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Psychopathy and Victim Selection: The Use of Gait as a Cue to Vulnerability


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Previous research has shown that victims display characteristic body language, specifically in their walking style (Grayson & Stein, 1981). Individuals scoring higher on the interpersonal/affective aspects of psychopathy (Factor 1) are more accurate at judging victim vulnerability simply from viewing targets walking (Wheeler, Book, & Costello, 2009). The present study examines the relation between psychopathy and accuracy in assessing victim vulnerability in a sample of inmates from a maximum security penitentiary in Ontario, Canada. Forty-seven inmates viewed short video clips of targets walking and judged how vulnerable each target was to victimization. Higher Factor 1 psychopathy scores (as measured by the PCL-R; Hare 2003) were positively related to accuracy in judging victim vulnerability. Contrary to research with noninstitutional participants (Wheeler et al., 2009), inmates higher on Factor 1 of psychopathy were more likely to rationalize their vulnerability judgments by mentioning the victim's gait. Implications of these findings are discussed.
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Journal of Interpersonal Violence
28(11) 2368 –2383
© The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/0886260512475315
Journal of Interpersonal ViolenceBook et al.
1Brock University, Catharines, Ontario, Canada
2Westfield State University, Westfield, MA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Angela Book, Department of Psychology, Brock University, 500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines,
Ontario, L2S 3A1, Canada.
Psychopathy and
Victim Selection: The
Use of Gait as a Cue to
Angela Book, PhD,1 Kimberly Costello, PhD,1
and Joseph A. Camilleri, PhD2
Previous research has shown that victims display characteristic body lan-
guage, specifically in their walking style (Grayson & Stein, 1981). Individu-
als scoring higher on the interpersonal/affective aspects of psychopathy
(Factor 1) are more accurate at judging victim vulnerability simply from
viewing targets walking (Wheeler, Book, & Costello, 2009). The present study
examines the relation between psychopathy and accuracy in assessing victim
vulnerability in a sample of inmates from a maximum security penitentiary
in Ontario, Canada. Forty-seven inmates viewed short video clips of targets
walking and judged how vulnerable each target was to victimization. Higher
Factor 1 psychopathy scores (as measured by the PCL-R; Hare 2003) were
positively related to accuracy in judging victim vulnerability. Contrary to
research with noninstitutional participants (Wheeler et al., 2009), inmates
higher on Factor 1 of psychopathy were more likely to rationalize their vul-
nerability judgments by mentioning the victim’s gait. Implications of these
findings are discussed.
psychopathy, vulnerability, victim selection, gait, body language
Book et al. 2369
Serial killer Ted Bundy once stated that “he could tell a victim by the way she
walked down the street, the tilt of her head, the manner in which she carried
herself, etc . . .” (as cited in Holmes & Holmes, 2009, p. 221). The assertion
that vulnerability can be judged by our everyday body language is compel-
ling. Do our bodies betray our insecurities? Research has found that nonver-
bal behavior can influence perceptions of others. Specifically, nonverbal cues
can inform judgments about other’s personality, life satisfaction (Yeagley,
Morling, & Nelson, 2007), and sexual orientation (Ambady, Hallahan, &
Conner, 1999). Nonverbal behavior is also symptomatic of an individual’s
level of vulnerability, and thus impacts perceptions of dominance/submis-
siveness (Richards, Rollerson, & Phillips, 1991), powerfulness (Montepare
& Zebrowitz-McArthur, 1998), self-confidence (Murzynski & Degelman,
1996), vulnerability to assault (Grayson & Stein, 1981; Gunns, Johnston, &
Hudson, 2002; Sakaguchi & Hasegawa, 2006), and genuine victimization
history (Wheeler et al., 2009).
Although nonverbal cues appear to be reliable indicators of vulnerability,
some people are naturally more attuned to decoding body language than oth-
ers (Ambady, Hallahan, & Rosenthal, 1995). Psychopathic individuals, in
particular, should be skilled in nonverbal sensitivity given their adeptness at
deceiving, manipulating, and exploiting others (Hare, 2001). Attention to
body language, which is indicative of vulnerability, would give psychopathic
perpetrators a definite advantage in selecting “easy” victims. In support, pre-
vious research indicates that psychopathic traits are associated with better
memory for exploitable behavior (Camilleri, Kuhlmeier, & Chu, 2010) and
greater accuracy in judging others’ assertiveness (Book, Quinsey, & Langford,
2007) and vulnerability to victimization (Wheeler et al., 2009). While the
first study (Wheeler et al., 2009) employed an undergraduate sample to test
whether psychopathic traits are associated with increased accuracy in victim
selection, we extend the scope by utilizing a sample of violent inmates.
Furthermore, we examine whether psychopathic inmates pay conscious
attention to body language cues, particularly a victim’s gait, when making
vulnerability judgments. While this was not true in the student sample, we
expect that individuals who have experience in victim selection (i.e., violent
offenders) will be more practiced in paying attention to cues relating to vul-
nerability. That is, we expected psychopathic offenders to be more likely to
mention gait as a reason for their assessment of vulnerability.
