How people become psychos

What Causes Psychopathy | Psychopathy Is

Translations Available

This information should not be used to diagnose or treat. It is not meant to take the place of consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have concerns, you should contact your healthcare provider for a screening.

A common question is: “What causes psychopathy?” As is true for other developmental disorders, there is no single cause of psychopathy. Research indicates that psychopathy results from a complex combination of genetic and environmental (non-genetic) factors.

Increased risk is not the same as a cause: It is important to keep in mind that increased risk is not the same as a cause. For example, some genetic changes associated with psychopathy can also be seen in people who don’t have psychopathy. Similarly, many children exposed to a particular environmental risk factor for psychopathy will not develop the disorder.

Genetic Risk Factors

There is no “psychopathy gene,” but research tells us that psychopathy tends to run in families. Even if a parent does not have psychopathy, they may carry one or more genetic variants that increase their child’s chance of developing psychopathy.

Most psychological outcomes are caused by the combined effects of many hundreds or thousands of genes. The combined effects of many genes account for about half of the variation in psychopathic traits. This means that some children are born at higher risk for developing psychopathy.

Is psychopathy something people are born with? It’s Complicated. No one is born with psychopathy (or any other psychological disorder). However, some children are born at high risk for developing psychopathy due to inherited (genetic) factors.

Environmental Risk Factors

Environmental influences can increase—or reduce—the odds of developing psychopathy in people who are at risk due to inherited factors. There are many environmental risk and protective factors for psychopathy, most of which have not yet been identified. Each of these factors likely has only a small impact. In other words, each of these factors might only affect the severity of psychopathic symptoms a little bit. Factors that increase risk for psychopathy include:

  • Perinatal factors, such as smoking during pregnancy, high-stress levels during pregnancy, or birth complications
  • Not experiencing highly warm and responsive parenting in early childhood (Read more about what is meant by ‘warm and responsive parenting’ and its relationship to psychopathy)

Again, it is important to remember that a risk factor is not the same as a cause. Many children with psychopathy have none of these risk factors and did experience warm and responsive parenting. Similarly, most children with these risk factors will not develop psychopathy.

Other risk factors for psychopathy include:

  • Low resting heart rate, which may reflect low physiological arousal
  • A fearless temperament

The origins of these risk factors are not clear. They probably reflect a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is also not clear if low resting heart rate or a fearless temperament cause psychopathic traits to emerge, or whether they are simply correlated with psychopathic traits.

Differences in Brain Biology

Genetic and environmental influences do not cause psychopathy directly. Instead, they influence the way certain brain structures and circuits develop in a way that increases the risk a person will develop psychopathy.

For example, one brain region that seems to be particularly important is the amygdala. This structure is involved in social responsiveness, empathy, and outcomes related to fear. Children with psychopathy may have amygdalas that develop differently from other children. In children who are psychopathic, this region may be smaller or less active than in other children. This may be why they are relatively fearless and less socially responsive. The amygdala also sends and receives information from other brain regions that may also be affected in psychopathy. These include parts of the cortex, or surface, of the brain, as well as other brain systems that regulate emotion and decision-making. Research continues to explore these differences with the aim of developing treatments that can improve behavior and quality of life.

Some children are born at higher risk for psychopathy—but what parents do still matters

Some children are born at higher risk for psychopathy due to genetic variables that affect brain development. But parents still play an important role. Learning to use specific therapeutic techniques with high-risk children can reduce their chances of developing psychopathy.

Parents often feel guilty about their child’s mental disorders. And it is common for parents–particularly mothers–to be blamed by others, including mental health providers, for their child’s difficulties. For decades, psychiatrists and psychologists blamed disorders like autism and schizophrenia on “refrigerator mothers” and “schizophrenogenic mothers!” But as scientific research on autism and schizophrenia accumulated, it became clear that these complex developmental disorders are not caused by specific parenting practices.

Similarly, research on psychopathy has made clear it is also not caused by specific parenting practices. Most families in which a child has psychopathy also have other children without psychopathy. This makes it clear that the parents are not causing their child’s psychopathy. Although scientific research shows that warm and responsive parenting can reduce the risk of psychopathy, many children and adults with psychopathy have parents who are warm and responsive.

