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An Introduction to the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)

An Introduction to the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)

Summary by J. Scarlet

This information has been compiled from the book, Without Conscience by Dr. Hare, The PCL-R by Dr. Hare and the Assessing Psychopathy with the PCL-R workshop offered by Dr. Hare’s Darkstone Research Group.

Dr. Robert Hare and his students developed the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) for assessing psychopathy in males in forensic settings.  It has also been validated for assessing psychopathy in females in forensic settings.   This test was designed to diagnose unsuccessful, or “failed,” psychopaths and it is important to note that most psychopaths are not detected by the criminal justice system.

The PCL-R contains 20 items that rate individuals on their personalities and lifestyles. Each item on the PCL-R is scored on a scale from 0-2.  A score of 0 means the item does not apply, 1 means it applies to some extent, and 2 means it applies and there is a good match.  If there is insufficient data to score a particular item on the list, it is omitted.  Up to five items on the list may be omitted with the test still being considered reliable.  A total score of 10-19 on the PCL-R diagnoses an individual as mildly psychopathic, a score of 20-29 diagnoses them as moderately psychopathic, and a score of 30-40 diagnoses them as severely psychopathic.

Administering the PCL-R requires appropriate credentials and training.  It is preferable for scorers to use in-person interviews in addition to reviewing file information when calculating the scores.

Below is a summary of the 20 items that appear on the PCL-R.  It has been written to introduce the reader to the items on the test without plagiarizing it.  This summary excludes, for the most part, the specific methods used by the scorer to rate each item.

Item 1 describes individuals who are glib and superficial.  These people are very witty and articulate and they may be quite likeable.  They can be funny and entertaining, tell unlikely but convincing stories that make them look good, and have quick and clever comebacks.   Although they may appear to know a lot about many subjects, they usually only know enough technical jargon to impress some people.  They also generally sound so slick that they come off as not being entirely believable to some.

Item 2 describes individuals who are egocentric and have a grandiose sense of self-worth.  They may brag a lot, be narcissistic, opinionated and self-assured.  It is common for these people to aspire to pursue careers with status, but they have little understanding of the qualifications required to attain such careers.  Their egos are so inflated that instead of being embarrassed about their legal problems, they view them as being the result of something like bad luck or injustice.

Item 3 describes individuals who have an excessive need for stimulation and are unusually prone to becoming bored.  These people are risk-takers who seek excitement and go where the action is.  They may frequently move to new residences, change jobs, become alcoholics, use many different types of drugs and/or commit crimes just for the thrill of it.   They will often complain that certain tasks like school, work, or long-term relationships are too tedious or boring.

Item 4 describes individuals who habitually lie and deceive others, including people they are close to.  They may be proud of these abilities and go so far as to create elaborate stories just for the delight of fooling people.  If they are questioned or caught in a lie, they have explanations and excuses for everything and are able to quickly change their stories or the subject without appearing embarrassed or confused.

Item 5 describes individuals who cheat, defraud and/or manipulate others, including people they are close to.  Motivated by a desire for personal gain, such as money, power, sex, and/or status, they will scam their victims without any concern.  Sometimes their behavior will involve breaking the law, but other times it doesn’t.

Item 6 describes an individuals who lack remorse or guilt for their criminal and noncriminal actions.  Although they may verbally express that they have remorse, their actions and/or other responses contradict this.  They are concerned with the effects their actions have on them rather than any suffering they have caused their victims or damage they have done to society.  They are unable to appreciate the seriousness of their actions, blame their victims or society for the circumstances, and continue to engage in activities that are harmful to others.

Item 7 describes an individuals who have a shallow affect and lack the ability to experience a normal range of emotions.  Their emotions are generally dramatic, shallow, and short-lived.  They may claim to exhibit strong emotions, but these emotions may not be consistent with their actions or the situation.  They may experience sexual arousal instead of love, frustration instead of sadness, and irritability instead of anger.

