Breakout 4: The Dark Side: Psychology, psychopathy and stalking – RWAus14

I have to admit that I had a great time at the dinner on Saturday night, and went to a room party afterwards.  I decided to sleep in a bit on Sunday morning so I missed the first session of the day (which was noted as TBA in my schedule anyway), and got there in time for my first breakout session.


The Dark Side:  Psychology, psychopathy and stalking

Professor Karl Roberts

  • Chair and Profess of Policing and Criminal Justice, University of Western Sydney
  • Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, University of Massachusetts, MA
  • Expert witness in the UK

This was an excellent, informative session, and provided a lot of information and ideas for those writing crime, suspense, romantic suspense, mystery, thriller or other sub-gentres in the crime category.  Over all I would say it was one of the best all weekend, aside from the Friday workshop.

HOWEVER – and I don’t want to direct this at anyone specific (and I probably wouldn’t know their names anyway) – it also suffered from one of my pet hates.

Professor Roberts took questions from the floor from the start.  People were asking specific questions that presumably related to what their own story.  He jumped to the end of his presentation and despite saying he would go back, he didn’t really.  The whole presentation got derailed by those who only wanted to discuss psychopathy because it related to their own writing.  A lot of the information in his slides wasn’t even shown to us let alone discussed (I think a lot of it was on the psychology, but I’m not sure).

While I had some questions myself, I refrained from asking them at the time.  He provided us with his email address and said he was happy to answer questions we have that way.  I hope that in the future people will be less selfish about hogging the presenter’s time, because I for one was extremely frustrated we missed out on so much content.

And I would suggest that in future, all questions other than clarifications be kept to the end.

And now, on to the presentation we did get:

What do forensics psychologists do?

  • focus on human behaviour
  • assessment
  • human performance
  • explanation of motivation
  • clinical – psychological problems
  • forensic – specific application to crime and offending

Two streams in clinical psychology:

  • forensic clinical psychologist (work with police)
  • clinical psychologists (treat patients)


Ways in which a forensic psychologist can contribute to police investigations:

  • interview strategy for a known offender (s) – obviously legislative requirements for interviewing a suspect; however there may be strategies that get better information / results
  •  linking offences – same offender responsible for multiple offences, how can you link them?  Sometimes physical evidence, sometimes behavioural.  Likely to be done by the same person, habitual behaviour.  EG unconnected / geographically disperse sexual assault, but perpetrator said to all victims ‘I didn’t rape you’ very aggressively.  Collecting ‘souvenirs’, but even day to day collecting of items that interest (eg women’s lingerie, photos, etc)
  •  search strategies – different ways of finding a perpetrator
  • media strategies – ways of handling media, news reports etc.  Ways of phrasing message and ensuring it has an impact on perpetrator
  • statement analysis – what people say, how they say it.  eg children missing – mother was referring to them in past tense.  Need to be careful (eg don’t habitually talk in past tense), but can provide additional information
  • court strategies – ways of presenting evidence.  framing questions in court to get best responses
  • offender profiles – create to assist with investigations


Why do people behave in the way they do?

  • individual’s personality characteristics
  • situation
  • a complex interaction between personality characteristics and the situation

eg an incident that happened in childhood may be absolutely pivotal in their lives and everything that happened since, while it may have not meant anything to someone else who experienced the same thing


Personality characteristics:

  • internal psychological aspects of individuals


Social perception – how they see the world

  • encoding strategies
  • perceptual style
  • stereotypes


Beliefs and attitudes – about the world

  • about self
  • about others
  • religious / political / social
  • ultimately an individual’s Values


Above all else, you should attend to yourself and your safety.  Everyone is descended from someone who took care of their own safety (in ages past)

Males and Females may differ in what they are aware of, what they are scared of , how they approach a situation.


Group exercise:

You are in a bar, a man smiles at you.  What do you do?

  • smile back
  • turn head
  • move away
  • move glass away so drink can’t be spiked
  • see what he looks like
  • body language, is he opened / closed
  • check his eyes, is smile included there
  • (male) check if he is in a gay bar
  • RWA responses:  more creative than usual, very pro-social responses
  • Police response:  anti social responses (glass him, hit him, shoot him etc, get ready for a fight, look more )


Response interpretations:  What people do in the future can be indicated from how they respond to this question

  •  We (RWA attendeeds) are a prosocial group, positive responses.
  • If ask someone with issues: threatened responses, violent focused
  • A psychopathic violent offender who was asked the same question came up with 30 creative answers, but every one was violence focused.  When looked at his history, he was an enforcer in a gang and had to hurt people in creative ways – to get the best long term response from victims


Three back West Indian men, celebrating a birthday.  walked into late night drinking club at 2am.  Middle class, pro-social, walked in smiling.  Within 20 minutes, all 3 of them had been shot.  Perpetrator was a (yardie?) drug dealer, also West Indian, was threatened by them smiling.

  • If those men had not been there, no-one would have been shot.
  • If a circumstance arises that someone perceives as threatening, they will respond in a certain way.
  • Because those circumstances arose for that man, he responded


Not all psychopaths are violent. 

