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Transcript 2: Scott Lilienfeld, President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy

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Part two of a three part transcript.
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Here's a link to the audio Podcast of the Interview with Scott Lilienfeld


Scott Lilienfeld
(Image by Scott Lilienfeld)
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Rob: How about psychopaths who are not parasitic or psychopathic? Can you conceptualize that?

SL: I think most of them are going to fall into those categories...

Rob: I mean...no, no , no, no. I'm sorry...parasitic or predatory. That's what I...

SL: Yeah, right, I think most people who are psychopathic are usually going to be -- especially interpersonally -- if you watch them long enough and have been...their scores are extreme enough I think you're going to find that they fall, most if not all of them, into one of those two categories, especially if they're in romantic relationships.

Rob: Which, from what I've learned, affects maybe 60 million people in the US, according to one therapist who trains other therapists in how to help people who have been victims of psychopaths.

SL: Yeah, again it's harder to put an exact number on it but I've no doubt...I would never want to put an exact number because, again, I think we're talking about a continuum. But I've no doubt that you're right, that the general point I agree with, which is that I think that people with high levels of these traits are much more of an interpersonal problem than we recognize and when I do give talks about psychopathy to the general public or when I give talks about psychopathy to students (because I teach Intro to Psychology -- I often cover psychopathy here) very often I would actually argue most of the time individuals will come up to me afterwards -- they're usually women, not always, but they're more often than not women who have been taken advantage of by a male -- who will say with a stunned expression, 'My God, I'm dating a psychopath' or 'I did date a psychopath. I didn't realize that.' They oftentimes...they saw these individual traits, they saw the lack of empathy, they saw the manipulation, they saw the dishonesty, conjoined with...it's like you were talking about this sense of being charming and confident and alluring, but they didn't put it all together -- they didn't realize that this was a constellation of traits that sits together into a puzzle....and that they're all little puzzle pieces and suddenly wow, this all connected up and the jigsaw puzzle was completed. And suddenly there's this tint of recognition that 'Oh, now I see what this is. This is actually a psychological condition that makes a certain amount of sense once I know all the puzzle pieces.'

Rob: So, have you had contact with or dealt with or done therapy with psychopaths?

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SL: Yes, I don't do clinical work anymore -- I'm a clinical psychologist by training so I pretty much just do research and teaching now, but certainly when I did therapy I would say I encountered some people, yes, that I would describe as having high levels of psychopathic traits. I certainly met some of them in my research and interviewed some of them in my research, and so on. So sure, I've seen them and they're a challenging lot. They're, I mean they're interesting to interview. They're fun to talk to, they can be very engaging, and sometimes they can be very hard to dislike -- at least superficially. But then again, they're not in my life so it's easier to be able to have that distance.

Rob: Did you feel like you were dealing with a predator?

SL: Yeah, I think so. I mean the ones I can think of...I had...I think what I would say is that at the moment, no, because at the moment when I was talking with them they often were fairly normal and fairly engaging. I think what is important for listeners to understand about psychopaths...I think part of what makes them challenging is that when you're talking with them they can often seem disarmingly normal but I would have to remind myself -- sometimes I really would have to consciously remind myself -- that wow, this is someone who has done some pretty bad things, sometimes awful things, and one always has to realize that yes there is...there are oftentimes, more often than not, is this background of being a predator and harming people in a person, sometimes physically. But it's so easy to forget that. Starke Hathaway was a famous psychologist who developed a test called the MMPI. And Hathaway once said that if you're in a psychiatric unit, if you want to find out who the psychopath is, it's not too hard. Kind of look around the unit and look to see who seems to be the most normal, look to see who the person at the center of attention is, look to see who's...if there's a card game, who's the center of the game, who's the person everyone's talking to, who's the person other people turn to, the person who seems the most normal...has it all together. More often than not, Hathaway argued in psychiatric units, that's going to be the classic psychopath, and he's probably right.

Rob: Scott, you've developed a test too, right?

SL: Um hmm, yes.

Rob: Tell us about that.

SL: So we developed a measure. It's a self-report measure, which is controversial because some people don't think one can measure psychopathy using self-report, but we've had pretty good success with it. It's called the Psychopathic Personality Inventory, or PPI. It's now revised, so we call it the PPIR. And it's a self-report measure, it's a questionnaire, and in developing it we were pretty careful. We did not want to assume that the measure required much insight because oftentimes one of the things that is characteristic of psychopaths we haven't talked about explicitly is that they often lack insight into the nature and extent of their problem. So they rarely see anything wrong with themselves. They are happy to tell you that they've got problems but they're also happy to tell you who's responsible for them -- it's almost never them, it's somebody else's fault. So we were very careful to develop the items in such a way that they just required people with these traits to say what they do and what they're attitudes are. We didn't require any insight into the condition. It has about 150 questions or so, and we also have embedded in there some subtle items in there, maybe not so subtle if you're familiar with the test, to try to pick up who might be lying or making themselves look particularly good because that's a tendency we worry about with psychopaths. And it consists of 8 different scales that measure 8 dimensions that we think are particularly important to psychopathy...it's not comprehensive -- we don't think these are the only 8 scales, but we think that these are 8 important dimensions relevant to psychopathy and many of them fit into that triarchic model we talked about earlier. Many of them can be folded into those 3 dimensions.

Rob: What are the 8 dimensions?

SL: Let's see if I can remember them. It's always a challenge for me even though I developed the test. But we have one called Machiavellian Egocentricity, which reflects a kind of ruthless willingness to take advantages of other people.

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Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.

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Rob Kall's Bottom Up Radio Show: Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

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