MEALY ARTICLE - THE SOCIOBIOLOGY OF SOCIOPATHY: AN INTEGRATED
First, before beginning, I would just like to say that I found this
commentary very hard to read and understand. Quinsey and Lalumisre are
not particularly `kid sib' friendly, the format of the writing is not
very user friendly (it has no sub-headings) and the whole paper is
littered with esoteric (words I don't understand). But I'll give it a
Quinsey and Lalumisre make three points in relation to the article:
one, latent taxon - the question of whether we can categorise different
types of sociopathic behaviour; two, individual differences in
sociopathic symptoms depending on where your sociopathy comes from -
i.e. the primary, evolutionary or the secondary, environmental; and
three, possible types of intervention - again, depending on primary or
secondary sociopaths but reference is mainly made to secondary
1) Latent Taxon
> The study by Harris et al. [the one described in the commentary]
> suggest that >psychopathology, but not criminality, may be more
> accurately viewed as a categorical than a >continuous variable, such
> that increasing scores on the Psychopathology Checklist reflect an
> >increasing probability that a person is a psychopath rather than an
> increasing amount of the >trait.
This, more importantly, states that sociopathy is either `all-or-none'.
Primary sociopaths have only more of a PROBABILITY of becoming
sociopaths than secondary because of their genetic `loading'.
Thus there is no difference between severity of sociopathic behaviour
of the two types, the only difference is in probability. For example,
primary sociopaths may be twice as likely to end up sociopaths but
there sociopathic behaviour is not twice as sociopathic than secondary
sociopaths. This view negates all the stuff about sociopathy appearing
in the normal population (`we all have thoughts of cheating and
deception', etc.) and removes the validity of the machavillian tests of
measuring differing levels of sociopathy in criminals and normals.
Such a view also goes against all the things we've been taught about
`dimensional' categories in psychopathology. Furthermore, where is the
`cut off point' between a non-sociopath and a sociopath? Do you wake
up one morning and cross the line - you're a sociopath?
2) Individual Differences
> If there is a developmental path based on a single genetically based
> strategy, the number of `resilient' primary psychopaths (i.e.
> individuals who manifest many physiological and psychological
> characteristics associated with psychopathy but who are not
> cheating/defecting) should extremely low.
I do not understand this. Why would there be some people with
sociopathic physiology but who do not show deception/ cheating
behaviour (i.e. they are not practising sociopaths). Why are they going
against their primary drive? Have they been socialised in a particular
way so that they don't engage this drive? If this point is true, that
there are primary resilient sociopaths not practising, then we should
try to identify what factors are causing their inactivation.
Mealy makes the suggestion, as does other pathology research, that
studies should not only try to identify the `triggers' in those who
develop a pathology, but we should also try to identify the `buffers'
and resilience factors that appear in those who don't develop a
Apart from the above, possible interventions to ameliorate sociopathy,
especially secondary sociopathy, are discussed.
> A potentially fruitful avenue for the intervention is the
> identification of modifiable factors that may protect high-risk
> individuals against the development of a cheating/ defecting
> strategy. For example, the presence of extra care givers protects
> socioeconomically disadvantaged infants against future juvenile
> delinquency ... Using Mealy's model, protective factors should be
> more likely to play a role among secondary than among primary
I thought one of the points to the article was that in making a
distinction between primary and secondary sociopaths, and the paths
leading to the disorder, we could find ways to treat them accordingly.
Mealy talked about primary sociopaths lacking secondary emotions (e.g.
shame, guilt, sympathy, love, etc.), thus, she suggests treatment would
try to alter behaviour without using these emotions - as they would
fall on a `cold heart'. For example, she talked about cognitive like
therapies: explaining the sociopaths long-term losses in a cold
statistical manner rather than trying to make them feel remorse, guilt,
etc. Moreover, Quincey's ideas on social support in early life,
increased educational input to potential sociopaths and the role these
factors would play in mitigating sociopathic and delinquent behaviour
in general (ie regardless of primary or secondary aetiology) are rather
old hat - not to mention intuitive. The other commentary by Drake, and
Steve in the lecture, talked about these blatantly obvious
As you can probably guess, I didn't really get my head round this
commentary neither did I think much too it.
That's all folks!
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