What does it mean for a parent to be “warm and responsive?” Warm parenting means showing your child positive emotion using your face, voice, and body. Warm parenting behaviors include smiling, speaking in a warm tone of voice, and using positive touch (for example, a gentle touch on the arm, a hug, or a high-five). Responsive parenting means responding appropriately to your child’s needs and emotions. Responsive parenting behaviors include, for example, expressing concern through your face and voice, asking questions, or offering a hug if your child is upset.

Some research suggests that children with psychopathy are less sensitive than other children to positive social and emotional cues. As a result, these children may benefit from unusually strong displays of positive emotion from their parents–beyond what parents would naturally use.

Parents can be trained to use specific behavioral techniques to improve their child’s symptoms. This is also the case for autism: we know parenting does not cause autism, but parents can be trained to use specific techniques (such as ABA) to improve an autistic child’s symptoms. 

It is important for parents of children with psychopathy to learn effective techniques in part because a child’s psychopathy can change parents’ behavior toward their child over time in maladaptive ways. For example, some children with psychopathy resist affection. So parents may be less verbally or physically affectionate because they believe that is what their child prefers. But children at risk for psychopathy may actually need more verbal and physical warmth than other children.

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Why do some people become psychopaths?

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Psychopathy is one of the most well-known and well-studied personality disorders. But is there an underlying biological reason for psychopathy? And if so, can the disorder be cured?

09 October 2017

3 min read


People have long been fascinated with the idea of psychopaths, with violent ‘psychopathic’ characters turning up time and again in books, television and film.

Annabel Sturgess

Events Officer, the Royal Society

People have long been fascinated with the idea of psychopaths, with violent ‘psychopathic’ characters turning up time and again in books, television and film. However, whilst people with psychopathic characteristics may have an increased risk of violence, this is far from a defining feature. Instead, psychopathy is characterised by an extreme lack of empathy. Psychopaths may also be manipulative, charming and exploitative, and behave in an impulsive and risky manner. They may lack conscience or guilt, and refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. Psychopathy is one of the most well-known and well-studied personality disorders. But is there an underlying biological reason for psychopathy? And if so, can the disorder be cured?

Research has suggested that the areas of the brain involved in emotion processing, empathising and decision making – for example amygdala, insula and ventromedial prefrontal cortex – show reduced activity in people with psychopathic characteristics when they see other people in distress or try to learn consequences of their actions. The impaired functioning of these areas of the brain affects the ability of individuals with psychopathy to form associations between stimuli and consequences, such as hurting other people and the fear and distress others display as a consequence, or making a poor choice and receiving a punishment. Altogether, the reduced activity within these areas of the brain impairs responses to emotional stimuli and decision making. The key question is: do these differences in the brain make someone into a psychopath, or does their behaviour change the brain?

Children that show a lack of empathy, lack of guilt and have shallow emotions, defined as callous-unemotional traits, are at increased risk of developing psychopathy in adulthood. These children are more likely to display anti-social behaviour, such as bullying and aggression. They are less likely to respond to socially rewarding stimuli such as happy faces, and are also less likely to recognise a fearful expression. Adolescents with callous-unemotional traits may be more likely to enjoy being cruel than being kind. They are also less likely to form long-term friendships, as they may not experience enjoyment from these relationships. Twin and adoption studies can be used to investigate whether these behaviours are influenced more by someone’s genes or their environment. Identical twins share all of their DNA, whereas fraternal twins only share half their DNA (like other siblings). If a characteristic is more likely to be shared by identical twins than fraternal twins, this suggests that genetic influences are important in explaining individual differences on that characteristic. Adoption studies are also useful as the child shares no DNA with their adoptive parents, but their adoptive parents provide all their environment. This enables researchers to study the causal impact of parental input on behaviour. Twin and adoption studies have suggested that callous-unemotional traits in childhood have a genetic basis, and that anti-social behaviour coupled with callous-unemotional traits is more influenced by genes than anti-social behaviour alone. However, adoption findings strongly indicate that the genetic vulnerability is not a destiny, but can be counteracted by protective environmental influences.

