What, in your understanding, is empathy? Is it an ability, an attitude, a behaviour?
Psychopathic lack of empathy
Once we know what empathy is we can make sense of what the psychopath’s famed lack of empathy is.
As you may know, ‘callous/lack of empathy’ is one of the twenty items on Hare’s Psychopath Checklist – Revised (PCL-R). (The full the list is reproduced below.)
But, does the slash (/) mean ‘and’ or ‘or’ or ‘and or or’?
- Are ‘callous’ and ‘lack of empathy’ synonyms (callous, in other words, lack of empathy)?
- Or are ‘callous’ and ‘lack of empathy’ distinct (callous plus lack of empathy)?
- Perhaps ‘callous’ and ‘lack of empathy’ are fused (callous implies empathy)?
Consider this article abstract:
‘Callous and unemotional traits in children and adolescents living in Great Britain’, by Paul Moran, Tamsin Ford, Georgia Butler, and Robert Goodman
Few studies have assessed psychopathic traits in community samples of young people. We investigated the predictive utility of callous and unemotional traits in a representative sample of 5770 young people from Great Britain. Teachers provided information on the presence of callous and unemotional traits and parents completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire to determine the level and impact of psychiatric problems at baseline, 12 and 24 months later. Baseline callous and unemotional trait scores independently predicted the number and intensity of conduct, emotional and hyperactivity symptoms at follow-up. Callous and unemotional traits are longitudinally associated with the level and impact of childhood psychiatric problems.
British Journal of Psychiatry (2008) 192: 65-66.
Now, where does lack of empathy fit, if at all?
- Is lack of empathy the same thing as callous and so only the former was named?
- Conversely, is lack of empathy something else entirely, not considered in this study?
- Perhaps lack of empathy is covered by ‘unemotional’?
- Or is this study measuring two criteria from PCL-R: callous/lack of empathy and shallow affect, calling them callous and unemotional?
Feeling? Caring? Doing?
- Sometimes people mean by lack of empathy that the person is incapable of feeling what what one feels (‘He has no idea what it’s like’).
- Sometimes they mean the other does not care about what they feel (‘He just unmoved by the fact that I’m hurt’).
- Sometimes the mean that the person does not act in accordance with how we feel (‘He behaves cruelly’).
Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of molehill. What is your understanding of empathy and lack of empathy. How do you judge whether empathy is present or not?
Please consider sending an anecdote, etc, to Daily Con
Psychopath Checklist – Revised (PCL-R)
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Lack of remorse or guilt
Callous/lack of empathy
Poor behavioral control
Promiscuous sexual behaviour
Early behavior problems
Lack of realistic, long-term goals
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Many short-term marital relationships
Revocation of conditional release