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SOME PROBLEMSIN THE CONCEPTION OF SOCIOPATHY

BY RALPH BAROCAS, Ph.D.

The problems entailed in developing an adequate conceptio~ of


sociopathy are of a long-standing nature. Much of the effort has
been speculation about the etiology of sociopathic behaviors. These
conjectures were often undertaken without explicit behavioral de-
scriptions, and different underlying conceptual models were used
interchangeably without justification. The failure to use the same
model consistently, as well as the difficulties associated with the
construction of adequate criteria for definition of sociopathic be-
haviors, is derived in part from the relativistic nature of defini-
tions of deviance. Still another source of confusion originates in
the failure to specify the relationship between psychopathology
and personality as it applies to sociopathic behavior.

ETIOLOGY OF SOCIOPATIIIC BEHAVIORS


Phrenology and the Moral Facult~/
Initial attempts to discriminate the sociopathic personality from
other entities were made by Pinel and Esquirol in the late 18th
century and Prichard in the 19th century (Partridge, 1930;
Maughs, 1941). These early clinidans were ;struck by certain be-
havior patterns ,of patients which were sufficiently deviant to at-
tract the attention of .social enforcement agents. Oftentimes, the
behavior appeared bizarre and aggressive, but lacked the severe
cognitive disturban,ces that characterized psychotic behavior. This
group of patients was seen as suffering from "mania without de-
lerium" or a "moral imbecility." To the observer, they were mad,
b~t with 11o disturbance of the rational faculties.
The period during which these early observations were made
(circa 1750-1850) was marked by the efforts of faculty psychol-
ogists and phrenologists to assess the function and significance
of the mental faculties. The new view that the "brain was the
organ of mind," and that cortical structure was associated with
behavior contributed to the rejectio~n of earlier theories of de-
moniacal possession.
By the mid-19th century, the successful influences of the faculty
psychologists were apparent. "Moral insanity"--i.e., deviant and
immoral behavior without severe cognitive diso.rganization had
RALPH BAROCAS, PH.D. 675

become a clinical entity and was seen as a disturbance of the


"moral faculty" (Manghs, 1941; MeCord and MeCord, 19'56).
One problem in this conception of .sociopathie behaviors has
since become manifest. Allport (1937), Maughs (1941) and Bor-
ing (1957) in their discussions of faculty psychology and phren-
ology reveal that the "faculty of morality," far from being uni-
dimensio.nal, wo~uld have had to be multidimensional in order to
satisfy the descriptions of moral insanity. Simply, the psychiatry
of the time employed a unidimensionM model to depict the entity,
while the academics were more likely to formulate a multidimen-
sional model. However, regardless of the hypothetical factor space,
sociopathy was believed to approximate a disease entity related
to some particular cortical structure(s).

The Constitutiornal View of Sociopathy


Often, the distinction between the "disease of the moral fac-
ulty" and many statements of "constitution" was blurred. By and
large, the difference was that faculties were thought to represent
localized cortical f~netioning, while constitutional determinants
were generally less specific. In both instances, the determinants
of sociopathy were largely inside the organism. To be more ~spe-
eific as to what eon~stitution means in the context of soeiopathy
entails an arbitrary statement. For example, Preu (1944) in his
review of sociopathy asserts that " 'constitutional'... is commonly
understood to refer to something which is genetically determined"
(p. 927). On the other hand, Henderson in his review indicates
that constitutianM determinants are both innate and acquired,
are dyrmmic and variable, and may change "even from hour to
hour" (1939, p. 36).
The absence of concurrence of definition of constitutional fae-
tors is glaring, and, of course, not easily resolved even today.
More importantly, an endorsement of constitutional determinants
of psychopathology i~ general, and of so.ciopathy in particular,
was a manifestation of the gradual diminution of the inflnentiality
of phrenology. Other factors served as determinants of the shift
in thought from moral depravity to a constitutional etiology as
well. For example, Cameron (1963) has suggested that the use
of co:nstitutional defects as explanatory constructs .served to avoid
problems of moral condem~nation and thereby maintained the dis-
order within the context of medical treatment.
67~ PROBLEI~IS I1V CO!qCEPTION OF SOOIOPATItY