Psychopathy is largely conceptualized as a personality construct involving a
cluster of disordered traits, including (but not limited to) a lack of empathy
2370 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 28(11)
and remorse, glibness, manipulation, poor behavioral controls, and callous-
ness (Cleckley, 1941; Hare, 1991). Psychopathy as a personality construct is
most commonly measured using the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-
R; Hare, 1991). The PCL-R is a clinical assessment tool that assesses two
main factors of psychopathy, each consisting of 2 facets. Factor 1 of the
PCL-R captures the core interpersonal (e.g., glibness) and affective (e.g.,
lack of empathy and remorse) traits of psychopathy. Factor 2 of PCL-R cap-
tures the unstable lifestyle (e.g., impulsivity) and antisocial behavior (e.g.,
delinquency) symptoms of psychopathy. There is debate about whether anti-
social behaviors are an essential component of psychopathy or rather a con-
sequence of the core psychopathic traits. As such, a three-factor model for
the underlying structure of psychopathy has been proposed excluding the
antisocial facet of the PCL-R (Cooke & Michie, 2001; Cooke, Michie, &
Skeem, 2007). For purposes of the present study, we retain the original hier-
archical two-factor structure of psychopathy as measured by the PCL-R
(Hare, 1991).
Psychopathy is associated with a host of negative outcomes, including a
heightened propensity for antisocial behavior, violence, and interpersonal
exploitation (Hare, 2003). In fact, psychopathic individuals make up 15% to
25% of a typical prison population and are responsible for 50% of violent
crime (Hare & Jutai, 1983). As such, psychopathic individuals have been
labeled as “social predators,” characterized by manipulativeness, superficial
charm, and use of deception (e.g., Book et al., 2007; Hare, 2001; Mealey,
1995; Wheeler et al., 2009). Being labeled a “social predator” necessitates the
assumption that psychopathic individuals are particularly skilled in exploit-
ing the weaknesses of others. Such reasoning is in line with Frank (1988),
who proposed that to be successful in exploitation an individual needs to be
adept at recognizing cues of vulnerability in potential victims. Successful
predation therefore is thought to be dependent on the availability of reliable
cues to victim vulnerability/weakness.
Cues to Vulnerability
Body language cues have been found to be reliable predictors of vulnerabil-
ity. Some evidence for this association comes from research investigating the
relationship between body language and perceived dominance/assertiveness.
For example, in a study by Richards and colleagues (1991), men were more
likely to select “submissive” women as potential victims after viewing short
videos of the woman in a conversational context. As rated by a separate
sample of judges, the women targets in this study who were perceived to be
submissive tended to use “smaller” or more subtle gestures involving their
Book et al. 2371
hands and feet. In contrast, the women who were perceived to be dominant
used more assertive or expansive gesturing involving their arms and legs
(Richards et al., 1991). Furthermore, a meta-analysis by Hall, Coats, and
Smith-Le Beau (2005) confirmed that nonverbal behaviors, such as eye con-
tact, body posture, and body gestures, are indeed related to actual and per-
ceived ratings of targets’ dominance.
One specific type of body language that reliably distinguishes victims
from nonvictims is gait. In an early study by Grayson and Stein (1981),
inmates who had been convicted of sexual assault identified individuals as
vulnerable when they displayed certain motions within their walk. These
motion cues to vulnerability included long or short strides, nonlateral
weight shifts, gestured versus postural movements, and feet lifting. Overall,
targets who were judged to be vulnerable to victimization (mugging/assault)
exhibited less synchronous movement in their walk (Grayson & Stein,
1981). The relation between perceived vulnerability and gait was further
corroborated by findings that targets with less fluid gaits were perceived to
be more weak/vulnerable regardless of their sex or age (Montepare &
Zebrowitz-McArthur, 1998).
Other research indicates that gait characteristics are indicative of vul-
nerability to sexual assault in particular. For example, Murzynski and
Degelman (1996) found that women who had less-synchronous walks
were perceived to be less confident and more vulnerable to sexual assault.
In another study, Gunns and colleagues (2002) had participants view video
clips of targets displaying either a vulnerable or nonvulnerable gait after
which they rated the target’s vulnerability to rape (and mugging). Overall,
gait characteristics accounted for a large proportion of the variance in the
perceived vulnerability ratings, with slow walking speed and foot move-
ment uniquely predicting both. In keeping with Gunns et al. (2002),
Sakaguchi and Hasegawa (2006) found that women exhibiting slower
walking speed as well as shorter strides were judged by men to be more
vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Psychopathy and Victim Selection
Previous research, then, has established a clear link between body language
(specifically, gait) and vulnerability to victimization. This opens the door to
examining whether certain individuals are better than others at perceiving
these cues. An obvious candidate for such a skill would be a psychopath, who
is described as “social predator” (Book et al., 2007; Hare, 2001; Mealey,
2372 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 28(11)
1995; Wheeler et al., 2009). Indeed, a psychopath’s ability to detect the suit-
ability of victims based on their body language would be an adaptive skill
that allows him to quickly hone in on vulnerable and “easy” victims.
Some researchers have examined whether psychopathic traits are corre-
lated with the ability to remember targets that may be more or less exploit-
able. For example, Camilleri et al. (2010) found that psychopathic traits were
associated with better memory for “helpers” (i.e., objects that assisted another
object in attaining a goal), versus “hinderers” (i.e., objects that prevented
another object from attaining a goal). This study offers initial support for
earlier descriptions of psychopaths as effective social predators (Hare, 1991;
Mealey, 1995), suggesting that psychopaths may be more likely to target
“altruistic” people given their increased exploitability. It should be noted,
however, that others have not found the same effect when using different
operational definitions (see Barclay & Lalumière, 2006).
