Are All Types of Morality Compromised in Psychopathy

Journal of Personality Disorders 23:384–398 (2009)
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A long-standing puzzle for moral philosophers and psychologists alike is the concept of psychopathy, a personality disorder marked by tendencies to defy moral norms despite cognitive knowledge about right and wrong. Previously, discussions of the moral deficits of psychopathy have focused on willingness to harm and cheat others as well as reasoning about rule-based transgressions. Yet recent research in moral psychology has begun to more clearly define the domains of morality, en- compassing issues of harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and spiritual purity. Clinical descriptions and theories of psychopathy suggest that deficits may exist primarily in the areas of harm and fairness, although quantitative evidence is scarce. Within a broad sample of participants, we found that scores on a measure of psychopathy predicted sharply lower scores on the harm and fairness subscales of a measure of moral concern, but showed no relationship with authority, and very small relationships with ingroup and purity. On a measure of willingness to violate moral standards for money, psychopathy scores predicted greater willingness to violate moral concerns of any type. Results are further explored via potential mediators and analyses of the two factors of psychopathy.

Author's Profile

Jean Graham
Birkbeck College


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