The constitutional view, as did the moral faculty view before


it, derived its rationale primarily from the difficulties encountered
in treatment; it yeas, and still is, difficult to modify sociopathic
behavio.rs, and consequently organic defects were sought as ex-
planations. Again, this view of structural differences underlying
sociopath~c behavior was consi~stent with the then prevailing psy~
chiatric ~hought (Szasz, 1961).
In addition to resistance to treatment, other arguments com-
monly employed b y proponents of the constitutional view were
derived from observations that sociopathy often appears in child-
hood, often occurs within the same family and, furthermore, char-
acterizes a style maintained throughout life (Preu, 1944). Thus,
the convergen.ce of ~hese observations seemingly justified a con-
stitutional position and by the close of the nineteenth ceatury,
"constitutional sociopathlc inferiority" was a firmly entrenched
diagnostic entity.
Although the word constitutional has d~sappeared from the
formal psychiatric nomenclature, many feel that the issue of
whether or not constitutional factors are critical determinants
of sociopathic behavior is not dead (Albert, Brigante and Chase,
1959; Cameron, 1963; Maher, 1966; Zubin, 1967).

The Enviro,trnen.tal View of Sociopathy


The view that so ciopathic behaviors are derived from experi-
ence can be attributed to the advent of dynamic psychiatry and
Watsonian behaviorism. D:~namic psychiatry (e.g., Freud) ac-
knowledges the role of psychological experience as a determinant
of behavio.r, and furthermore assumes *hat variability in function-
ing could be observed without isomorphic structural counterparts,
let alone changes in these ,structures. Similarly, Watson's position
was derived from the same belief in the malleability and flexibility
of the nervous ,system.
By 1930, Alexander had formalized a psychoanalytic position
on so ciopathy. Briefly, he offered four different categories using
the concepts of autoplasticity and allopl~sticity to describe the
symptom neurosis, the neurotic character, the psychosis, and true
criminality. Both the neurotic character and the true criminal
orientation are alloplastic, with the former representing the aeu-
rotic acting out of unconscious impulses. The latter entails an
ego organization with no defect in integrity. The:key for Alex-
RALPH BAROCAS~ PH.D. 677

ander lay in the inability to reject unconscious impulses. The psy-


chotic is equivalent to the sociopath here, but the difference is in
the integrity of the ego. The psychotic, of course, suffers from a
deterioration of ego organization.
Later, others pursued the etiology of the sociopath psycho-
analytically. For example, Karpman (1946) viewed sociopathy
as characterizing two groups of patients. A secondary, or ,symp-
tomatic s ociopath whose behavior is a screen for neurotically
derived imposes con,stitutes one group. The other group, extrem-
ely few in number, for whom one cannot provide the psychic
determinants, are the primary or ideopathic psychopath, or aneo-
path. Thus, the psychoanalytic approach is based on psychological
experience, perceives the soci.opath as acting out unconscious im-
pulses, and labels the individual sociopathic o~tly when other
formulations of motivation are .not deemed appropriate.
The most significant non-psychoanalytic contribution to an en-
viro.nmental view of sociopathy is attributed to Partridge (1930).
Although he was able to understand how earlier writers had
viewed sociopathy as having a constitutionaL b~sis, he generally
felt that their conclusions were not valid. Rather, Partridge fo-
cused on the sociological determinants of sociopathic behavior,
felt that this class of determinants was the "unifying aspect" of
sociopathy, and consequently neologized sociopathy. Partridge's
efforts did not represent an uncritical rejection of con~stitutional
inferiority. His suggestions were offered in a tentative manner,
and were an attempt to emphasize the psychological and socio-
logical, i.e., the experiential determinants, of the disorder.
In many ways, Partridge was successful. The fir:st Diagnostic
and Statistical Man~tal of Mental Disorders (1952) presented
the entry sociopathic personality disturbc~nce to describe a class
of personality disorders, and reserved it for patients "ill primarily
in terms of society and of conformity with the prevailing cultural
milieu." More specifically, a~tisocial reaction., one of the socio-
pathic disturban:ces, was designated for "cases previously classi-
fied as 'constitutional psychopathic .state' and 'psFchopathic per-
sodality.'" The presemt psychiatric nomenclature (American Psy-.
chiatric Association, 1968; Spitzer & Wilson, 1968) no longer
employs sociopathic disturbance but continues to speak of the
antisocial behaviors in much the same manner as previously.
In summary, the foregoing has been a brief history of the evolv-
()7~ PROBLE1V~S IN CONCEPTION OF SOCIOPATi[-IY