Perhaps these conflicting findings can be explained by the failure to con-
sider the unique impact of Factor1 and Factor 2 of psychopathy. There is
reason to believe that the interpersonal/affective characteristics (e.g., manip-
ulativeness, superficial charm, and lack of empathy) prototypical of Factor 1,
are more central to effective victim selection, whereas Factor 2 characteris-
tics (e.g., poor behavioral control and impulsivity) inhibit the planning and
attention to detail required for predatory victim selection. Indeed previous
research indicates that Factor 1 traits are associated with instrumental vio-
lence, whereas Factor 2 traits are negatively related to the level of instrumen-
tality in crime, and instead predict reactionary aggression (e.g., Cunningham
& Reidy, 1998; Woodworth & Porter, 2002). Two previous studies deal with
the issue of victim selection directly and also consider the unique impact of
Factor 1 and Factor 2 of psychopathy. Given that Factors 1 and 2 often cor-
relate differently with a variety of dependent variables, possibly because
Factor 2 scores may identify antisocial people who are not psychopathic,
failing to consider the factors separately can result in null findings.
In the first study, Book et al. (2007) examined the ability of psychopathic
criminals to judge vulnerability in others based solely on observing the target
in a natural conversation with a confederate. Inmate’s ratings of the target’s
perceived assertiveness were compared with those of the actual target. Only
Factor 1 (interpersonal/affective traits) of the PCL-R was positively corre-
lated with accuracy in judging other’s assertiveness (Book et al., 2007). In a
second study, Wheeler et al. (2009) examined whether psychopathic traits in
a noninstitutional sample of undergraduate students were associated with
accuracy in judging vulnerability to victimization. In this study male students
Book et al. 2373
viewed short video clips of targets walking from behind and then rated each
target’s vulnerability to assault. Male students scoring higher on self-reported
interpersonal/affective traits of psychopathy in particular, were more accu-
rate in assessing target vulnerability. Across both studies, Factor 2 was unre-
lated to accuracy in victim selection.
If psychopathic inmates exhibit superior accuracy in identifying victims,
do they also pay conscious attention to the targets’ body language, or gait in
particular, when judging vulnerability? Wheeler et al. (2009) examined stu-
dent’s explanations for vulnerability ratings but found no relationship
between psychopathy and the frequency for which gait was used by partici-
pants to explain vulnerability judgments. In other words, students scoring
higher on psychopathic traits did not consciously base their vulnerability
judgments on the victim’s gait. It is possible that this null finding is a product
of the student sample used in Wheeler et al. More specifically, the partici-
pants were unlikely to have experience in victim selection. An examination
of the relationship between psychopathy and victim selection in an institu-
tional population may yield different results, given that the participants would
have more experience in selecting victims. For this reason, we chose to focus
on a sample of violent offenders in the present study.
The goal of the present study, therefore, is to examine the relationship
between psychopathy and perceived victim vulnerability in a sample of
violent inmates. In keeping with Wheeler et al. (2009) and previous descrip-
tions of psychopaths as social predators (Book et al., 2007, Hare, 2001), we
predicted that inmates scoring higher in Factor 1 of psychopathy (interper-
sonal/affective symptoms) would be more accurate in victim vulnerability
ratings. Furthermore, inmates higher in Factor 1 were also expected to pay
more conscious attention to reliable vulnerability cues, specifically a tar-
get’s gait. In other words, there should be a positive correlation between
Factor 1 traits and the number of times gait is mentioned as a reason for
vulnerability ratings.
Participants included forty-seven male inmates from a maximum security
institution in Ontario, Canada (Mage = 35.55, SD = 10.1). All participants had
at least one conviction for a violent offence and the majority were convicted
of multiple offences (n = 39). Other offence convictions included sexual
(n = 5), drug (n = 12), and property (n = 35). Clinical diagnoses included
2374 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 28(11)
substance abuse (n = 39), schizophrenia (n = 2), personality disorder (n = 2),
and mood disorder (n = 6). Most inmates had a moderate to high IQ (n = 41).
On arriving in the institution’s psychology department, inmates were
informed of the purpose of the study and asked to sign a consent form if they
chose to participate. By signing the consent form, inmates allowed research-
ers to review information from their institutional files including clinical
diagnoses, PCL-R scores, and criminal histories. Participants then viewed 12
video clips of people walking. After each clip participants rated the target on
their vulnerability to being victimized and then provided rationales for their
ratings. Participants were given as much time as they needed to rate each
video and comment on reasoning.
Twelve video clips of unsuspecting targets walking from Wheeler et al.
(2009) were used in the present study. The targets were undergraduate stu-
dents, of whom 8 were women and 4 were men. As described in Wheeler
et al., targets were unknowingly videotaped from behind as they walked
from room A to B, to capture natural gaits. The targets indicated whether
they had ever been victimized and how many times they had been victim-
ized in the past (after the age of 18). The wording of the question was very
broad, given the numerous types of victimization that can occur, and the
effects of any victimization are relative. If participants asked for clarifica-
tion, they were asked to think of victimization as being equal to or greater
than bullying. Each target’s gait was coded by two independent judges
according to the Grayson and Stein’s criteria (1981). As discussed in the
original Wheeler et al. study, interjudge reliabilities were high for all gait
characteristics (kappa = .77 to 1.00). Essential to the idea that body lan-
guage cues indicate vulnerability, targets coded as displaying vulnerable
body language in the Wheeler et al. were more likely to have self-identified
as a victim, rho (11) = .68, p < .05.
