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Primary Psychopathy, Risk Propensity, and Possible Gender Differences

2682 words (11 pages) Essay in Psychology

23/09/19 Psychology Reference this

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Primary Psychopathy, Risk Propensity, and Possible Gender Differences

Abstract

Given that psychopathy has a vast effect on society and in our criminal justice system, there are meaningful gains in the increased awareness of this disorder. Some would say that research has thus far failed to conclude whether the degree of difference in findings between male and female psychopaths mirror true gender differences or just bias in measurement when psychopathy is applied to women (Rogstad & Rogers, 2008), therefore, any and all findings are significant and relevant to future use in the intervention and treatment strategies, helping to accommodate and implement any possible gender differences on an individual need basis. The purpose of this study was to test if there were any differences in the strength of the relationship between primary psychopathy and risk propensity. Additionally, if males would show higher primary trait psychopathy scores than females, than males would also have an enduring disposition for higher risk propensity than females. Although the results of the tests that were run indicated that males had significantly higher mean primary psychopathy scores than females as would be predicted, however there were no noteworthy differences found between males and females in risk propensity scores, these results did not support my hypotheses.

                         Keywords: primary psychopathy, risk propensity

Primary Psychopathy and Risk Propensity Gender Differences

Psychopathy is a common and familiar mental disorder, being twice as frequent as schizophrenia, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and paranoia, while also ranking in frequency with bulimia, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and narcissism in its occurrence in diagnosis (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011). Psychopathy is distinguished by persistent emotional and interpersonal discrepancies, lack of remorse or guilt, having an effect on decision making, and time and again associated with criminal behavior (Swogger, Walsh, Lejuez, & Kosson, 2010). Some of the psychopathic personality traits that are described in the DSM-V are lacking remorse, grandiosity, egocentricity, as well as high attention seeking (Crego & Widiger, 2015). Speculative reports of psychopathy propose that such traits should be associated with risk-taking, and empirical research has established that psychopathy is linked with a greater propensity to engage in a variety of risk-taking behaviors such as gambling, sexual promiscuity, and indifference in relationships at work and school (Wiebe, 2003).

Del Gaizo and Falkenbach (2008) state that primary psychopaths are believed to have a dispositional insufficiency that leads to unsympathetic and calculating behavior, superficial relationships, and a lack of guilt, fear, or anxiety, strategizing their actions and are grandiose, communally rank themselves above all others. As opposed to secondary psychopathy which develops from environmental roots (e.g. parental abuse or rejection) resultant of the cause of emotional problems related to neuroticism, hostility, and emotive reactivity. Botella, Narváez, Martímez-Molina, Rubio, & Santacreu ( 2008), define risk propensity as an intensified likelihood of engaging in behaviors that have some impending danger or harm but moreover present a chance for some reward. There have been several approaches taken for risk-propensity assessment.  They go on to give such an example in the self-report Likert scale surveys, to rate the regularity of one’s past and present behaviors.

Derived from preceding research, men are expected to report more psychopathy than women (Wiebe, 2003). Some researchers have debated that although both genders display lack of emotion or remorse, males have a tendency to exhibit lack of anxiety, while females tend to be portrayed as anxious and emotionally unstable, in addition women are more apt to internalize causing anxiety or depression, whereas men tend to externalize expression by the execution of aggression and substance abuse (Cale & Lilienfeld, 2002). It is the opinion of some researchers that there is value in assessing risk propensity in individuals who are responsible for making decisions of high liability and prospective danger, as well as the reasons leading to these decisions (Botella et al., 2008). Although it is known that there are gender differences in psychopathy, it is not recognized as of yet as to how these differences become apparent (Falkenbach, Reinhard & Larson, 2017).

The purpose of this study was to examine differences in the depth of the relationship between primary psychopathy and risk propensity. Additionally, if males show higher primary trait psychopathy scores than females, than males will also have an enduring disposition for higher risk propensity than females. The present study was a non-experimental and correlational seeing that it studied the association between psychopathy, risk propensity, and gender differences. All participants were asked to complete all of the questions on the self-report surveys (International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) 50-Item Set Big-Five Personality Traits 5 point Likert scale (https://ipip.ori.org/, Risk Propensity Scale (Meertens & Lion, 2008). In regard to the risk propensity survey, participants were asked to indicate to what measure they agree or disagree with the statements, as well as being instructed to not think too long before answering, because usually their first choice is also the best one. Given the known differences in genders and emotional responses (Wiebe, 2003), I hypothesized that there will be findings of a strong correlation for primary psychopathy and risk propensity, as well as a stronger correlation for primary psychopathy and risk propensity in males than in females. In other words, the present study is keeping with the increased research interest in comparative male versus female psychopathy, and considers the continual debate whether the Hare instruments properly capture the female account accuracies of the syndromes (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011).