ing thought associated with the etiology of soeiopathy. In the spau


of some 200 years, etiological views have ranged from a faculty
psychology through constitutional inferiority, to an almost totally
experiential position. Presently, many clinicians assume an en-
vironmental posture. This is especially true of psychologists; con-
stitutional determinants of behavior have never been particularly
popular in American psychology (Hall & Lindzey, 1957; Lindzey,
1965; tIirsh, 1965).
Despite the seeming concurrence of opinion on the development
of soeiopathir behaviors, the etiology has not been established
unassailably. Without question, the problem is, in part, taxonomic
in nature. Unless reliable dis eriminations may be made, and thus
classes of phenomena developed, it is not possible to speak of
uniquely determined behaviors. It is a reasonable assumption
that taxonomy precedes the development of explanatory state-
ments.
The next section of this paper examines the difficulties innvolved
in articulating a set of behaviors ]abeled ,sociopathic.

Defining the Class of Behavior


The issue to be examined here is whether or not there exists
a crystallized group of behaviors that eo.nstitute a so ciopathie
re,spouse class.
Partridge (1_930) easily demonstrated the divergence of opinion
on the parameters of sociopathy by citing the varied terminology
associated with "psychopathic ,state:s'; in an evaluation, of the
role criminal behavior ptays in the conception of so.ciopathic be-
haviors; and in a review of 16 different diagnostic classification
systems used by such di,sparate groups as British ~and American
psychiatrists, state correctional institutions, federal correctional
institutions and the Surgeon General's office. For t~ese 16 systems,
a range of 2 to 9 elinicaI groups was observed. The mean number
of clinical groups for each system was 5.75 and the mode 5. Thus,
in 1930, Partridge characterized the chaos that surrounded the
definition of sociopathie behaviors. Similarly, a more recent, but
not as extensive, review of sociopathic bet~avior (Albert, Brigante,
and Chase, 1959) suggests a trend in the direction of parsimony,
but by no means indicates a eonsen'sus of definition (See T,able 1).
Evidence of continued dissatisfaction with definitions of socio-
pathy is observed in changes in the p,syehiatric nomenclature.
RALPI4 BAROCAS~ PH.D. 67,9
Table 1. A Summ~ry of Two Reviews of Diagnostic Classification Systems
Assoeiate~] with Sociopathy

Mean Number Modal Number


Number of Classi- Range of Clinical of Clinical of Clinical Groups
fication Systems Groups Within Classi- Groups per Within Classi-
Reviewed fieation Systems Classification Systems fieation Systems

Partridge (1930) 16 4d0 5.75 5


Albert, Brigante, 9 2-9 4.22 3
& Chase (1959)

Previously, sociopathic personality disturbance was co,nsidered a


personality disorder and was constituted by four diagno.ses : anti-
social reaction, dyssocial reaction, sexual deviatio.n and addiction.
(American Psychiatric Association, 1952). Presently, sociopath~
personality disturbance ~o langer appears in the nomenclature,
although antisocial personality continues to be a person.ality dis-
order and sexual deviatio,ns, alcoholism and drug depende,nce are
headings akin to personality disorders (American Psychiatric
Association, 1968).
It is possible to make explicit some of the sources of difficulty
contributing to the inability to develop a viable definition of socio-
pathy. Three sources of oonfusion will be considered here: (1)
inconsistent use of underlying conceptual models, (2) relativistic
definiSons of deviance, and (3) the undifferentiated relationship
between persoaality ~nd psychopathology.