There are many implications of the research into callous-unemotional traits and psychopathy. As we seek to better understand how these features develop and how people with these features see the world around them, we can better tailor interventions to suit individual needs. It is clear that intervening early in children with callous-unemotional traits could prevent psychopathy in adulthood, with all the psychological and social consequences.

Professor Essi Viding is a leader in this area of research and is the winner of the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award and Lecture 2017. On 19 October 2017 Professor Viding discussed how psychopathy arises and how it might be prevented in her lecture ‘Why do some people become psychopaths?’.

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Psychopaths - who, where and how?

Science and society

Dmitry Korenev


Psychopaths. How to define them? What is going on inside them? And the most interesting thing is how to interact with them in such a way that I get what I want from them, and I didn’t get anything for it? We will talk about this in this article.

What is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? Nothing, it's the same.) The individuals we call antisocial today were called "morally insane" in 1835. Later they were called "psychopaths", then - "sociopaths". To sound politically correct. And rightly so, because Frank Underwood in House of Cards is a typical psychopath. nine0003

Psychopaths often occupy key positions in business and politics, the CIA and covert organizations, become cult and religious leaders, legends in the advertising business and the entertainment industry, as well as excellent criminals, rapists and murderers. That is, wherever activity is associated with POWER, MANIPULATION and HIDDEN IMPACT .

What is very curious: one of the basic ideas of NLP, that "speech does not carry any meaning and is a behavior to change the behavior of those who are circling", is completely consistent with the inner world of Psychopaths. Hm... But that's another topic. nine0017

A psychopath is a person who organizes around the pursuit of a sense of POWER. How to define them? At the heart of the behavior of the Psychopath lies a flaw in childhood - the inability to articulate their emotions. What comes out in the markers:

  1. “FEELINGS FOR THE WEAK”, “Stop talking!”, “THE MAIN IS ACTION!” - these are the slogans of people replacing feelings, the inability to express them in words and anxiety from emotional internal fermentation with activity and hyperactivity.
  2. "You have to FEEL EVERYTHING in life", craving for thrills, dangers and inability to enjoy simple things. Accordingly, psychopaths know two emotional states: hatred or manic joy.
  3. AGGRESSION combined with PRAGMATIC behavior. With one person, the Psychopath is charming (if it is profitable), after a minute he yells at another and beats him in the face, and after that he calmly moves on, as if nothing had happened. All the same origins - the absence of emotions.

How do psychopaths satisfy the feeling of "Omnipotence"? It is achieved through:

  1. MANIPULATIONS. There are two psychotypes that use them: hysterics who manipulate sincerely and unconsciously. And Psychopaths, who manipulate technically, consciously, planned. Stepping over others, subordinating those around you to your will in order to confirm your Omnipotence is the main occupation and source of pleasure.
  2. disobedience to authorities. Those same indignant parents, dissatisfied when teachers, consultants, servants of the law impose restrictions on the behavior of children. nine0023
  3. DEVALUATIONS in an aggressive form that become "self-actualizing prophecies". “You psychologists (bankers, lawyers, scavengers, persons of some nationality) only think how to deceive. ” This psychological defense is called PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION. When you're talking to a person who is absolutely certain of the "truth" of your obscene feelings, and who is tirelessly fighting to make you feel exactly that, that's exactly what you want to be.

How would you feel when dealing with a Psychopath? On the one hand, here you need to understand that for psychopaths, a person, a dog and a flower pot are equivalent objects. That is, for him, you are not a person. On the other hand, aggression is directed at you, manipulative pragmatism to confirm your Power. What does it pour into? nine0003

  1. You will want to justify yourself and prove your good intentions
  2. You will experience hostility and coldness, and maybe
  3. Dark forebodings.

