Interview with Dr. Robert Hare

Psychopaths…are manipulative, dangerous individuals who live and work in our communities, often leaving behind a wake of broken hearts, empty wallets, and ruined lives. Sooner or later…everyone will encounter a psychopath…if I were required to do research on a different population, I would probably go down to one of the stock exchanges. Here, we would find more psychopaths than you would find in the general population…

Omni magazine
December 27, 1996

Interview with Dr. Robert Hare
The Psychopaths Among Us
Dr. Keith Harary

Dr. Keith Harary, Editor at Large of Omni interviews one of the world's foremost experts in the area of psychopathy, Dr. Robert Hare.

Good evening and welcome to Brainstorms. I'm your host, Dr. Keith Harary, Editor at Large of Omni. Please join us tonight, 10 p.m., eastern time, when our special guest will be one of the world's foremost experts in the area of psychopathy, Dr. Robert Hare. Dr. Hare is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, where he developed the Psychopathy Checklist — which is rapidly being adopted worldwide as the standard instrument for researchers and clinicians working in this area. Dr. Hare is the author of three books and numerous articles on psychopathy, including his most recent book, WITHOUT CONSCIENCE: THE DISTURBING WORLD OF PSYCHOPATHS AMONG US.

Do YOU know men and women who: Live on the edge, often changing jobs, schools, relationships, and homes? Never feel guilt or shame — even when they are caught lying? Act cold and distant one moment and incredibly emotional the next? Lack empathy, and live for the moment without the slightest regard for the welfare of others? Scheme their way into money, power, and relationships? They may be psychopaths, individuals who move through life with supreme self-confidence — but without a conscience. It may be thrilling to be around one. It can be dangerous to love one, work with or live with one.

Psychopaths have none of the hallmarks of mental illness: They act normal but they're not. They are manipulative, dangerous individuals who live and work in our communities, often leaving behind a wake of broken hearts, empty wallets, and ruined lives. Sooner or later, says Robert Hare, everyone will encounter a psychopath.

Based on twenty-five years of groundbreaking research, Dr. Robert Hare's book, WITHOUT CONSCIENCE, is a fascinating journey into the minds of these dangerous individuals. Are they born unable to feel empathy, or are they created by circumstance? How and why do they get away with cheating, conning, and murdering? Are they mad or simply bad? In what Dr. Hare calls our "camouflage society," how can we recognize and steer clear of these predatory people? WITHOUT CONSCIENCE explores their shocking patterns — and exposes one of the most frightening, often hidden social problems affecting our lives today.

Join us tonight on Brainstorms for a probing discussion with one of the world's leading experts on psychopaths, Dr. Robert Hare. We'll be starting at 10 p.m., eastern time. For clarity, as always, we'll use our initials to identify ourselves: KH for Keith Harary and RH for Robert Hare. We'll be starting in less than 15 minutes.

KH: Good evening and welcome to Brainstorms. It is my privilege to welcome Dr. Robert Hare as our special guest tonight. Welcome Dr. Hare.

RH: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be on your innovative program.

KH: To begin, Bob, a basic question. I'm sure that many people think of psychopaths as very rare and very deranged individuals. The typical image is of someone climbing a tower and shooting at people, or being locked up in a mental hospital. Your work seems to suggest that this image is not at all correct.

RH: The work not only suggests that it is not only incorrect, but that it is possibly very dangerous, because it lulls us into a false sense of security. A common example in the minds of the public, of psychopaths, would be Hannibal Lechter in the movie THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I said that the image is dangerous because of a number of reasons …

RH: It lulls into a false sense of security, as I said. It also leads us to believe that psychopaths are so obvious and so deranged that they must end up either in prison or in a mental hospital. The fact is that the vast majority of psychopaths are out on the streets, in our homes, in our offices and in our lives — affecting every aspect of our lives. Our best evidence of the prevalence of the disorder is approximately 1% of the general population.

KH: When you say that these individuals are walking among us, that sounds rather frightening. Many of us think of psychopaths as necessarily being murderers. But I know that your work shows that there are other much more insidious dangers involved with these people. Can you tell us what the specific risks are in dealing with psychopaths?

RH: The one way to appreciate the risks posed by the psychopaths among us is to think of them as predators. The predators game is to find and exploit prey. These social predators often are charming, very convincing, and sometimes fun to be with — but always deceitful and manipulative. In the end, the victim is the big loser.

KH: In your work, you list 12 features of psychopaths. Can you tell our audience what these are, Bob?

RH: The working definition of this disorder is the Psychopathy Checklist — revised, which consists of 20 characteristics that are useful for clinicians and researchers who wish to obtain a reliable and valid measure of psychopathy. Recently, we have developed a screening version of the instrument which consists of 12 items. I'll list them …

RH: I've grouped the items into two clusters. The first cluster consists of six items having to do with interpersonal and emotional characteristics. These are: 1) Superficial 2) Grandiose 3) Manipulative 4) Lacks Remorse 5) Lacks Empathy, and 6) Doesn't Accept Responsibility. The second cluster describes a socially deviant lifestyle, and consists of the following items: 1) Impulsive 2) Poor Behavior Controls 3) Lacks Goals 4) Irresponsible 5) Adolescent Anti-Social Behavior, and 6) Adult Anti-Social Behavior. Taken together, these twelve items capture the essence of the disorder. Your audience should be cautioned against using these very brief labels to diagnose themselves or others. Each item is scored according to details and specific criteria, to be used only by experienced professionals.

