Mealey Response 4

From: Darling, Andrea (
Date: Sat May 09 1998 - 15:24:47 BST

Mealey^“s reply: Section 4. Adaptation or Abnormality?
by Darling, Andrea

   Is sociopathy an adaptation or an abnormality? This is a
   complicated question for several reasons. First, just because a
   behavior, trait, or mechanism may have evolved because of its
   adaptive value, that does not necessarily mean that it is still
   adaptive in the current environment (see commentary by Bailey and
   Crusio). Thus, something may be an adaptation without being

ALD: But, sociopathy may be adaptive to the person themselves (the
sociopath) if they don^t get put in prison and lose the opportunities
to reproduce and look after their children (if they don^t get caught,
which many probably don^t if the estimates quoted in the article are
accurate, this seems especially likely due to their devious nature,
ability to manipulate and lie to others and their high intelligence)

   Third, even if we can agree on what "adaptive" means and how to
   measure it, there still are many ways of defining
   normality/abnormality, so that being adaptive is not necessarily
   mutually exclusive with being abnormal (see commentary by Bailey,
   Kenrick & Brown, and Machalek). A trait like sociopathy, for
   example, may be statistically abnormal and/or socially proscribed
   yet still be adaptive.

ALD: What is normal anyway? This has been debated for ages. But I agree
some so called psychological problems can be adaptive; like the
depression that protects from further damage that we discussed in
relation to testosterone and losing competitions.

   If we look first at secondary sociopathy as a sociological
   construct, it is clearly abnormal from the perspective of proscribed
   and prescribed social norms as dictated by those in power- but
   perhaps normal from the perspective of one's peers or referent
   group. Using the same sociological construction,
   sociopathy may or may not be statistically normal, depending on
   one's sex, age, background, and immediate circumstances. As to
   whether this form of sociopathy is adaptive, I would say probably

ALD: Yes this is true. The example of a sociopath in combat in a war is
a good example where their aggressiveness and lack of remorse would be
slightly helpful, or in business where manipulation and persuasion may
sell more goods! What a horrible thought; a sociopath turning up on
your doorstep trying to sell you stuff you really don^t want!

   In my target article I argue that secondary sociopathy results under
   conditions of depleted social and interpersonal resources and
   increased competition. In addition to all of the general patterns
   we see relating impoverishment and competition to crime and
   sociopathy, there is now specific support for the idea that
   secondary sociopaths are taking a strategy that amounts to making
   the best of a bad job.

ALD: I really don^t agree with this concept of a secondary sociopath!
Primary and secondary sociopaths may act the same, but they clearly
have different minds! The whole definition of a sociopath includes lack
of emotions, remorse, inability to form and keep friendships etc (look
at Cleckley^s criteria) which clearly is not true of the ^secondary

Thus they cannot be sociopaths is they don^“t fulfill most criteria.
It is like saying that someone who is sad and crying is depressed,
even though they have ^—normal^“ cognitions and ^—normal^“ levels of
neurotransmitters etc!

   And what about primary sociopathy? Primary sociopaths may or may not
   be abnormal from the perspective of proscribed and prescribed social
   norms: some of them will become criminal antisocials, but others may
   (as both the target article and several commentaries point out),
   become explorers, inventors, actors, and other socially accepted
   professionals. On the other hand, using a psychological, as opposed
   to sociological, definition (as I argue we should), primary
   sociopathy is certainly not statistically normal in any culture or
   sub- culture (and it could not be if it were selected only when in
   relatively low frequencies as the two-pathway evolutionary model

ALD: I agree that this is true, but even within these professions many
commit crimes (eg. fraud, embezzlement, copyright breaches) and act
immorally (eg. manipulate others for own gain)

   In addition to the fact that typical descriptions of sociopaths
   include reference to promiscuity, two of the commentaries (Figueredo
   and Rowe) report new data further associating sociopathy with
   promiscuity and with early age of onset of sexual activity, sexual
   deception, and increased effort expended on short-term mating
   strategies. In contrast to the speculation by Ellis
   that females will attempt to screen out antisocial males as
   prospective mates, I would posit that just as some, but not all
   males take a high-risk low investment reproductive strategy, so do
   some females (see also Gangestad & Simpson 1990); along the lines of
   the `sexy son model' of reproductive risk-taking, some of these
   females might actually prefer promiscuous, low-investment mates
   (Mealey 1992).

ALD: This may not be adaptive! Surely it is more adaptive for offspring
to have two parents who spend alot of time with them if only for
basic needs?

   An entirely different way of responding to the question of
   adaptation versus abnormality is to use a version of the medical
   model and determine whether sociopaths function normally. This
   approach too, however, depends on how one defines normal
   functioning: do we define 'function' evolutionarily in terms of RS?
   or do we define 'function' in terms of some supposedly universal
   standard of human social interaction? or might we define it organ by
   organ, sense by sense?

ALD: Why study if they^re normal or not? Functioning normally doesn^t
necessarily mean adaptation. Someone who doesn^t function normally (or
deviated from the norm) may be more successful and reproduce more,
survive longer etc (the whole idea of evolution). The medical model is
not widely accepted by everyone (look at Saczs^ work, I think that^s
spelled correctly!) as accurate. I myself consider that everyone has
symptoms of every disorder, but to different degrees (yes, even
anti-social personality disorder!).

   Since both pseudopsychopaths and primary sociopaths may begin their
   antisocial activity very early in life (Moffitt et al 1994) but be
   differentially responsive to intervention, distinguishing between
   them could be of great value.

ALD: Yes, but wouldn^t it be of greater value to not call them
sociopaths (secondary) at all? I believe they are clearly different,
^anti-social people^ may be a better label!
Does anyone agree?

Darling, Andrea

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