Psychopathic traits. Psychopathic traits were assessed using the Psychopathy
Checklist–Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 2003). The PCL-R has been shown to be
reliable and valid in many contexts and populations (see Hare, 2003 for a
Book et al. 2375
review). The PCL-R total, Factor 1, and Factor 2 scores were on file for all
participants (Mtotal = 21.83, SD = 8.16, in line with other institutional sam-
ples; Hare, 2003).
Perceived vulnerability. Participants viewed each of the 12 video clips and rated
each target’s vulnerability to being victimized on a 10-point rating scale (1 =
not at all vulnerable to victimization, 10 = completely vulnerable to victim-
ization). Victimization was defined as “assault with the intent to rob or steal
from the victim.” This wording is similar to that used by Grayson and Stein
(1981), who used mugging and assault in the instructions for their partici-
pants. Participants then responded to an open-ended item prompting them to
provide reasoning for their vulnerability judgments.
Data Preparation
In keeping with Wheeler et al. (2009), accuracy in victim selection was deter-
mined by categorizing participant’s ratings of target vulnerability into correct
or incorrect judgments based on the target’s actual self-reported history of
victimization. Participants were considered to be accurate in their judgments
if they gave “nonvictims” a vulnerability score between 1 and 5 and if they
gave “victims” a vulnerability score between 6 and 10. The midpoint of the
scale was used because the values from 1 to 5 described the person as not
being vulnerable to victimization, while values from 6 to 10 described the
target as vulnerable to victimization. The number of correct assessments
across the 12 videos was added to compose an overall measure of accuracy in
victim selection, higher scores reflecting greater victim selection accuracy.
Psychopathy and Victim Selection
Descriptive statistics and correlations among key variables are presented in
Table 1. Because we had directional hypotheses for Factor 1’s relationships
with victim vulnerability and the number of times gait was mentioned, these
tests were one-tailed. All other statistical tests were two-tailed. Correlations
between factor scores and dependent variables were partial (controlling for
the other factor), allowing us to isolate the unique effects of each factor. We
predicted that inmates higher in the core interpersonal/affective traits (Factor 1)
of psychopathy would be better at distinguishing victims from nonvictims. As
indicated in Table 1, accuracy in judging other’s vulnerability to victimization
2376 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 28(11)
was positively correlated with Total psychopathy and with Factor 1 (interper-
sonal/affective traits) of the PCL-R, after controlling for Factor 2. In contrast,
no significant relationship emerged between victim accuracy and Factor 2
(antisocial/lifestyle) of the PCL-R, after controlling for Factor 1. These results
indicate that psychopathy in inmates, particularly the core interpersonal and
affective traits (Factor 1), enables successful victim selection.
Attention to Body Language
Open-ended responses for vulnerability rating rationales were coded by two
independent judges for mention of 11 vulnerability cues: gait, body posture
(body movements not related to gait), age, sex, attractiveness, build, cloth-
ing, attention, fitness, environment (e.g., lack of lighting), and whether target
was alone. The category labels and examples are listed in Table 1. For each
target video, participants received a score of 1 if the vulnerability cue was
mentioned or 0 if the cue was not mentioned. Often, participants gave mul-
tiple reasons for their vulnerability assessment, and thus their response
would be coded into as many categories as they had given. Prior to resolving
discrepancies via discussion, interjudge agreement for coding vulnerability
rating rationales was excellent (Kappas ranged from .86 to .99). Of particular
interest to the present investigation was mention of gait, which had the high-
est interrater reliability.
Psychopathy and Attention to Gait Cues
As mentioned above, Factor 1 was expected to correlate positively with the
number of times gait in particular was given as a reason for vulnerability
ratings. We did run correlations between the two factors of psychopathy and
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations Among Key Variables.
M SD Range Factor 1 Factor 2
Accuracy Gait
PCL-R total 21.83 8.16 4-34 .78** .90** .38** .10
Factor 1 8.13 3.63 2-15 .48** .47p** .26p*
Factor 2 11.77 5.23 0-19 –.04p–.13p
Victim accuracy 6.35 2.65 0-12 .17
Note. N = 47. PCL-R = Psychopathy Checklist–Revised. Subscriptp = partial correlation.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
Book et al. 2377
all of the categories described above. All tests were two-tailed, with the
exception of the relationship between Factor 1 and mentioning walking/gait,
because of the specific prediction regarding this relationship. Correlations
can be seen in Table 2. Consistent with predictions, inmates higher on Factor
1 of psychopathy were more likely to rationalize their vulnerability judg-
ments by mentioning the victim’s gait, r(44) = .26, p < .05. Factor 1 was not
significantly related to any of the other cues to vulnerability. None of the
partial correlations between Factor 2 and the various reasons for vulnerabil-
ity judgments were significant.1
Table 2. Category Coding and Frequencies for Vulnerability Rating Rationales.
