Branmuffin wrote this fine post:
What an excellent set of topics. When I was first trained, we were told never to use the terms "sociopath" or "psychopath" and yet, researchers all around the world kept using them. Sometime after 2000, there was a cautious attempt by psychologists to redefine these terms and discuss them. This discussion, in fact, is stalling a new edition of DSM from coming out (well, it's just part of the reason).
SPECT analysis/MRI analysis gave a glimpse into the brains of people who had been diagnosed with APD (Antisocial PD). In theory, the PD's are supposed to be mostly learned, mostly nurture. But by the 1980's, every could see there was *some* biological/genetic/epigenetic basis to it. It ran in families. Kids who were adopted by non-APD people whose parents were APD had a greater chance of being APD, etc.
And then the brain results started coming in (various parts of the brain now implicated - not completely understood yet). And so, according to DSM, this can't be strictly a character/personality disorder. It has its own genes and physiology, It appears that it can be caused by lesions in the brain as well (acquired).
SO, now people are looking at other personality disorders - especially the Cluster B disorders that are so close to APD and doing brain research on Histrionic PD, Narcissistic PD, etc. I don't think the brain scans are as dramatic as with Antisocial - but the research is new and, well, putting the right people into studies is a highly controversial topic.
ANYWAY, let's start with the milder term (sociopath, or Antisocial PD). Almost exactly the same things could be said about Narcissistic PD, so keep that in mind. If a person has a baseline personality of Antisocial but also shows features of other antisocial traits from other diagnostic categories, what do we call them? Increasingly, journals in psychology are using the term "sociopath." I heard a colleague say recently that the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is that they are both capable of lopping your head off with a sword, but the sociopath knows better than to carry the head around with him.
Sociopaths (and more rarely psychopaths) DO find their way into management positions. When they do, it's an awful thing for the people who work under them. They are vaguely scary to most people with sensitivity to the emotions of those around them and they may indeed be capable of almost any sort of fraud, lie, embezzlement, theft - and ultimately, nepotism, other law breaking etc. How far will they go to cover up what they do? Very far and that's when we see an Alex Murdaugh kind of person. Narcissistic PD is similar. The good news is that while Narcissistic PD is increasing rather dramatically according to psychometrists and their journals, Antisocial PD is not increasing as rapidly (it's thought to have gone down dramatically since 1970, mostly due to improved birth control and availability of reproductive rights, but that remains to be seen).
In any hierarchy, there's a top dog. I've been pretty amazed at how straightforward and congenial Chief Fry has been in his leadership role. Looks like a great guy to me. As compared to those young people who are coming out on the body cams and lying or falsely apologizing to police. They aren't sorry they got caught - they are going to do it again the next week or the next day (Sept 1-2, LE records from Moscow PD). Yet, the leaders of these houses (not just the ones on fraternity row, but including some private houses where students live) seem to need this quality of lying, dissembling, pointing blame elsewhere, etc. Are these situations creating Future Leaders who are antisocial?
How far does such a person go with their behavior? What if they have a natural tendency not to check their conscience before acting? It turns out that the right pre-frontal cortex does a check on one's action as to its morality, while the left pre-frontal cortex handles the same information to gauge practicality and to be efficient and methodical. So, if I really were to bet money on something, and I only bet $1, my left pre-frontal cortex would say, Okay, that's not an outrageous violation of practicality. But if I decide to withdraw all my available savings to bet on something (it hurts just to type that - as in, I feel my stomach tighten), my left cortical response is a firm NO and my moral response is kicking in very hard too (hence the visceral response).
Sociopaths and psychopaths do not have the same yin/yang going on. They do not get a visceral, basically anxious response when they get ideas for bad action (including thoughts). The mere thought of ruining my family's financial life makes me anxious; to some extent studying crime makes me anxious, as just imagining moral transgression is a bit anxiety producing. For a normal person.
Try and imagine someone who can fantasize increasingly awful things (think about what's happened in the Dark Web and how we now actually have to face societal problems like CSA and CP because enough people do not, apparently, have automatic (autonomic included) responses to bad behavior. We know from toddler and pre-school studies that even small children get anxious responses even if their mother tells them doing a naughty thing is okay (like spilling paint on the floor). Kindergarten teachers are remarkably good at leading researchers to the kids-without-consciences. And there are likely genes involved.
Does anyone really want to know all this though? Do we as a society want better ways to deal with this? What happens when a person is APD, NPD and something else? It's more and more common (or we're using our diagnostics differently - or perhaps more sensitively).
I have worked with military and LE for a long time (teaching in police academies; doing seminars; helping with personnel manuals and procedures) and I can tell you that the military and LE have strict codes of conduct for very good reasons. Some professions require a dash of antisocial behavior to be good at them (surgeons score higher on this scale - but not pathologically high in most cases, although there's always that Dr Death guy). Strict codes of conduct allow leaders to figure out who is just generally incapable of following even basic rules. Those are your sociopaths or future sociopaths.
Who is playing that "rein them in" role on college campuses? Professors have abdicated it. Parents used to do it (now they threaten to sue if we give their kids a bad grade, much less "discipline" them). Many professors I know are giving up almost entirely on issues around plagiarism and cheating. Gotta keep the students happy. Tough professors are avoided, easy ones get bonuses for large classes.
How do we fix this? Or even figure out what's going on in a real world situation? I am guessing the BAU of the FBI is giving suggestions. LE really want to find this perp, but we don't want any LE harmed - and LEO's are typically honorable and wish *not* to harm people - even lawbreakers, just bring 'em to justice.
Anyway, long post (again) but this crime has us all aghast and I am personally agitated by it and worried for LE as well as the poor families. No one is prepared for what appears to be an actual psychopath (some who leaves dead bodies in plain sight, four of them, waiting to alarm an entire community - a whole nation, perhaps the entire world). Wants to scare and thereby control all of us.