What is bubbling inside them? How did they grow up? To put it simply, a Psychopath is a CHILD with basic NEEDS FROM 6 TO 12 MONTHS. The infant perceives that the magical warmth is obtained by himself, without realizing that the control of his life is in people distant from him. It is a sense of infantile omnipotence which, in its healthy form, remains in the sense of competence. A person who has not received a sense of strength at the age when it is needed can spend his whole life searching for confirmation of his strength. nine0003

  1. GENETICALLY. There is some connection with innate aggressiveness, but this is not a determining factor. A naturally hyperactive, demanding, distracted child needs much more active parental care than a calm and easily comforted one.
  2. through EDUCATION in a family with a SERIOUS, irascible and inconsistent FATHER and a weak, depressed and masochistic mother. In the absence of the consistent, loving, protective influence of the family, psychopathic psychopaths like Frank Underwood in House of Cards grow up. The child needs self-respect through the experience of love and pride from the parents. If there are “little” parents, then only one's own “I” and its urges to power remain. nine0023
  3. A more curable case is if the parents OPENLY broadcast DISOBILITY TO AUTHORITIES, emphasizing the exclusivity of the child in front of external elders. For example, a mother reacts indignantly to a situation where teachers, consultants, law enforcement officers impose restrictions on the behavior of children. This leads to a misunderstanding of the consequences of compulsive actions, that society places restrictions on the individual's prerogative to exert pressure. "There is no control against a tank if there is no other tank."
  4. EMOTIONAL in an environment where no one taught a child to label emotions with words. There are families where speech is used solely to control behavior. Such expression of emotions as “I see you are angry now”, “You are probably upset now” are inappropriate. It turns out a Psychopath, unable to articulate (pronounce) his feelings and sensations
  5. SOCIALLY. Frequent MOVING and family BREAKING prevent the development of a sense of attachment to (a) caring parents, (b) society, and (c) culture and society. Since there is no identification with those who care, there is no transition of the feeling of Omnipotence (I create everything myself) into Idealization (others create for me). nine0023

Their personality is polarized between a state of personal omnipotence and a frightening state of their own weakness.

  1. POWER, domination and conscious MANIPULATION give psychopaths self-respect, confirmation of their right to exist and feeling good.
  2. EMOTIONS are a sign of WEAKNESS. A psychopath experiencing emotions perceives himself as bad. Even internal irritation causes anxiety in psychopaths. To remove it, "toxic" feelings are recouped on others through actions (find fault - punched in the face - calmed down)
    From the relationship “FEELINGS = ANXIETY = WEAKNESS”, another behavior of Psychopaths also follows: persistent persuasion of the interlocutor in the “toxicity” of his emotions. “You, persons of a special nationality, are always thinking how to fool someone.” If a psychopath cannot talk about emotions, then the only way to understand others is to impose on them what he himself understands - that is, the desire to dominate.
  3. If the manipulations did not work, then AGGRESSION is the calling card of the Psychopath. Here it is already psychiatrically ambiguous: some say that this is primitive ENVY, the desire to destroy everything that brings pleasure to other people, and what they are deprived of. I am of the opinion that envy is too complex an emotion that can only be experienced with individuals. In psychopaths, the flower pot, the family member, and the cat are equivalent objects, and the aggression is aimed at REMOVING THE OBSTACLES. That is why Psychopaths quickly “cool down”: now he is yelling, in a second he calmly brews coffee. nine0023
  1. Being PEACEFUL, EMPATHENTIC, FLEXIBLE, making concessions not only does not work, but provokes the psychopath to demonstrate his destructive power. Deviation from established agreements and boundaries, any behavior interpreted as weakness and vulnerability will be perceived that way.
  2. Empathy is perceived as a sadistic triumph over the interlocutor. Since a psychopath cannot verbally express emotions, it is also impossible to establish emotional contact through reflections of feelings. nine0017 Being honest is necessary (see below), but honesty is not the same as SELF-DISCLOSURE. Self-disclosure is interpreted as fragility (unlike narcissists))).
  3. READING A MORAL about what a shameless, immoral, sinful psychopath, and CALLING FOR CONSCIENCE is useless and the result of ignorance of psychology))). The psychopath “sins” in order to feel GOOD (omnipotent), and to show weakness (that is, emotions and not being strong) means being bad for him.