Examples Frequency F1 F2 PCL-Total
Fitness Greater probability of fighting
back; Able to defend self
38 .18 –0.1 .06
Body type In good physical shape;
Heavy set and will be slow
34 .17 –.23 –.11
Sex Because she’s a woman;
Female (wouldn’t mug a
33 .19 –.03 .16
Walk/gait Walks with confidence; Walks
like an easy target
31 .26* –.13 .10
Attention Not paying attention to;
Appears to be cautious
29 .03 .04 .06
Clothing Expensive clothing; Clothes
restrict warding mugger off
23 –.06 –.07 –.14
Body posture Fidgeting with hair; Hands in
21 .15 –.08 .05
Alone No one around; Being alone
increases vulnerability
19 –.01 .14 .15
Environment Too much light in vicinity;
Secluded places to hide
17 –.09 –.09 –.15
Age Victim is too young; Young
14 .09 –.26 –.18
Attractiveness Looks are enticing to mugger;
She is attractive
5 –.01 –.01 –.03
Note. All correlations are two-tailed with the exception of F1 and walking/gait (because of
specific prediction). For correlations with Factor scores, the values are partial correlations
(removing the impact of the other factor score). N = 47.
*p < .05.
2378 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 28(11)
Overall, results are in keeping with previous research (Book et al., 2007;
Wheeler et al., 2009) and support predictions that psychopathy enables accu-
rate victim selection. Whereas Wheeler et al. examined psychopathic traits in
students with little experience in victim selection, we explored the relationship
between psychopathy and victim identification among violent inmates with
extreme histories of victimizing others. We found that inmates with higher
psychopathy scores demonstrated greater accuracy in distinguishing victims
from nonvictims. The association between psychopathy and accuracy in victim
selection was driven solely by the core Interpersonal/Affective traits underly-
ing Factor 1 because Factor 2 was unrelated to accuracy in judging victim
vulnerability. These findings make logical sense because traits underlying
Factor 1, such as manipulativeness, superficial charm, and lack of empathy can
facilitate the exploitation of others. On the other hand, Factor 2 traits could
arguably inhibit a person’s ability to strategically prey on victims (e.g., impul-
sivity/irresponsibility) but not among psychopaths who also score high on
Factor 1 as is evidenced by the correlation between total PCL-R scores and
accuracy. These findings are also in line with recent suggestions that Factor 1
traits are at the core of psychopathy and that some traits falling under Factor 2
are less integral to the construct, such as antisocial behavior (Skeem & Cooke,
2007) and impulsivity (Poythress et al., 2011).
Previous research indicates that walking style in particular is a reliable
indicator of vulnerability (Grayson & Stein, 1981; Wheeler et al., 2009). Is
attention to body language, or gait in particular, conscious? Much of the pre-
vious research would suggest not. For example, a study by Amir (1971) found
that convicted criminals were unaware of the criteria they used to select their
victims. In the present study, the most commonly listed criteria for selecting
victims were the target’s sex, build, and ability to retaliate (i.e., fitness), with
gait listed less often. However, inmates scoring higher on Factor 1 of the
PCL-R were much more likely to consciously attend to a target’s gait when
making their vulnerability judgments. This finding is in contrast to Wheeler
et al. (2009) who found that psychopathic traits were unrelated to the ten-
dency to mention gait in judging reasoning. The lack of relationship is likely
due to the student participants who had lower psychopathy scores and little
experience in victim selection, while the present sample is made up of violent
offenders who arguably have loads of experience in victim selection.
There are limitations to the present research that need to be discussed.
First, the targets in the video stimuli included 8 women and 4 men. Most
previous studies have used exclusively female targets (e.g., Murzynski &
Degelman, 1996, given their focus on sexual assault. While our mixed
Book et al. 2379
sample could be seen as a limitation, it also adds to the literature by including
male targets. We were unable to examine whether the target’s sex had an
effect on ratings, given the small number of targets, but future studies should
examine this issue to determine whether body language cues and ratings of
vulnerability are similarly related in each sex.
Our second limitation is the relatively small sample of inmates who par-
ticipated in the present study. There are unique challenges involved in col-
lecting data from specialized populations especially within maximum security
penitentiaries. The overall response rate for participation was relatively low
(approximately 50%) and data collection was slowed due to unexpected lock-
downs and disruptions within the institution. That being said, the sample in
the present study was comparable in terms of PCL-R scores to other studies
conducted with inmate populations (e.g., Hare, 2003) and it was well suited
to our research question, as most participants had committed violent crimes,
and psychopathy scores were relatively high.
As in Wheeler et al. (2009), our results may be limited to the type of crime
participants were instructed to focus on, specifically targets’ vulnerability to
mugging. While our results and methodology are in line with Grayson and
Stein (1981), most of the research on body language and vulnerability has
focused on sexual assault (e.g., Murzynski & Degelman, 1996). Nonetheless,
care needs to be taken when generalizing the results of the present study
(involving mugging/assault victims) to sexual assault victims. Indeed,
Sakaguchi and Hasegawa (2007) demonstrated that perpetrators use different
criteria to assess victim vulnerability based on the type of crime scenario.
Future research can consider this possibility by including multiple crime sce-
narios. Moreover, the results do not negate the influence of vulnerability cues
other than gait. Recall that most participants noted the size, fitness, and sex
of the target as factors influencing their vulnerability judgments. Relatedly,
Gunns et al. (2002) found that restrictive clothing such as tight pants and high
heels positively influenced vulnerability ratings (but see Sakaguchi &
Hasegawa, 2006). Therefore, other cues such as age and sex may impact
vulnerability judgments in general, but psychopaths in particular are more
sensitive to gait cues. Nonetheless, it would be worthwhile to systematically
control for these other cues to vulnerability (i.e., clothing, attractiveness, etc.)
in future studies to ensure that it is gait, not correlates of gait, that participants
are attending to.