Not all violent people are psychopaths 

(skipping forward)




  • psychopath – term comes from work of Pinel, grossly anti social behaviour, early 1900s
  • sociopath – work of Harvey Cleckly, 50s and 60s.  Anti social behaviour, tends to be more intelligent than psychopaths
  • antisocial personality disorder – DSM definition since the early 1970s onwards, trying to be more systematic about the characteristics of these individuals


In this context regard as broadly equivalent terms.  Difference are really very technical and debatable points.

US – view psychopathy is distinct entity

European – collection of traits that together create psychopathic profile



  • begin their criminal careers earlier
  • commit more types of crime and
  • offend at a higher rat than non-psychopaths
  • evident in perhaps 1% of the populations, is psychopathy a mental disorder or an evolved ‘cheater’ strategy?


Psychopaths are responsible for a markedly disproportional amount of serious crime, violence and social distress


  • not all psychopaths are criminals
  • not all criminals are psychopaths


When treating patients

  • male psychopaths are very violent
  • female psychopaths tend to be extremely manipulative rather than violent.
  • female criminal psychopaths were treated much worse than men in prison – social perception, violence in males normal / acceptable


What is psychopath?

1.  Psychopathy is a maladaptive variant of normal personality traits

ie dimensions of weirdness

Abnormal  Normal Abnormal
High empathy Moderate Low empathy
High emotionality Moderate Low emotionality
Dishonest Very very honest


2.  Psychopathy is a personality disorder

cognitive empathy – theory of mind, understanding that people can be different, take someone else’s perspective

emotional empathy – feelings, understanding when someone is upset etc – but without cognitive empathy may not understand why


Can have one without the other

Someone with cognitive empathy may understand different things, but have absolutely no understanding of the suffering that goes with it

eg sexual sadists

‘I see your suffering but I don’t feel it and don’t care’


Psychopaths tend to be low in both cognitive and emotional empathy 

can psychopathy be ‘cured’?  For some the answer may be yes, but would take intensive 1:1 sessions.  However treatment for these offenders tends to be group sessions.

Police response:  does society want the change?  If after intense treatment Ivan Milat is declared not likely to offend again, who would be in favour of him being released back into society?

Offender would have to want to change anyway for it to work, but may not realise there is an issue with themselves.

Change is extremely slow over time.  Moving to a state of psychopathy can happen over years, so treatment would be equally slow.


Part of the psychopathic trait cluster – go the extra mile


Types of criminals – predatory

Stalkers – ex partners

Other – Those who take a relationship too far

Deluded  stalkers – tend to have mental illness

Predatory group – stalk because they like it, key to them is that you are suffering


Three broad trait characteristics or ‘factors’


Factor 1:  Interpersonal style

  • glibness / superficial charm – In order to con people, you need to have at least an understanding of what society expects
  • grandiose sense of self-worth – sense of supreme ego
  • pathological lying – ‘can’t lie straight in bed’
  • conning / manipulative


UK truck drive – ‘married’ lonely women of means in different towns.  Was married to 22 of them

  • saw himself as doing a social service ‘they would have empty and meaningless lives without him’
  • came undone due to accident
  • briefly in a coma
  • authorities started contacting contacts, discovered all the wives
  • some were angry and informed police
  • the interesting this is quite a few stood by him, said that it was ok and the arrangement of seeing him every few weeks suited them


Factor 2: affective style

  • lack of remorse of guilt
  • shallow affect – know what to say,
  • callous / lack of empathy
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions

see: video of Ted Bundy’s final interview with anti-porn campaigner.  Bundy believed he would get a pardon, and can see him breaking out of his weeping / remorse pose when the phone rings etc.


Belladonna effect

  • when people can’t believe that someone beautiful can do something wrong


Factor 3:  Behaviour style

  • need for stimulation / proneness to boredom
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • impulsivity – very high, can connect with sense of violence and reaction.  Can lead to ‘overkill’ – violence way beyond what the situation warrants
  • irresponsibility


Different personality types

Type 1:

much more functioning

Type 2:

a lot more emotional, often unable to cope


Collection of traits that can lead to psychopathic behaviour  (UK theory)

eg extrovert, low empathy, prone to violence, quick to react


Personality (continued from above)

  • empathy
  • self-esteem
  • social skills
  • intelligence
  • expectations- about the world
  • emotional responses – to the world
  • needs


Thought experiment:

have you ever killed a spider?  If so, why?

  • scared
  • threatened
  • it was there
  • etc, etc


Asking criminals (in mental health unit) :

have you ever killed a person?

  • scared
  • threatened
  • he / she was there
  • same answers

– the same answers most would give as why they killed a spider.


Behaviour is not just about personality:

  • it is the interaction between personality traits, and a situation / opportunity / chances of doing it
  • someone may have the worst psychopathic tendencies, but never take it outside their own home / room,
  • therefore never triggered into that behaviour
  • when you cross the line into the real world, that is when it becomes a problem for society

Your thoughts and stuff

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