop the disorder show a more relational form of aggression characterized by jealousy, self-harm, manipulation, and verbal aggression.

Other research has examined the importance of relational aggression among females, suggesting that women may display aggression differently than their male counterparts. Crick and Grotpeter (1996) studied relational aggression, also known as covert aggression, which is a type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships or social status—and it’s different from the type of aggression (typically, physical) that males show each other. Relational aggression tends to be more subtle and manipulative.

It may be that while many male psychopaths act in traditionally aggressive, socially -constructed ways which can eventually lead them to be incarcerated (and evaluated for psychopathy), female psychopaths operate in more nuanced, less overtly physically aggressive ways, though they can ultimately lead to equally destructive outcomes.

Ya think? Those of us who share discussions on this blog already knew this information a long time ago. Let’s hope the “science” can keep up. The article gives overt examples of female psychopathy such as female school shooters or women killing their children. However, given how often women’s malice is overlooked, I wonder how many men, women and children have been harmed by women’s more covert aggression like that of mattress girl, or Duke false rape accuser Crystal Magnum or the female bullies who make the schools and offices unbearable for many on a daily basis.

When we overlook female destructiveness, we do a disservice to those who have suffered or been abused at her hands. Those victims have problems of their own, often leading to bad outcomes for others and the cycle continues. But let’s hope the “science” catches up to this little dirty secret. It isn’t that research has not informed us, it is that the PC colleges, the media and women’s groups won’t allow the research to be brought forth and if it is, they deny it (or make death threats). What social scientist concerned about his/her job is going to take the risk?

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