Given that psychopathy has a vast effect on society and our criminal justice system, there are momentous advantages to increasing awareness of this disorder. Some would say that research has thus far failed to conclude whether the degree of difference in findings between male and female psychopaths mirror true gender differences or just bias in measurement when psychopathy applied to women (Rogstad & Rogers, 2008), therefore, any and all findings will be significant and relevant to future use in the intervention and treatment strategies, helping to accommodate and implement any possible gender differences on an individual need basis.

Method

Participants

All participants in this study were college students. Participants were Florida Tech students included in the University student participant pool recruited through SONA Systems. Participants included 109 Females and 97 males ranging in age from 17 to 43. All participants were volunteers.

Materials

The research design of this study was non-experimental and correlational seeing that it studied the association between psychopathy, risk propensity, and gender differences. Informed consent forms were used containing information about procedures, benefits, and risks of participating. Additional materials included participant demographics. The predictor variables were measured by the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) 50-Item Set Big-Five Personality Traits 5 point Likert scale (https://ipip.ori.org/). This self-report measure instructs participants to evaluate how much they agree with statements (e.g., 1. Very Inaccurate, 2. Moderately Inaccurate, 3. Neither Accurate Nor Inaccurate, 4. Moderately Accurate, or 5. Very Accurate ) and Risk Propensity Scale (Meertens & Lion (2008) developed to measure the general tendency to take risks. All statements were rated on a 9-point scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 9 (totally agree), except for the last item, which is rated on a scale ranging from 1 (risk avoider) to 9 (risk seeker).

Procedure

All participants were asked to complete all of the questions on the self-report surveys. In regard to the risk propensity survey, participants were asked to indicate to what extent they agree or disagree with the statements, as well as being instructed to not think too long before answering, because usually their first choice is also the best one.

Results

The sample included 206 participants, both Females (53%) and Males (47%), ranging in age from 17 to 43. In order to test my hypotheses, a Compare Means analysis report on the total Primary Psychopathy scores from the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale was run, Includes items #1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26. Items #16, 19, 22, 24, 26 are reverse scored. Then all items are summed to form an overall primary psychopathy score ranging from 16 to 64. Higher scores indicate higher primary psychopathy traits, as well as the Risk Propensity Scale, 7 items on a 9-point slider scale; Items # 1, 2, 3, 5 were reverse scored. Then values of all items were summed to get a total risk propensity score between 7 and 63, were higher scores designate greater risk propensity and lower scores designate greater risk aversion.  Comparing scores from both 105 Females (M= 31.8, SD = 7.5) and 93 Males (M = 35.2, SD = 7.02) had very close results.  An Independent samples T- test results shown below in Table 1. indicate that males had significantly higher mean primary psychopathy scores than females, t(196) = -3.24, p = .001 as would be predicted, yet in Table 2 below there were no significant differences found between males and females in risk propensity scores, t(133) = 0.10, p = .92. These results do not support my hypotheses.

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to examine and build on earlier research results showing that primary psychopathic traits and risk propensity have a direct and significant association (Hosker-Field, Molnar, & Book, 2016). It was hypothesized that there would be a positive linear relationship existing between larger primary psychopathy trait scores and risk propensity trait scores in the current sample (i.e. as primary psychopathy scores increase, than so should risk propensity scores.) Furthermore, it was hypothesized that among the results of this relationship, those results would also show sex differences among the scores as well; that there would be a higher number of males with primary psychopathy traits in addition to higher risk propensity than females.

The present study is keeping with the increased research interest in comparative male versus female psychopathy and considers the continual debate whether the Hare instruments properly capture the female account accuracies of the syndromes (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011). As predicted, the results indicate that males had significantly higher mean primary psychopathy scores than females, consistent with and building on previous research (Hosker-Field, Molnar, & Book, 2016). Contrary to prediction, there were no significant differences found between males and females in risk propensity scores. These results are suggestive that there is a positive linear relationship existing between primary psychopathy and risk propensity, however notably given the known differences in genders and emotional responses (Wiebe, 2003), there were little differences in sex and risk propensity. The implications of this study suggest that risk propensity is expected of males yet has been underestimated in females.  