How can you communicate? nine0085

One can become a personality, earn the respect of a psychopath only by stubborn opposition and exactingness towards him. This is how you will show love and care, since "not bending" corresponds to the need of a psychopath.

  1. STRENGTH is the only respected quality for a psychopath. Your task is to communicate from the position of "BORDERING ON INDIFFERENCE INDEPENDENT FORCE". Your instrument is a calm presence, steadfastness, incorruptibility, keeping within limits, and all without emotional investment. Like the police, never show that you care about getting a confession. Strict tenacity and a reinforced concrete stable attitude are the best combination in dealing with anti-social people. nine0017 At the same time, the psychopath will both initially and regularly test, manipulate and pragmatically seduce into breaking boundaries. In time, with perseverance, these attacks will weaken and change will come.
  2. UNCOMPROMISING HONESTY, including acknowledgment of negative emotions. “Yes, I hate you” - such a statement towards a psychopath gives him what was lacking in childhood: the expression of emotions and the use of words to express a state, not just for manipulation. If you are a psychologist, then you can openly admit your greed and selfishness as a rationale for payment. For you, speaking out negatively will help win back the internal tension on the psychopath and reduce the fear of him. nine0023
  3. Use STEB (good-natured banter) and HUMOR (absurd exaggeration) to point out the consequences of the psychopath's behavior. You will show concern for a psychopath if you direct him to more responsible behavior by showing that (a) there is a better way to achieve the same results, (b) acting without moralizing, and (c) being consistent, punishing, and not amenable to exploitation .

Here is an example of how to treat a psychopath properly:

A pimp came to me and started discussing his way of life. nine0017 - You know, I'm ashamed to show myself and stuff, but it's still a pretty good way to make money, and a lot of guys would like to live like that. You know how a pimp lives. It's not that bad - you make the girls hustle for you. So why don't you do it? Why shouldn't anyone live like this?
I answered:
- You're a jerk. Look, I live on the earnings of prostitutes. I am writing a book about them; this is how I gain respect and gain fame. I made a lot more money from prostitutes than you will ever make. And besides, you bastard can be arrested and jailed for ten years any day, while I am respected, admired and have an excellent reputation. nine0107
This he could understand. The guy saw that someone he considered the same as himself knew the best way to achieve the same results

from McWilliams

If you decide to "change" a psychopath, then here's the secret: psychopaths burn out to middle age, and often become respectful citizens. Old age is not a joy, strength decreases, and pragmatic aggressive youths pragmatically begin to look for new ways to show strength. And here they get great pleasure when they develop the ability to recognize anxiety on feelings and control the reaction to it. Restraining the impulse and pride in exercising self-control is the way to go for the psychopath. nine0003

Spurs and thanks

So, after such a long article, a psychopaths cheat:

Psychopaths are people who are preoccupied with a sense of power . The main mental problems arose between the ages of 6 and 12 months.

They can be identified by markers of (1) "feelings are for wimps", (2) craving for thrills, and (3) pragmatic aggressiveness.

"Omnipotence" psychopaths achieve (1) manipulation, (2) defiance of authority, (3) devaluation. At the same time, you will be drawn to make excuses, you will feel hostility and a sense of anxiety. nine0003

Psychopaths become: (1) rare - genetically, (2) often - in a family with a psychopathic dad, (3) when parents do not teach verbal expression of emotions, and (4) with frequent moves and family breaks.

Internally, psychopaths live by (1) force and manipulation, (2) fear of weakness, which includes emotions, (3) pragmatic aggression.

How to communicate with a psychopath. DON'T: (1) be peaceful and malleable, (2) show empathy and reveal yourself, (3) moralize. DO: (1) act from a position of "bordering on indifference independent force", (2) be uncompromisingly honest, (3) joke about the consequences. nine0003

Thanks to whom?