fuvonsistent use of ~nderlyi.ng conceptual models


Hopefully, clinical diagnosis reflects agreement among diagnos-
tician s concerning the underlying coaceptual model. Unfortu-
nately, efforts are rarely made to make these models explicit. A
general statement of psychometric structural models of traits
(Loevinger, 1957) will by analogy, illustrate how diagnostic cri-
teria employed in the ~sses,sment of sociopathy may vary.
Although a number of models exist, two--the quantitative model
and the class model--will serve the purposes of this paper. Table
2 gives a list of criteria suggested by Cleckley (1959; 1965) for
use in the diagaosis of sociopathy and demonstrates the implica-
tions of endorsing either the quantitative or the class model.
The first, the quantitative model, entails a straightforward
cumulative treatment of the observations. Operationally, measures
680 PROBLEMS I N CONCEPTION OF SOCIOPATI-IY

Table 2. Suggested Criteria for Diagnosis of Sociopathic Personality


Disturbance (Cleckley, 1959, 1965)

1. Unexplained failure 8. Failure to learn by experience


2. Undisturbed technical intelligence 9. Incapacity for love
3. Absence of neurotic anxiety ]0. Inappropriate or fantastic
4. Persistent and inadequately reactions to alcohol
motivated behavior 11. Lack of insight
5. Irresponsibility 12. Shallow and impersonal responses
6. Peculiar inability to distinguish to sexual llfe
between truth and falsehood 13. Suicide impulses rarely carried oat
7. Inability to accept blame 14. Persistent pattern of sels

would be ~aken on each of the fourteen criteria and these mea-


sures summed. The range of sco.res would be 0 to N. A person
with a score closer to N would be "more sociopathic" than a per-
soJn with a score closer to O. The more of the 14 criteria that are
manifest, the more sociopathy.
In the class model, the presence or absence of the trait is in-
ferred by placing certain requirements on the preeence of the
manifestations. For example, it might be decided that all ]4 (or
N-n) criteria should be present in order to state that a person
is soeiopathic. Failure to manifest all the clinical signs would
yield a diagnosis other than sociopathy. There is an important
distinction to be drawn here between this model .and the preced-
ing o~e in terms of the implications. The quantitative model per-
mitted the placement of all individuals on the sociopa~hlc dimen-
sion and assumed individual differences. The class model flnplies
otherwise. U~less there is a convergence of the pathognomonic
indicators, so ciopathy is not present, ttere sociopathy represents
a clas,s o~r category of persons, and .di'saltows all others who fail
to meet the criteria of convergent diagnostic signs.
The foregoing has .served to illustrate two basic alternative
approaches to the conception of sociopathy. On the one hand, the
so.ciopath is a humc~n type (the class model) ; o~ the other, every-
one is m o r e or less sociopathic (the quantitative model). Unfor-
tunately, in clinical practice these models are used interchange-
ably. F o r example, a viole.nt crime accompanied by criterion 3,
absence of neurotic anxiety, is often sufficient to, label an indi-
vidual :soci0pathic, although he may not manifest any other signs
or symptoms. Similarly, on other occasion,s moderate "quanti-
ties" of ,several of the criteria, e.g., irresponsibility, lack of in-
sight, .and ineapacity fo.r love, would yield the same diagnosis.
RALI'~-I BAROCAS, PH.D. 681

Clearly, different models are being employed in these two ex-


amples. The fMlure to maintain distinctions among the ]mplica-
tions derived ,from an adherence to a given model has contributed
to the confusion that surrounds the current status of soeiopathy.
However, the development of a sound definition of sociopathy
derived from reliable and valid .assessment does not in itself per-
mit categorical rejection of any set of etiological hypotheses. For
instance, constitutional hypotheses are compatible with either a
q~antitative model or ~a class model. That is, a polygenic explana-
tion implies a continuous distribution and therefore, individual
differences in behavior might be anticipated. A mon.ogenic ex-
planation Lmplies discrete types of behavior, and, consequently,
a class model of behavior might be appropriate (Book, 1960;
Zubin, 1967). Thus, taxonomy represents a necessary, but not
sufficient, condition for specifying the development of sociopathic
behaviors.