This study is not without its limitations. The current sample consisted of college students, although ages ranged from 17 to 43, on average the levels of psychopathy are likely to be comparatively lower to individuals who are less educated and/or of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to it being uncertain whether or not some of the more recurrently formal characteristics such as impulsiveness and antisocial behavior are analytically supportive of certain psychopathic factors or just simply revealing normative young adult behavior. Some researchers have debated that although both genders display lack of emotion or remorse, males have a tendency to exhibit lack of anxiety, while females are more apt to portray as anxious and emotionally unstable and commonly experience more internalizing (e.g., anxiety or depression), while men practice more externalizing (e.g., aggression and substance abuse) (Cale & Lilienfeld, 2002).

Age has been found to have a positive association involving social risk taking and negative association with health safety risk taking (Hosker-Field, Molnar, & Book, 2016), and considering the vast age differences of the sample, as well as the sample being strictly college students and not adults in the community or not having been compared to criminal offender’s/institutionalized individual’s responses, consideration must be taken of the possibility of some differences and varying levels of congruence and interpretation of the questions. Moreover, this study uses self-reported measures. Surveys and questionnaires rely on an individual’s self-report rather than a trained researcher’s assessment. Self-reported measures in assessing psychopathy may not be valid indicators because of the fundamental features of psychopathy such as lying and deception, therefore risking response integrity, distortion and leaving the findings suggestive and possibly only context correlated but unable to be generalized. It also raises the question and consideration if less educated individuals are as able to self-evaluate their own grit as much as the more educated college individuals. A comparison study of non-offender groups to criminal offender groups could possibly have much different results and could help in the generalization of future research.

These and future findings can be very important in many areas, such as in an HR/business perspective, seeing that it shows individuals with psychopathic traits, when confronted with ethical dilemmas are more inclined to engage in unethical acts, and have difficulty restraining reward targeted behavior, even when faced with potential criticism and/or punishment.

 

References

  • Botella, J., Narváez, M., Martímez-Molina, A., Rubio, V. J., & Santacreu, J. (2008). A dilemmas task for eliciting risk propensity. The Psychological Record, 58(4), 529-546. doi:10.1007/BF03395636
  • Crego, C., & Widiger, T. A. (2015). Psychopathy and the DSM. Journal of Personality, 83(6), 665-677. doi:10.1111/jopy.12115
  • Del Gaizo, A. L., & Falkenbach, D. M. (2008). Primary and secondary psychopathic-traits and their relationship to perception and experience of emotion. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(3), 206-212. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2008.03.019
  • Falkenbach, D. M., Reinhard, E. E., & Larson, F. R. R. (2017). Theory based gender differences in psychopathy subtypes. Personality and Individual Differences, 105, 1-6. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.09.023
  • Kiehl, K. A., & Hoffman, M. B. (2011). The Criminal Psychopath: History, Neuroscience, Treatment, and Economics. Jurimetrics, 51, 355-397.
  • Meertens, R. M., & Lion, R. (2008). Measuring an individual’s tendency to take risks: The risk propensity scale. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38(6), 1506-1520. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2008.00357.x
  • Rogstad, J. E., & Rogers, R. (2008). Gender differences in contributions of emotion to psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder. Clinical Psychology Review, 28(8), 1472-1484. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2008.09.004
  • Swogger, M. T., Walsh, Z., Lejuez, C. W., & Kosson, D. S. (2010). Psychopathy and Risk Taking among Jailed Inmates. Criminal justice and behavior, 37(4), 439-452.
  • Wiebe, R. P. (2003). Reconciling psychopathy and low self-control. Justice Quarterly, 20(2), 297-336. doi:10.1080/0741882030009554

Appendix

Risk Propensity Survey

 

 

 

Risk Propensity Scale

Table 1

Total Primary Psychopathy Score on Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (Sum of 16 items) 

What is your biological sex?

Mean

N

Std. Deviation

Female

31.8381

105

7.52703

Male

35.2043

93

7.02257

Total

33.4192

198

7.46845

 

Table 2

Overall Score on Risk Propensity Scale (Sum of 7 Items on 9 point Likert scale – Higher Scores are Greater Risk Seekers) 

What is your biological sex?

Mean

N

Std. Deviation

Female

30.13

60

9.071

Male

29.96

75

10.089

Total

30.04

135

9.615

 

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