Two approaches to parsing the heterogeneity of psychopathy

Chad A. Brinkley, Joseph P. Newman, Thomas A. Widiger, Donald R. Lynam

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Individuals identified as psychopathic using Hare's (1991) Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) are of interest to forensic psychologists because of the high risk that they will engage in antisocial behavior (Hart, 1998). Existing crime data suggest that the PCL-R is a measure with great clinical utility, but evidence concerning the etiology of the PCL-R psychopath is less consistent. We propose that one potential source of the inconsistent evidence is that psychopathy is a construct, like mental retardation, that is etiologically heterogeneous. We suggest that the development of effective clinical interventions will require psychologists to (a) question the assumption that psychopathy is an etiologically homogeneous entity, (b) identify etiologically distinct variants of psychopathy for study, and (c) specify etiological mechanisms that may suggest tangible treatment targets. We discuss two complementary strategies for identifying etiological variants of psychopathy: (a) using general personality theory to identify specific psychopathic traits for study and (b) isolating specific bio-psychological mechanisms that possess the potential to explain specific psychopathic syndromes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-94
Number of pages26
JournalClinical Psychology: Science and Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)
  • Psychopathic syndromes
  • Psychopathy
  • Psychopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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