Item 8 describes individuals who have a profound lack of empathy and a callous disregard for others.  They view people as objects to be manipulated and are not concerned with the feelings, rights, or welfare of others.  They process the pain and suffering of others on an abstract, intellectual level.  They are selfish and cynical, and do not hesitate at mocking people, including those who have suffered misfortunes or who have physical and/or mental handicaps.

Item 9 describes individuals whose financial dependence on others is a part of their lifestyle.  These people are able to work, but have a parasitic pattern of relying on family, friends, and/or social aid for financial support instead.  They get what they want by presenting themselves as helpless, deserving of sympathy, and by exploiting their victims’ weaknesses.  Others are called upon to support them and cater to their needs no matter what the cost.

Item 10 describes individuals who have poor control over their behavior.  These people are easily offended and can become angry over petty things.  They tend to respond to frustration, failure, discipline, and criticism by becoming verbally abusive and/or violent.  They are known to be short-tempered, hot-headed, suddenly irritable, annoyed and/or impatient.  Often their outbursts are short-lived and they may quickly act as if nothing has happened.

Item 11 describes individuals who have promiscuous, impersonal and/or trivial sexual relationships.  They may have more than one partner at the same time, engage in casual sex, have one-night-stands, use prostitutes, and/or not discriminate when selecting sexual partners.  They might have a history of coercing others into having sex with them and may also have prior charges for sexual assault.

Item 12 describes individuals who experienced serious behavioral problems at the age of 12 or younger.  These problems are more severe than those exhibited by most children.  Repercussions can include discipline from schools and/or contact with the police.  Some examples of these problems are persistent lying, cheating, theft, fire-setting, cruelty to animals, truancy, drug-use, vandalism, violence, bullying, running away from home and/or preconscious sex.

Item 13 describes individuals who are not able or willing to develop and carry out realistic, long-term plans and/or goals.  These people can make short-term goals and tend to live in the present without giving serious thought to their futures.  They don’t seem concerned if they have done little with their lives or are going nowhere in life.  They may change their plans frequently and not be interested in having steady jobs.

Item 14 describes individuals who acts in impulsive ways.  These people don’t think before they act and are known to do things on the “spur of the moment” just because they feel like it or an opportunity presented itself.  They don’t spend much time considering the pros and cons of a situation and will change plans on a whim without bothering to tell others.

Item 15 describes individuals who are irresponsible in a variety of areas.  These people have little to no sense of duty or loyalty to family, friends, employers, societies, ideas, and/or causes.  Their irresponsible behavior is expressed in a variety of ways including engaging in behavior that puts others at risk, poorly managing their finances, having careless or sloppy work behavior, and/or failing to honor commitments to people in both their personal and professional relationships.

Item 16 describes individuals who are unable or unwilling to accept personal responsibility for their actions.  They make excuses for their behavior, including rationalizing it or blaming it on circumstance or someone else.  Sometimes they will accept responsibility in a superficial manner, but they will minimize or deny the consequences of their behavior.

Item 17 describes individuals who have had many short-term marital relationships.  Live-in relationships that have involved some degree of commitment, common-law marriages, heterosexual and homosexual relationships are also included.  A score of 2 applies to individuals who have had 3 or more of these relationships before the age of 30.

Item 18 describes individuals who were delinquent as juveniles.  They have a history of serious antisocial behavior from the age of 17 and younger and have had formal contact with the criminal justice system.

Item 19 describes individuals who have violated a conditional release or escaped from an institution.  They may have violated the conditions of their parole, probation, restraining orders, bail, and/or have received new charges while on parole.  They may have also escaped from jail or another institution.  A major violation or escape warrants a score of 2.

Item 20 describes individuals who, while adults, have been charged with many different types of crimes.  Charges can include theft, robbery, assault, fraud, arson, and/or minor charges including vandalism, causing a disturbance, etc.  Six or more types of offenses results in a score of 2.


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