Megan Sullivan

Megan Sullivan

University of Rhose Island



Mentor: Dr. Robert P. Eckstein, UNH Justice Studies Program

Professional's Knowledge of the Psychopathy Construct: Are Clinicians Bound by the DSM IV Criteria?

The PCL-R has consistently proven itself as the most effective tool for assessing psychopathy, a construct used to describe a set of deficits that relate to processes of thinking which have an extreme affect on behavior. The PCL-R, developed by Robert Hare, consists of twenty features of psychopathy that are based on a semi-structured interview. Psychopathy has been consistently linked to the DSM-IV diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (ASD) due to the fact that nearly all people diagnosed with psychopathy are also diagnosed with ASD, however only about 20% of those with ASD are psychopathic. Despite significant research to the contrary, many clinicians see psychopathy and ASD as synonymous. Many researchers believe that the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria are far too broad and therefore ineffective in accurately diagnosing individuals who demonstrate psychopathic/ASD traits.

The criteria for ASD does not capture all of the interpersonal and affective traits of those deemed psychopathic by the PCL-R. The interpersonal/affective symptoms that were identified by the PCL-R, established that the prototypical analysis of ratings for possible APD criteria were found to be lacking in the DSM-IV criteria. It has therefore been proposed that a new diagnostic set to asses APD be instituted. Despite evidence that Hare's construct of psychopathy is theoretically stronger and more clinically useful than DSM IV APD criteria, it is suggested that most clinicians adhere only to the DSM IV standards.

The goal of this research is to measure the extent to which clinicians are familiar with the psychopathy construct. If the knowledge of clinicians concerning psychopathy are lacking, it could be demonstrated that the clinical community is perhaps missing an essential component within its curriculum. This research would help demonstrate that clinicians are not using relevant psychopathy research in making clinical decisions.

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