Examining psychopathic traits among stalking offenders

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The objectives of this study were to (1) examine psychopathic traits within a sample of individuals charged with stalking behaviours, (2) examine the relationship between these traits and offence severity, and (3) determine whether the presence of psychopathic traits predicted drop-out from treatment. The sample consisted of 93 male offenders mandated to attend an outpatient treatment program as a condition of their parole or probation. Psychopathic personality traits were measured using the three-factor model of the Screening Version of Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL:SV; Hart, Cox, & Hare, 1995) at intake into the program. Offence severity was measured using the Guidelines for Stalking Assessment and Management (SAM; Kropp, Hart, & Lyon, 2008). Total scores on the PCL:SV were generally low (M = 8.89, SD = 5.01), with only four cases exceeding the diagnostic cut-off of ≥18 for psychopathy. Higher Deficient Affective Experience (Factor 2) scores and higher Impulsive Behavioural Style scores (Factor 3) were significantly associated with higher severity ratings on the Nature of Stalking Behaviour and Perpetrator risk factors. A logistic regression model revealed that higher PCL:SV scores were significantly associated with a failure to complete treatment, but that individual Factor scores did not account for a significant portion of the variance above and beyond each other. These findings suggest that despite low rates of psychopathy among individuals convicted of stalking, the identification of such traits may have important implications for understanding the nature of the offence, future risk management, and may inform the development of more targeted interventions.

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Purpose. There is growing evidence that psychopathic (dissocial) personality disorder is associated with violence. The purpose of this paper is to consider the role of psychopathy in clinical assessments of risk for violence. Arguments. Risk assessments are conducted for the purpose of preventing, not predicting, violence. Yet, most research on risk for violence is conducted and interpreted within the framework of a simplistic prediction paradigm, thus underestimating the practical importance of risk factors. Despite this bias, violence predictions based on psychopathy are only slightly less accurate than predictions that cognitive behavioral therapy will reduce symptoms of depression or cardiac bypass surgery will reduce angina pain; and more accurate than predictions that smaller class sizes will lead to improved academic achievement or cardiac bypass surgery will reduce mortality. Conclusion. Information about psychopathy can be used to make relatively accurate predictions of violence. Of course, decisions concerning if and how such information should be used are another matter. The paper concludes with recommendations concerning the appropriate role of psychopathy in violence risk assessments and avenues for future research.
Manual for the psychopathy checklist screening version (PCL:SV)
  • S D Hart
  • D Cox
  • R Hare
Hart, S. D., Cox, D., & Hare, R. (1995). Manual for the psychopathy checklist screening version (PCL:SV). Toronto, ON: Multi-Health Systems.