Relativistic Nature of Devic~nce c~nd I.r~terperso~al Strategies


Some writers (Becker, 1963; Er~kson, 1964) view deviance as
a sociological phenomenon, relativistic in nature, that entails a
public s~atement by some enforcement group in the society of the
offender's failure to conform (e.g., a judicial decision or psychi-
atric diagnosis). I t is contended that public labeling of deviance
is critical in contributing to the patterning of deviant behavior.
That is, the likelihood of continued deviance ~s increased, rather
than diminished, by public labeling. Implied, of course, is that
the labeling proce,ss represents the responses of others and that
these responses may be differentially applied to the same act.
Determinants of variability in the responses of others are derived
from attributes of the person who performed the act and include
his position in the social matrix, his personality structure, and
the time and circumstance under which an act is committed. This
relativism places severe restrictions on t h e development of more
absolute criteria which m~st accompany valid diagnosis.
The diagnosl~ic predicament can be exemplified by a brief exam-
ination of recent work on manipulative skills, a class of behaviors
often descriptive of sociopathic persons. Typically, investigators
have focused on an evaluation of interpersonal behaviors in un-
disturbed per,sons that emphasize alteration and management of
self-appearance for personal gain (Goffman, 1952, 1959; Christie
6~2 PI{OBLEMN 1N CONCEPTION OF SOCfOPATI-f.Y

& Mertoa, 1958; Christie, 1964; Gels and Christie, .1.965; Gels,
1968; Exline, Thibaut, Brannon, & Gump.ert, 1961; Jones, 1964:
Ring, Braginsky & Br.aginsky, 1966; Ring, Braginsky, Levine, &
Braginsky, 1967; Barocas & Christensen, 1968).
For example, Goffman (1952) examined the strategies "con men"
use in pre,varing the victim four a failure experience ,and then pro-
ceded to identify .sit,floats in eve:ryday life--e.g., "deco~urting"
lo~er.s, corporate demotio.ns, physMa~s and patients with terminal
illnesses where similar "eo.oling out" pro,eedure~s are used.
Christie and Merton (1958) described a personality variable,
Machiavellic~nism, as "principles of conduct characterized by tun-
ning, duplicity, and bad faith" (p. 134). The prototypical Mac-
hiaveliian, or ideal manipulator, is amoral, remote in his relation-
ships with others, derives satisfaction from the manipulation of
others, and i.s undisturbed in a neurotic or psychotic ,sense (Chris-
tie, 1964).
Joaes (1964) described imyratiation as "a class of strategic
behavior de.signed to influence a particular other person concern-
ing the attractiveness of one's personal qualities" (p. 11). Simi-
larly, Singer (1964) has suggested physical attractiveness as a
feminine stratagem.
Still others (Barocas & Christensen, 1968; Ring et al., t966,
] 967) have successfully employed Goffman's (1959) coaceptions
of impression mr the ability to engage in convinc-
ing pretense for self gain--as a point of departure.
A striking parallel to the work in interpersonal strategies is
a modal description of a group of young drug addicts.
He [the addict~] ~chieved his goals by indirec.~ion,relying on
a repertoire of manipulative techniques... His idea was to. get
what he v~anted through persuasion and ingratiation; ... The
image of himself as ".operator" was projected onto the whole
world.., and led r complete skepticism... (.of others')...motives
(~irmstoae, 1964, p. 282).
These observations uaderscore the simil.arity in interpersonal
techniques used by "disturbed" or at least culturally deviant per-
sans m the achievement of illicit goals, and the behavior of
"normal" per,sons in everyday life.
In summary, the relativism of time, place, person and eircum-
.stance h~s prevented the toi~ographical description of sociopathic
:~Until July 1~ 1968, drug addiction appeared in the psychiatric nomenclature ab
9,~ S o c i o p a t h i c Personality Dist.~trbance,
t~aLeH BaI~OCAS,PH.D. (583

behaviors. In turn, the abse.nce of de scripgion has impeded the


development of hypotheses relevant to .development.
The last issue to be considered is the relationship between per-
sonality .and psychopathology, and its implication.s for the con-
eeption of so,dopathy.