KH: From your description, Bob, I could see where people might get a little confused if they are not experienced in this area. Would an individual need to fit all of the criteria you listed in order to qualify as a psychopath?

RH: To answer your question, Keith, many individuals will have 2, 3, even 4 of these characteristics, but to receive a diagnosis of psychopath, it would be necessary to have at least 9 or 10 of these characteristics. That is, the disorder is defined by a cluster, or syndrome, of features rather than by one or two characteristics in isolation.

KH: Now that we have a basic working definition, perhaps you could give our audience some case examples that will illustrate what a psychopath is really all about.

RH: Perhaps one way of indicating what these people are like is to specify some professions …

RH … and areas where the base rate would be very high… .

RH: First, between say 15 and 20% of persistent criminals are psychopaths, and these are the individuals who commit a disproportionate amount of the serious crime …

RH: in our society. Most of the research has been done with criminals but if I were required to do research on a different population, I would probably go down to one of the stock exchanges. Here, we would find more psychopaths than you would find in the general population, and the reason is that the psychopath is attracted to the potential for power, prestige, money. And unlike the typical view of the psychopath — that is, as a criminal or a serial killer — a psychopath with a good education, "good breeding," and who is good looking is unlikely to go out and rob a bank or beat someone up, this individual is more likely to turn his or her talents to the accumulation of power, prestige and wealth in ways that are… , if not illegal, are typically unethical and skirting around the edges of the law.

RH: Psychopaths often are described as "corporate bad guys" by some of their co-workers. They typically are grandiose, larger than life success seekers who revel in prestige and power.

KH: What about the sciences, Bob? Are there some areas of science where psychopaths might be drawn? To be honest, I am really thinking about areas of very uncertain science in which so little is known and so much is open to question — like parapsychology, for example — that it would seem that people seeking power and prestige might be drawn to the "frontier" aspects of the field. Am I on to something, do you think?

RH: Indeed you are. Psychopaths are unlikely to be attracted to the hard sciences where the amount of work and dedication required would be too much for them. They are more likely to enter professions in which they can "play with the minds" of people…

RH: These would include all sorts of counsellors who don't have the proper credentials, professions where you can sort of make your own shingle and hang it up, cult leaders, psychics, gurus. Your question about the frontiers is quite apt because the psychopath is attracted to areas in which the boundaries are poorly drawn and in which the legal sanctions are not well developed… .

RH: … The American Wild West was a prime watering hole for psychopaths whereas in Canada the opening of the West was preceded by the establishment of law. The new frontier almost certainly is the Internet or the World Wide Web because the rules are just developing. Any time the rules are in the process of developing or are amorphous or undefined the psychopath finds his way in. The psychopath thrives on chaos. Some recent examples are the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia where psychopaths have arisen as leaders of movements and ethnic groups, professing to right old wrongs but in fact they wrap themselves in the flag of the country and rape and pillage.

RH: The implications of psychopathy for the general public are most apparent in the workings of the criminal justice system. A psychopath, released from prison, is five or six times more likely than other offenders to commit another offence and perhaps six or seven or times more likely to commit a violent offence …

RH: The public is rightly concerned with sex offenders. The research indicates that the most deadly combination possible is a psychopath who is sexually "turned on" by violence. This applies to adults and to adolescent sex offenders.

KH: From what you are saying, it sounds like we have two different kinds of problems to worry about when it comes to psychopaths. At one level, we have the obvious criminal psychopaths who are at least recognizable in their actions. But at another level, there are the less violent and less obvious psychopaths in society, in the professions, in the sciences, and so forth. I almost think the second is more dangerous. Would you agree?

RH: There is considerable merit in what you're saying. We can deal with the criminal psychopaths because their behavior is so obvious to the rest of us. However, the psychopaths who infiltrate our daily lives and who take advantage of us emotionally, financially and psychologically are extremely dangerous. Since the publication of my book, the vast majority of letters and calls and communications have been from people whose lives are in turmoil because of a psychopath and the question that they typically ask is why don't I write about those psychopaths, that is, the ones who are not blatant criminals.

KH: Where do you think all these psychopaths are coming from? Are they born that way? Or are they being created by society? Are there more psychopaths now than in the past?

RH: Several big questions! And the simple answer is we just don't know. But it makes sense to think of
psychopathy as a combination or an interaction of genetic/biological and environmental factors. It's like trying to define the area of your room — which is more important — length or width? Are we creating more psychopaths? I'm not sure but we are certainly making it much easier for the psychopaths in our midst to express themselves in ways that would have been considered intolerable or socially unacceptable in the past.

Copyright (C) 1997 by Omni Publications International, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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