Although responsibility for victimization always lies with the perpetrator,
our findings have implications for the prevention of future and repeated vic-
timization. Targets who displayed vulnerable body language were more
likely to report past histories of victimization, and psychopaths identified
these individuals as being more vulnerable to future victimization. These
2380 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 28(11)
findings may account for why some individuals become repeat victims; social
predators are attracted to external displays of vulnerability (Fattah, 1991). As
such, individuals at risk for victimization can be instructed on how to avoid
displaying vulnerable body language (see Johnston, Hudson, Richardson,
Gunns, & Garner, 2004) and in turn reduce their likelihood of being chosen
as a victim. That being said, the effects of such training appear to be tempo-
rary, and the natural gait reasserts itself over time.
Another interesting direction for future research is the nature of vulner-
ability itself. Some researchers have suggested that the identification of
oneself as a victim is more influential on body language than is actual his-
tory of victimization (as asserted by Theriot, Dulmus, Sower, & Johnson,
2005). Past victimization, therefore, may only lead to an increased chance
of future victimization if victims perceive themselves as vulnerable to vic-
timization. If a target’s vulnerability (display of vulnerable body language)
is not elucidated by actual victimization but rather a vulnerable self-con-
cept, then Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) addressing self-perceived
vulnerability may be useful for reducing vulnerability to victimization and
may outperform instruction on nonvulnerable walking characteristics.
Indeed, training victims in how to walk assertively works, but the effect
seems to disappear with time (Johnston et al., 2004). Addressing percep-
tions of vulnerability through CBT may therefore be a more effective way
to prevent revictimization.
To conclude, we found support for the notion that psychopaths are “social
predators” (Book et al., 2007; Hare, 2001; Mealey, 1995; Wheeler et al.,
2009). Total PCL-R scores and Factor 1 traits were positively correlated
with both accuracy in judging vulnerability to victimization and with the
tendency to mention gait as a reason for that judgment. In other words,
inmates scoring higher on the core psychopathic personality traits (as mea-
sured on Factor 1 of the PCL-R) are more accurate in judging victim vulner-
ability and they are more likely to consciously attend to a target’s gait when
selecting a victim. It would seem, then, that Ted Bundy may have hit the nail
on the head.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was funded by a grant to
Angela Book from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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Author Biographies
Angela Book is an associate professor of psychology at Brock University, Canada.
Her research interests include psychopathy and its relation to emotion perception,
deception, and victim selection.
Kimberly Costello is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at Brock
University, Canada. Her research interests include intergroup prejudice, psychopathy,
and victimization.
Joseph A. Camilleri is an assistant professor of psychology at Westfield State
University, USA. His research interests include the effects of psychopathy and sexual
conflict on sexual coercion in relationships.
... Researchers (e.g., Book et al., 2013;Ritchie et al., 2018;Wheeler et al., 2009) have also examined the related question of whether psychopathic traits are associated with the ability to judge vulnerability to victimization, as evidenced by a history of victimization. Participants viewed videotapes of individuals walking down a hallway and rated each individual's vulnerability to being victimized. ...
... There was a significant relationship in each study between a history of victimization and body language cues (e.g., gait) that appear to suggest vulnerability. Book et al. (2013) also reported a unique relationship between the combined interpersonal/affective traits of psychopathy and accuracy in judging vulnerability but no such relationship for the combined antisocial/lifestyle traits. Although Wheeler et al. (2009) reported a similar pattern of findings using a measure of self-reported psychopathic traits in undergraduates, Ritchie et al. (2018) found significant relationships only between the antisocial/lifestyle traits and accuracy for their male subsample of undergraduates. ...
... The antisocial lifestyle traits have been linked to greater overall self-reported criminal success and greater likelihood of leaving the scene of the crime and being convicted of a lesser charge (LIF only). In contrast, the interpersonal affective traits have been linked to greater likelihood of denying guilt and accuracy in identifying victim vulnerability, but also to lower self-reported criminal success (Aharoni & Kiehl, 2013;Book et al., 2013;Häkkänen-Nyholm & Hare, 2009;Wheeler et al., 2009). ...
Although it is well established that individuals with psychopathic traits commit more crimes than individuals without psychopathic traits, the association between psychopathy and success in the criminal justice system (CJS) is less understood. We addressed this issue by examining relationships between psychopathic traits and the conviction-to-charge ratio (CCR) in 355 incarcerated adult male offenders who were also assessed on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. This study was unique in examining a comprehensive dataset of state and federal criminal records. No relationships between CCR and psychopathy ratings were found in the present study. However, scores on a modified CCR that included sets of charges without dispositions yielded both unique and zero-order relationships between interpersonal features and conviction rates. These results suggest that the interpersonal traits may be uniquely associated with some indices of decreased success in the CJS. Future research should examine what is driving this unique relationship.
... Far from being diseased, some psychopaths seem finely designed to trap prey (91). For example, like many predators, they are able to use the prey's gait to estimate its vulnerability (92). ...
