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Addressing misconceptions about psychopaths

10 April 2014

Addressing misconceptions about psychopaths

Psychopaths are often portrayed as untreatable supercriminals but Professor Devon Polaschek from Victoria University will question these depictions in her inaugural professorial lecture next week.

Titled The other psychopaths: Criminal psychopathy and psychological treatment, Professor Polaschek’s public lecture will discuss misconceptions and uncertainty around what it means to be a psychopath.

“People have confusing pictures of what psychopathy is,” says Professor Polaschek. “This is important because what you think a psychopathic person is determines what you think should be done with them.”

Professor Polaschek says psychopathy is often associated with criminal behaviour, but some research suggests that psychopathy can also contribute to people being productive leaders in society.

An example she will discuss in her lecture is a study which analyses personality traits of former United States presidents. The research found one quality they all held, known as ‘fearless dominance', is also part of psychopathy.

“This component is largely missing from scientific research on psychopathy. Instead, aspects of meanness and impulsivity are heavily emphasised.”

In the second part of her lecture, Professor Polaschek will discuss criminal psychopathy, and in particular, how group-based psychological programmes for high risk offenders can bring about changes.

“Many people think psychopaths are born criminals who cannot be treated or changed, but this is not the case.”

Professor Polaschek has been interested in the subject of criminal psychopathy and psychological treatment for more than 20 years, both as an academic and clinical psychologist.

She has received various awards and grants, including a Fulbright New Zealand Scholar Award at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York where, this September, she will extend her research into the effect of neighbourhoods on high risk parolees released to the community.

Lecture details
The other psychopaths: Criminal psychopathy and psychological treatment
Tuesday 15 April, 6–7.30pm
Student Memorial Theatre, Level 2, Student Union Building, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University
To RSVP email rsvp@vuw.ac.nz with “Polaschek” in the subject line.

ENDS

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