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News

Inside the mind of a psychopath

Cardiff University : 28 May, 2003  (Technical Article)
Psychopathic murderers have an abnormal perception of violence, failing to see it as unpleasant, research at Cardiff University has shown. The results, from specially adapted psychological tests, and published in Nature, may provide an important insight into the criminal mind.
Psychopathic murderers have an abnormal perception of violence, failing to see it as unpleasant, research at Cardiff University has shown. The results, from specially adapted psychological tests, and published in Nature, may provide an important insight into the criminal mind.

Finding out what people truly think about certain issues, such as, for example, race or obesity, is often difficult as many people will say what they want you to hear rather than their real views. This is particularly true for criminal activities such as violence and paedophilia. However, psychologists have now begun to measure such beliefs by implicit tests where it is difficult to fake or hide true beliefs.

Dr Nicola Gray and colleagues at Cardiff Universityís School of Psychology subjected psychopathic murderers to a modified version of the Implicit Association Test, which is designed to reveal carefully concealed prejudices about violence. The results suggest that, compared with non-psychopathic criminals and psychopaths who are not killers, psychopathic murderers have more positive reactions to violence.

'These views may underpin their actions,' said Dr Gray. 'The results suggest that this specially adapted test is able to reveal the beliefs and thoughts that the person may want to disguise. Much further work is needed, but such techniques could become an important tool in identifying risk factors that may lead to future violence.'

The research was carried out in collaboration with colleagues at the South Wales Forensic Psychiatric Service at Glanrhyd Hospital, the University of Wales College of Medicine and Her Majestyís Prison service.
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