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Personality disorders (PDs) are currently considered dysfunctions. However, personality differences are older than humanity and are ubiquitous in nature, from insects to higher primates. This suggests that a number of evolutionary mechanisms—other than dysfunctions—may be able to maintain stable behavioral variation in the gene pool. First of all, apparently maladaptive traits may actually improve fitness by enabling better survival or successful mating or reproduction, as exemplified by neuroticism, psychopathy, and narcissism. Furthermore, some PDs may harm important biological goals while facilitating others, or may be globally beneficial or detrimental depending on environmental circumstances or body condition. Alternatively, certain traits may form part of life history strategies: Coordinated suites of morphological, physiological and behavioral characters that optimize fitness through alternative routes and respond to selection as a whole. Still others may be vestigial adaptations that are no longer beneficial in present times. Finally, variation may be adaptative in and by itself, as it reduces competition for finite resources. These and other evolutionary mechanisms are reviewed and illustrated through human and non-human examples. Evolutionary theory is the best-substantiated explanatory framework across the life sciences, and may shed light on the question of why harmful personalities exist at all.
... Women in both Kirkman (2005) and Brown and Leedom (2008) described how at the beginning of the relationship their former partners were highly loving and attentive. Individuals with psychopathic traits are able to detect nonverbal and personality cues of vulnerability (Book et al., 2013(Book et al., , 2021Ritchie et al., 2018Ritchie et al., , 2019Visser et al., 2020;Wheeler et al., 2009), to mimic emotions of fear and remorse (Book et al., 2015;Brazil et al., 2021), and to hide feelings of embarrassment and fear when telling deceptive stories (Porter et al., 2011). These findings suggest that individuals with psychopathic traits may be able to identify potentially vulnerable individuals, obtain their trust, before exploiting and harming them. ...
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Limited research exists on the impact of psychopathy within romantic relationships. We examined mental and physical health consequences reported by intimate partners of individuals with psychopathic traits. Additionally, we explored whether psychopathy severity and coping impacted the severity of posttraumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms. Four hundred fifty-seven former and current intimate partners of individuals with psychopathic traits were recruited from online support groups. Victims reported a variety of abusive experiences and various negative symptomatology involving emotional, biological, behavioral, cognitive, and interpersonal consequences. Psychopathy severity and maladaptive coping were significantly related to increased PTSD and depression, while adaptive coping was only related to decreased depression. Regression analyses revealed that experiencing many forms of victimization predicted increased PTSD and depression symptoms. Examining the specific consequences experienced by intimate partners of individuals with psychopathic traits can aid the development of individualized treatment interventions aimed at symptom mitigation, recovery, and prevention of future victimization.
... Along with a stronger focus on properties of the victim that directly or indirectly increase vulnerability to crime, there is a need for more research on offender target-selection tactics (e.g. Book et al., 2013) and their impact on IPV and poly-victimization. We also call for more studies on incident characteristics that could create victimization continuity across interaction scenes, such as revenge sequences and types of displaced revenge (e.g. ...
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In prior research, intimate partner violence (IPV) victimization has been predominantly studied as distinct from other forms of violent victimization. As a result, relatively little is known about IPV victimization in relation to other violent victimization and the extent to which same people tend to be both IPV and other violent victims. In this study, the combined data from five sweeps of the Finnish National Crime Victim Survey (N = 25,927) is used to examine violent poly-victimization among IPV victims and to compare social and community correlates of IPV victimization and other violent victimization. The results indicate that IPV victims are significantly more likely to be victims of other violent actions than those who have not been victimized by an intimate partner. Moreover, IPV victimization shares similar correlates with other violent victimization. However, more research is needed on the causal mechanisms behind the associations between IPV and general violence.
Static postures and body movements influence interactions. Mirroring promotes bonds, but rapport building depends more on other factors. The openness of postures may signal mental and emotional states. A controversial experiment even suggested that a “superhero” pose might improve confidence, charisma, and performance. Gestures and gait are other sources of information. Nevertheless, hand movements mainly accompany speaking, and humans are typically poor decoders of the walking style. Automatic tools, particularly those used for identification recognition, have a higher degree of accuracy. Individual chronicity influences nonverbal behavior, emotions, and performance, but several factors determine observers’ inferences. Job interviews highlight the inherent challenge of decoding people only from nonverbal clues. Interviewers can underrate some cues and overestimate other ones.
Limited research exists exploring survivors' experiences in a relationship with a psychopathic abuser and their mental health following relationship dissolution. The present study examines the specific traits and patterns of abuse that have the most profound impact on survivors' mental health. Self-identified survivors of an intimate relationship with a psychopathic abuser (N = 454; Mage = 45.5) were recruited from intimate partner abuse support websites. They were assessed for abuse experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology, and the extent to which their abuser exhibited psychopathic traits via self-report questionnaires. Multiple regression analysis revealed that abusers' psychopathic traits were predictive of survivors' PTSD symptomology. Specifically, when controlling for the duration since last contact with the abuser and relationship length, interpersonal and affective traits, and experiences of versatile forms of abuse contributed to more severe PTSD symptoms. The present findings are consistent with an emerging body of research showing that abusers' emotional disconnection and predatory nature facilitate their ability to maintain an intimate relationship while engaging in a wide range of abuse resulting in widespread harm to survivors' mental health.
Despite the number of benefits associated with use of the Internet, a number of antisocial behaviors have emerged online. In this chapter, the role of psychopathy as a predictor of antisocial online behaviors is considered. Research exploring trait psychopathy and its relation to cybercrime and cyber abuse is presented. The role of psychopathy in cyberbullying, trolling, cyberstalking, online child pornography, and cyber fraud is discussed. In addition, psychopathy is also related to broader antisocial online behaviors, such as cyber aggression and social media addiction. In this chapter, I present previous research interpretations of the strong association between psychopathy and antisocial online behaviors and discuss implications of these findings. Finally, I offer suggestions for moving toward safe online spaces.
