Lab Canada

Psychopaths may not suffer from a mental disorder

Kingston, ON – The common perception has always been that psychopaths suffer from a mental disorder. A study now is disputing this long held belief.

A study led by Queen’s University postdoctoral fellow Daniel Krupp surmises that psychopaths may not be disordered after all, but that psychopathy may have evolved to exploit others.

People who are uncaring about others, extreme risk-takers, and often commit strings of violent crimes – are considered to be psychopaths. Evolutionary theory predicts that mentally healthy people will tend to avoid hurting their genetic relatives. The Queen’s-led study examined 289 cases of violent offenders at a mental health centre in Ontario. Evidence from the study indicates that offenders with a greater degree of psychopathy were actually less likely to hurt their genetic relatives than those with a lesser degree of psychopathy. The study was funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and is published in the latest issue of Frontiers in Psychology.

“It’s a counterintuitive and surprising finding, considering the impulsive and violent nature of psychopaths, who also engage in ruthlessly selfish behavior,” Dr. Krupp says. “But it makes sense in the light of evolutionary theory: individuals who have evolved to exploit others should nonetheless avoid hurting their relatives, because those relatives also carry copies of their genes.”

Dr. Krupp points out that these findings don’t let psychopaths off the hook for their actions. “That psychopaths don’t suffer from a mental disorder is no excuse. In a sense, they should be considered more responsible for their conduct than someone with a disorder.”