Personality, Psychopathology, and Sociopathy


Zubin (1958, 1965) has suggested three hypotheses for the re-
lationship between personality and psychopathology: identity, in-
teraction, and independence. The identity po~si/~ion argue,s that
psychopathology is personality and vice-versa. No discrimination
is made between what is psychopathology and what is personality.
The second view, intera.ction, states that psychopathology is a
co,nse,quence of both per,sonality fLmctioning and .a psychopatho-
logical proees,s. Changes o,f personality are viewed as an outcome
of the disease interfering with personality functioning. The selec-
tion of pathology, or susceptibility, is influenced by personality
predispositions. The third hypothesis, Lndependence, asserts that
peesonality and psychopathology are unrelated, or that prior per-
sonality adjustmen.t is .not relevant to the kind of psychopathol-
ogy a person may manifest.
Two observerations of the literature in sodopathy permit some
evaluation og these disparate views. First, the heterogeneity of
behavior.s considered soeiopathic implies the ab.sence of a true
syndrome. Secoadly, .some of these behaviors are observed in
normal persons ha everyday situations indicating that an act qua
act is not sociopathic. Both these observ.ation,s argue for {he
identity hypothe~sis be.cause it i,s difficult to infer a disease entity
when discriminations between symptomatic and non-s3nnptomatic
behavior~s cannot be maintained. Mo,reover, the identity hypothesis
is the most frugal theoretical conception of the three because it
does not require a class of concepts devoted to pathological pro-
ce,sse.s.
So eiopathy is best conceived within the context o,f personality
fmaetioning, since little is gained from a peremptory did~.otomy
of normal and ~b.normal behavior here. T ~ s is not to .say that
the conceptions of di;sease processes interacting or being Jude-
pendent o,f interpersonal behavior are not valuable elsewhere--
fo.r example, in those disorders with an established physical basis.
~ PROBLEMS IN C01~CEPTIO~ OF SOCIOPATI~IY

In summary, because the discovery of etiology is typically con-


tingent upon the discovery of a syndrome, and since no reliable
so ciopathic syndrome has been uncovered, an approach that does
not rely on a disease entity is most reasonable.

CO~CLUSIOI~S
Att~o~gh there is movement in the directio~a of coneensus, no
reliable class of sociopathic behaviors has been identified. Prob-
lems of relativism, e.g., manip~ativeness characterizing normal
and sociopathic interaction, and the inconsistent use of under-
lying conceptual models of soc]opathy, have prevented the de-
velopment of a reliable response class. Even if co,census were
achieved it would not necessarily comment on etiology. An ex-
ception might be an instance where a particular biological mech-
anism, e.g., an extra Y chromosome, would coalesce some symp-
toms into a new syndrome defining the remaining symptoms as
irrelevant. Finally, because the behaviors in question are drawn
from such a varied universe, and because this universe inchldes
everyday interpersonal transactions as well, models that include
disease processes are not considered viable.

SIYMiVs
A review of sociopathy is presented in the context o~ the evolu-
tion of general theories of psychopathology. Particular emphasis
is placed on the examination of three problems impeding the de-
velopment of a sufficient conception of ~sociopathy. They are (1)
the inconsistent use of underlying conceptual models, (2) the
relativistic definitions of deviance, and (3) the unclear relation-
ship between persormlity and psychopathology. Implications for
the current status of so ciopathy are presented.

Department of Psychology
University of Rochester
River Campus Station
Rochester, N. Y. 14627
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