All of this material is based on the work of Nancy McWilliams in Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in the Clinical Process. Nancy, a seasoned president of the American Psychological Association's department of psychoanalysis, described in 1994 a remarkable experience of individual approach to patients: first determine the type of personality, and communicate based on its characteristics. But as a writer, Nancy is an unstructured person, she scatters her thoughts throughout the book, and I introduced the structure for her. From 19For 94 years, science has stepped even further, made approaches even simpler, and even more systematic. The next step is the S-theory of personality development (, but this is a separate conversation.

P.S.: Psychopathic personality type

Read more about personality type

It was about people with mental disorders. Now you can read something more healthy: about Psychopathic personality type . These are very famous people such as

  • singers and bards Vladimir Vysotsky and Grigory Leps,
  • actresses Cameron Diaz and Meryl Streep,
  • or politicians Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In our Psychological Club, for example, there was a very adored Psychopathic type psychologist. And in the Dating Club there are very nice women of the same type. Read on this link what kind of people they are.

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How psychopaths become successful people

"Not all psychopaths are in prison, some of them sit on boards of directors," says Robert Hare, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia.

His opinion is shared by many researchers who provide evidence that among political and business leaders there are many psychopaths who have learned to mimic the general “norm”. nine0003

And many people who are far from psychology are convinced by their own experience that money and power often end up in the hands of people who are not burdened with such a human property as empathy.

Who are psychopaths?

“The word 'psychopathy' has long been associated with serial maniacs and murderers. Now in psychiatry this term has been replaced by “personality disorder”, and you need to understand that there are quite a few variants of such disorders,” comments psychiatrist Maria Leibovich. “In fact, in business and in all kinds of adventures and scams, people with either antisocial or narcissistic, well, and partly hysterical disorders are often successful.” nine0003

As a rule, these are deep traumas. Having experienced violence or other difficult experiences, they are unable to build close, trusting relationships. They have a defense mechanism against inner emptiness and inferiority - a special charm and the ability to be in the spotlight, so they are very charming.

These people do not suffer from anxiety and neuroticism, they do not have remorse, shame. In principle, they ignore the rights and interests of other people, they are prone to lies. Striving for their own benefit, they can sacrifice the safety of personal and others - this looks like fearlessness and the ability to make risky decisions. nine0003

Unable to build relationships with others in a different way, they are masters of manipulation and know how to exploit people - as they say, "walk over corpses. " In popular literature, media, and cinema, such people are collectively referred to as psychopaths.

The Art of Mimicry

How do unbalanced, empathic and guiltless children, prone to bouts of uncontrollable anger, grow up and occupy high positions in business and politics? Social psychologists at Virginia Commonwealth University recently conducted research on "successful" psychopaths. nine0003

Based on a survey of 1,000 teenagers convicted of serious criminal offenses, scientists tried to predict which of them would repeat something like this. The observation went on for several years and showed that some teenagers with indicators of psychopathy gradually improved their social behavior skills. They learned to stop their impulsive reactions and outbursts of anger, but their mental characteristics remained the same.

They still had antisocial personality disorders, but thanks to the acquired skills of self-control, they became successful. According to Dr. David Chester, co-author of the study, teaching teenagers self-control may reduce juvenile delinquency, but "allows psychopaths to make their aggression more insidious - for example, from simple theft to the creation of financial pyramids. " nine0003

"What's his name?"

It is believed that both Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and even Bill Clinton, at least had the traits of psychopathy. Another famous example is Steve Jobs, who can be called a narcissist with paranoid traits.

He experienced a trauma in childhood - his mother gave him to a foster family. He often quoted Picasso: "Good artists copy, great ones steal" - and did not hesitate to openly steal other people's ideas. You can remember the story with Xerox and the poaching of key employees from more successful projects. nine0003

Everything that he managed to get, he carried to the altar of his idea: to make a revolution in the IT industry. Allegedly, he deceived his best friend - Steve Woznoz, who was probably the author of the developments. There are other points as well. For example, Apple is an "icon" of protection against viruses and piracy, the personification of total mistrust. It is also known that Jobs made an offer to his wife and forgot about it, having gone into work with his head.

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