dcyphr | Differentiating psychopathy from antisocial personality disorder: A triarchic perspective


The study sought to clarify the role of boldness in defining psychopathy and distinguish psychopathy from antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).  They used the triarchic model of psychopathy, which describes the disorder along the dimensions of disinhibition, meanness, and boldness, to achieve this. This study evaluated the degree to which aspects of the triarchic model are represented in the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), in comparison with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) as defined by DSM-IV criteria. The findings suggest that boldness is central to diagnostic conceptions of psychopathy and distinguishes psychopathy from the more prevalent diagnosis of ASPD.


The triarchic model of psychopathy proposed by Patrick et al. tries to reconcile alternative approaches to conceptualizing psychopathy. The triarchic model proposes that alternative conceptions of psychopathy differ in the relative emphasis placed on three distinguishable phenotypic features: disinhibition, meanness, and boldness. Disinhibition can be seen as an inability to regulate impulses and negative emotions. Meanness can be seen as intentional cruelty towards others. Boldness can be viewed as immunity to stress and being socially dominant (like a leader).


Psychopathy is characterized by distinctive emotional and interpersonal features often in the context of chronic antisocial behavior marked by poor impulse control. Such emotional and interpersonal features include lack of empathy/remorse, shallow emotions, conning/deceptiveness, grandiosity, and glibness.


ASPD, as defined by DSM-IV-TR, includes a persistent behavior of breaking the law and/or hurting others as well as being impulsive, remorseless, deceitful, and aggressive. This usually begins in adolescence and continues into adulthood. 


The study recruited adult male offenders from two distinct settings (n=157 and 169). 


Unlike meanness and disinhibition, in no case did boldness add significantly to the prediction of ASPD. The results supported the hypothesis that the diagnostic criteria for DSM-IV ASPD reflect externalizing facets of the triarchic model (i.e. disinhibition and meanness) but, in contrast with PCL-R psychopathy, are unrelated to boldness.


Their findings fit with the idea that boldness is integral to definitions of psychopathy as a condition entailing severe behavioral sickness hidden by an outward facade of psychological health. Moreover, the interpersonal features of psychopathy (i.e. boldness) are what differentiate it most clearly from the more common diagnosis of ASPD. These findings provide support for a role of boldness in the definition of psychopathy as described in the triarchic model.