In contemporary research and clinical practice, Robert D. Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, Revised (PCL-R) is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopathy. As an individual’s score may have important consequences for his or her future, and because the potential for harm if the test is used or administered incorrectly is considerable, Hare argues that the test should only be considered valid if administered by a suitably qualified and experienced clinician under scientifically controlled and licensed, standardized conditions. Hare receives royalties on licensed use of the test.
The PCL-R is a clinical rating scale (rated by a psychologist or other professional trained in the field of psychology/psychiatry) of 20 items. Each of the items in the PCL-R is scored on a three-point scale according to specific criteria through file information and a semi-structured interview. A value of 0 is assigned if the item does not apply, 1 if it applies somewhat, and 2 if it fully applies. In addition to lifestyle and criminal behavior the checklist assesses glib and superficial charm, grandiosity, need for stimulation, pathological lying, cunning and manipulating, lack of remorse, callousness, poor behavioral controls, impulsivity, irresponsibility, denial, failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions and so forth. The scores are used to predict risk for criminal re-offence and probability of rehabilitation.
The current edition of the PCL-R officially lists three factors (1.a, 1.b, and 2.a), which summarize the 20 assessed areas via factor analysis. The previous edition of the PCL-R listed two factors. Factor 1 is labelled “selfish, callous and remorseless use of others”. Factor 2 is labelled as “chronically unstable, antisocial and socially deviant lifestyle”. There is a high risk of recidivism and mostly small likelihood of rehabilitation for those who are labelled as having “psychopathy” on the basis of the PCL-R ratings in the manual for the test, although treatment research is ongoing.
PCL-R Factors 1a and 1b are correlated with narcissistic personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. They are associated with extraversion and positive affect. Factor 1, the so-called core personality traits of psychopathy, may even be beneficial for the psychopath (in terms of nondeviant social functioning).
PCL-R Factors 2a and 2b are particularly strongly correlated to antisocial personality disorder and criminality and are associated with reactive anger, criminality, and impulsive violence. The target group for the PCL-R is criminals convicted of delict and/or felony. The quality of ratings may depend on how much background information is available and whether the person rated is honest and forthright.
The two factors
Factor 1: Personality “Aggressive narcissism”
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Callousness; lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions
Factor 2: Case history “Socially deviant lifestyle.”
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release