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
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
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
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?
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