The Rise and Fall of a Dangerous Diagnosis
Book contract signed with The MIT Press | Planned release mid-2024
Psychopathy is a psychiatric diagnosis associated with callous personality traits and chronic antisocial behaviors. Psychopaths are described as dangerous social predators deprived of empathy and moral intuition, and while they are believed to only make up around 1% of the general population, forensic experts claim they are disproportionately responsible for the majority of violent crimes. Today, the psychopathy diagnosis is being widely used in the legal system to inform a variety of judicial decisions. Once an offender is diagnosed as a psychopath, they are likely to undergo enhanced detainment, such as receiving non-mitigated sentences, getting their parole request denied, being barred from rehabilitation programs, and juvenile psychopaths may be transferred to adult courts. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of offenders undergo a psychopathy assessment each year in North America. However, a growing number of experts have in recent years voiced concerns over the legal use of the diagnosis as more and more studies are challenging its scientific status and forensic utility.
Psychopathy Unmasked: The Rise and Fall of a Dangerous Diagnosis aims to provide a critical rebuttal of psychopathy and its legal use, scrutinizing central claims about the diagnosis that have traditionally served to justify its role in forensic practices. The book surveys and discusses contemporary developments in psychopathy research where studies have consistently shown that diagnosed psychopaths – contrary to mainstream beliefs – are not meaningfully more dangerous than, or psychologically different from ordinary non-psychopathic criminals. Based on these disqualifying findings, it is argued that we should end the use of the diagnosis in the legal system.
Over the past three decades, psychopathy has been broadly heralded as one of the most important innovations in forensic psychology and mental health diagnostics. Psychopathy Unmasked challenges this conventional narrative, revealing how the diagnosis lacks scientific merit and documenting prevailing problems with the legality and ethics of its use. It is a markedly different story than the one that for decades has nourished public and academic fascination, namely, one about an unscientific diagnosis being used to amplify judicial arbitration, violating fundamental rights and fiduciary responsibilities in the process. It is also a tragic story about well-intended forensic psychologists claiming expertise in identifying the social predators of our society but instead end up creating a “dangerous diagnosis” that continues to wreak havoc in the legal system with colossal human costs.
Psychopathy Unmasked builds on the current and rapidly growing research on psychopaths providing an academic resource for undergraduate and graduate students – the forensic researchers and practitioners of tomorrow – designed to give an ambitiously critical, yet long-overdue skeptical answer to whether psychopathy is a scientifically sound diagnosis and whether it has any (future) role to play in the legal system. Where most scholarly contributions in the field have faced strong criticisms for being too narrow and overly selective in their discussion of empirical evidence, this book aims to be thoroughly comprehensive, meticulously synthesizing all published research, while explaining the associated methods and theories applied in the field. Psychopathy Unmasked goes further than most critics of psychopathy by arguing that we must immediately end the forensic use of psychopathy assessments. In doing so, the book “unmasks” grave issues with the underlying scientific framework and widespread harms associated with its forensic application.