Why Psychopaths are so hard to spot

Why Psychopaths are so hard to spot even for professionals

I recently had a conversation with someone who I’ll keep anonymous for their own protection who had been abused by their own parents and had was in a state of confusion as to why their own parents might want to abuse them. Worst still their one of the parents appeared to be a highly manipulative psychopath who had tried to persuade the authorities that in was in fact the adult child that was crazy.

I have heard these kinds of stories before not only only from this person so it got me on a search for different articles and stories that might explain how disordered personalities might blend into society whereas those who are neurotic maybe be labelled with illnesses they don’t even have.

For those adult children who have grown up with dysfunction it led me on a search for lots of answers. I found this video quite interesting.

Many years ago the anti psychiatry group caused an uproar when a man called David Rosenhal decided to do an experiment and see when the system was flawed. He and a few colleagues pretended to hear voices and were admitted into a psychiatric unit.

The study was done in two parts. First, healthy participants were recruited, called the “pseudopatients”. They would briefly simulate auditory hallucinations. These pseudopatients would try to be admitted to twelve different psychiatric hospitals in five states in the USA. All were admitted and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. After admission, the pseudopatients told the staff they were fine and acted like any normal patient would. However, the staff considered this as part of their illness and did not detect any of the pseudopatients. Some of the patients were even confined for months. All were forced to admit to having a mental illness and had to agree to taking anti-psychotic medication as a condition for release.

The second part involved an offended hospital challenging Rosenhan to send pseudopatients to its facility, whom its staff would then detect. Rosenhan agreed and in the following weeks out of 193 new patients the staff identified 41 as potential pseudopatients, with 19 of these receiving suspicion from at least 1 psychiatrist and 1 other staff member. In fact Rosenhan had sent no-one to the hospital.

The study concluded, “It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals”

It poses the question are psychiatrists even able to diagnose the right person with the right illness.

In another experiment called The Stanford prison experiment was a controversial study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University from August 14 to August 20 in 1971 by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo who also appeared in the recent movie on psychopaths called “Fishhead”.

What transpired from the experiment is that a small minority of people became “evil”

You can watch the video here

Although it appeared that everyone was playing a “role” some people took their roles more seriously than others and the abuse escalated.

One wonders whether or not the screening process that took place in the beginning was floored in the beginning and in fact some of the people who had entered the facility were possibly psychopaths.

Dr Robert Hare mentions that its very difficult to spot a psychopath even after months of knowing them and yet in the Rosenhal case they were ready to get someone committed and put them on drugs within weeks. Both studies show that put in the wrong hands those who are normal can end up being committed as insane whereas those who are actually the most dangerous may very easily slip through the radar unnoticed.

Its no wonder that many people may potentially feel untrustworthy of the psychiatric profession when there are so many variable factors to be taken into consideration.


1 Comment

Filed under I am fishhead, psychopath

One response to “Why Psychopaths are so hard to spot

  1. Sarah, excellent article. I think that it’s easy to spot a psychopath in extended contact, six months or more, because their disordered pattern of behavior generally gives them away, as Dr. Hare also states. However, no study that takes a few hours or days can approximate that extended intimate contact with a psychopath. And we all know that psychopaths can put on a great act for a few hours or days… That’s why these kinds of studies have their limitations…

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