What if oncologists did not study less lethal forms of cancer? What if they studied only lung and pancreatic cancer and declared the rest of cancer untreatable and unworthy of study as a result? This may sound ludicrous, but this is exactly what happens with the study of psychopaths. Academic researchers go to where they know they can find psychopaths: prisons. However, they did not include the possibility that there are psychopaths outside of prison walls because such field studies would prove “too hard”. This leads to a general picture of what the psychopath can do but not the complete picture of all psychopaths. If Kent Kiehl is right in his book, The Psychopath Whisperer, then 77% of psychopaths are in jail. This means that roughly 1 in 4 are not, however. Leaving 25% of any population unaccounted for is laughable, but yet we are expected to treat the prison psychopath as representative of all psychopaths. This is the result of nothing less than systematic failure when it comes to the study of psychopaths.
I get it. It is difficult to study that which does not want to be found. Successful psychopaths tend to stay under the radar and would be hesitant to admit many of the core traits of the condition under most circumstances. Who would admit to being lying, manipulative, parasitic, etc. to someone that they did not know? However, I would place less blame on the psychopath and more on the psychological community for the underrepresentation of successful psychopaths in studies. Most psychotherapists will not touch Antisocial Personality Disorder, much less psychopathy. An endless cycle of referrals are constructed for those academically-inclined psychopaths that want to learn about themselves (with my therapist being a rare exception). Most researchers are – I would submit – lazy and take the easy opportunity samples (a statistical no-no) from prisons rather than constructing expensive, time-consuming, but proper random samples. And, all of this gets attributed to what all psychopaths must look like. It would be laughable if it did not have such terrible consequences for the psychopath.
Most everything I write is directed toward the experience of the successful psychopath. I have not been convicted of any crime and I communicate with others that are not in prison either. It is exhausting to see a portrait painted of the psychopath that is only 75% correct. We may resembled our imprisoned brothers and sisters, but that does not necessarily imply that we are pure-blooded relatives. The only way that this can ever be corrected is either through our voices being heard, which is rare, or by academics stepping up and doing the “hard” work that they should be ethically required to do. I am hopeful for neither.