We tried to understand individual differences in two super-categories of cues to vulnerability. In a qualitative, act-nomination study (N = 79), we found several underpowered patterns in that more physical cues of vulnerability were listed than psychological ones, no sex difference were observed for number of psychological vulnerabilities, but men listed more physical vulnerabilities than women, however; these effects are descriptive only. We then surveyed participants (N = 262) on how much a curated list of cues from Study 1 made men and women vulnerable. A composite of the Dark Tetrad traits (i.e., narcissism, psychopathy, sadism, and Machiavellianism) that we called “antagonism” was associated with seeing targets as more vulnerable whereas those who were empathetic perceived targets as less vulnerable. Physical vulnerability was associated with higher ratings of male targets' vulnerability. For psychological vulnerability, antagonism was associated with lowered perceptions of vulnerability of female targets. Women rated others—regardless of their sex—as more vulnerable than men did, but this effect was strongest for physical cues. And last, women rated other women as more vulnerable—regardless of cue type—than other men, but men rated both sexes as equally vulnerable. Our results are discussed within an evolutionary framework.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) and PCL-R psychopathy are critically examined regarding their application to sentencing determinations. PCL-R psychopathy is emerging in the literature as a more useful forensic diagnostic construct than APD, which appears flawed by multiple weaknesses. These include shifting diagnostic criteria, innumeracy problems, absence of symptom weighting, temporal instability, and the equivalence of some symptoms with substance abuse disorders. Additionally, APD overdiagnosis may result from inattention to issues of social context, trauma history, and symptom pervasiveness. Neither objective nor projective personality testing reliably differentiates APD. Finally, an APD diagnosis does not always indicate criminal, much less incorrigible criminal behavior. By contrast, PCL-R psychopathy results are strongly predictive of criminal behavior and violent recidivism for Caucasian males through mid-life residing in the community. Emerging research with the PCL-R regarding other important populations and contexts is promising but generalization is currently limited. (C) 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Psychopathy is characterized by diverse indicators. Clinical accounts have emphasized 3 distinct facets: interpersonal, affective, and behavioral, Research using the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), however, has emphasized a 2-factor model, A review of the literature on the PCL-R and related measures of psychopathy, together with confirmatory factor analysis of PCL-R data from North American participants, indicates that the 2-factor model cannot be sustained. A 3-factor hierarchical model was developed in which a coherent superordinate factor, Psychopathy, is underpinned by 3 factors: Arrogant and Deceitful Interpersonal Style, Deficient Affective Experience, and Impulsive and Irresponsible Behavioral Style. The model was cross-validated on North American and Scottish PCL-R data, Psychopathy Screening Version data, and data derived from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) antisocial personality disorder field trial.
This is a brief report on the first stage of a longitudinal study of criminal psychopathy. The data to be presented are the criminal records of several hundred predominantly white, male criminals who took part in at least one of our psychophysiological studies from 1964 to 1974. The records were obtained from the RCMP Fingerprint Service (FPS) files, which contained a listing of charges, convictions, and dispositions from the time of first appearance in adult court until December 31, 1975. A later report will describe the criminal histories of around 500 male criminals from their first appearance in adult court until 1982.
In closing the “International Meeting on Biology and Sociology of Violence,” held in Valencia in 1996, Her Majesty Queen Sophia of Spain noted that the future will see major advances in our understanding of—and our ability to deal with—the genetic and biological factors in aggression and violence. Her Majesty The Queen also offered the hope that the considerable information we already have concerning the environmental origins of violence would be put to more immediate use.
Sociopaths are “outstanding” members of society in two senses: politically, they draw our attention because of the inordinate amount of crime they commit, and psychologically, they hold our fascination because most ofus cannot fathom the cold, detached way they repeatedly harm and manipulate others. Proximate explanations from behavior genetics, child development, personality theory, learning theory, and social psychology describe a complex interaction of genetic and physiological risk factors with demographic and micro environmental variables that predispose a portion of the population to chronic antisocial behavior. More recent, evolutionary and game theoretic models have tried to present an ultimate explanation of sociopathy as the expression of a frequency-dependent life strategy which is selected, in dynamic equilibrium, in response to certain varying environmental circumstances. This paper tries to integrate the proximate, developmental models with the ultimate, evolutionary ones, suggesting that two developmentally different etiologies of sociopathy emerge from two different evolutionary mechanisms. Social strategies for minimizing the incidence of sociopathic behavior in modern society should consider the two different etiologies and the factors that contribute to them.
This study examines whether psychopathic traits in a nonreferred (and presumably nonpsychopathic) sample could enhance the accuracy of perceptions of victim vulnerability. In a previous study, the interpersonal and affective component of psychopathy was associated with increased accuracy in assessing vulnerability in dyadic conversations, and Grayson and Stein (1981) established that vulnerability could be assessed by observing targets walking. The purpose of this study was to determine whether individuals scoring higher on psychopathic traits would be better able to judge vulnerability to victimization after viewing short clips of targets walking. Participants provided a vulnerability estimate for each target and completed the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale: Version III (SRP-III). Higher SRP-III scores were associated with greater accuracy in assessing targets' vulnerability to victimization. Implications for the prevention of victimization are discussed.