On the Criminal Culpability of Successful and Unsuccessful Psychopaths

Neuroethics 6 (1) 2013

Posted: 21 Dec 2012 Last revised: 24 Mar 2013

See all articles by Katrina Sifferd

Katrina Sifferd

Elmhurst College

William Hirstein

Elmhurst College - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: 2012

Abstract

The psychological literature now differentiates between two types of psychopath: successful (with little or no criminal record) and unsuccessful (with a criminal record). Recent research indicates that earlier findings of reduced autonomic activity, reduced prefrontal grey matter, and compromised executive activity may only be true of unsuccessful psychopaths. In contrast, successful psychopaths actually show autonomic and executive function that exceeds that of normals, while having no difference in prefrontal volume from normals. We argue that many successful psychopaths are legally responsible for their actions, as they have the executive capacity to choose not to harm (and thus are legally rational). However, many unsuccessful psychopaths have a lack of executive function that should at least partially excuse them from criminal culpability. Although a successful psychopath's increased executive function may occur in conflict with, rather than in consonance with their increased autonomic activity — producing a cognitive style characterized by self deception and articulate-sounding, but unsound reasoning — they may be capable of recognizing and correcting their lack of autonomic data, and thus can be held responsible.

Keywords: criminal responsibility, psychopaths, executive function

Suggested Citation

Sifferd, Katrina and Hirstein, William, On the Criminal Culpability of Successful and Unsuccessful Psychopaths (2012). Neuroethics 6 (1) 2013 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2192126

Katrina Sifferd (Contact Author)

Elmhurst College ( email )

190 Prospect Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126-3296
United States

William Hirstein

Elmhurst College - Department of Philosophy ( email )

190 Prospect Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126-3296
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
603
PlumX Metrics