Sunday, November 13, 2011

Psychopaths & Asperger's Syndrome.

Since I began exploring psychopathy as it looks and is defined by non-psychopaths, one of the things that were new to me was how often some people seem to confuse Psychopathy with Asperger Syndrome. It happened so frequently that I thought it natural to see if I could find out what Asperger Syndrome really is and what, if any, comparison there is between the two conditions.

I have to say that I still do not quite understand what Autism is. But I know that Asperger Syndrome is a form of what is called High Functioning Autism. I also learned that the name Asperger's Syndrome was given this condition by the Austrian psychiatrist who first wrote and published a report on the phenomenon, Hans Asperger. What I found most interesting at first was his definition of Asperger Syndrome, which he called Psychopathic Autism - or Autistic Psychopathy.

This suggests there may indeed be some things the two conditions have in common, but which?... I have found a few things that psychopaths and Aspies (the nick used by people with Asperger Syndrome about themselves) share, but there are also quite a few things that seem to be even more different for each of our groups than they are for the majority of people.
I have made this tentative list...

Aspies:
  • Aspies present a certain lack of empathy, or what is called a limited range of shallow emotions. 
  • Aspies have a normal capacity to feel Remorse.
  • Aspies will usually have one or a few persons they do have strong empathy for. With the same persons they can also have other common emotions such as a strong sense of loyalty. 
  • Aspies can be utterly selfless, either to another person or group of people, or to an idea or ideology. 
  • Aspies have an inward directed attention and typically are unskilled with observing and reading social behavior, mannerism, and psychological dynamics in people around them.
  • Some Aspies 'adopt' certain mannerisms that they see in others, but with lack of skill and have great difficulty with making it work within social settings.
  • Aspies can have an astonishing ability to focus and will often develop great expertise within a certain field of knowledge, usually one that centers around precision and plentiful detail.
  • Aspies will specialize in a 'special interest' that to others seem 'narrow' (f.x. British steam trains of the years between 1850 and 1920).
  • Aspies excell with things that have to do with scientific and mathematical data.
  • Aspies do very typically feel strongly about justice and truth.
  • Aspies thrive with predictability, dislike change and prefer to live a structured, well organized life.
  • Aspies often struggle with Anxiety, and sometimes with Anger.

Psychopaths:
  • Psychopaths present a certain lack of empathy, or what is called a limited range of shallow emotions.
  • Psychopaths lack emotional capacity to feel Remorse.
  • Psychopaths either have very limited empathy or no empathy, the lack of emotion does not have exceptions and extend to friends and family members.
  • Loyalty is too superficial in psychopaths to qualify as real loyalty because it will always be based in self-serving motives. Deep commitment to an ideology will never precede selfishness.
  • Psychopaths have an outward directed attention and have an adept ability to observe and read social behavior, mannerism, and the psychological dynamics in people around them.
  • Psychopaths adopt mannerisms that we observe in others, and we switch with ease between an arsenal of styles according to social circumstances.
  • Psychopaths can have an astonishing ability to focus and will often develop limited expertise in several fields of knowledge, but interest tends to be short lived, and the expertise suffers from lack of precision and detail. 
  • Psychopaths often have numerous interests which develop over night and disappear as quickly.
  • Psychopaths typically excel with things to do with inter-personal mechanics and communication.
  • Psychopaths are very typically unusually adept liars and do not have an emotional attachment to any principle of truth or justice.
  • Psychopaths thrive with change, excitement and "living on the edge" or "living in the fast lane".
  • Psychopaths have very low or absent Anxiety, but do sometimes struggle with Anger.

The conclusion seems to be that whereas people with Asperger's Syndrome no doubt can present with Antisocial Personality Disorder (AsPD), it is not possible to be an Aspie and also a Psychopath.

29 comments:

Ettina said...

Makes you wonder why people confuse the two, right? We're almost complete opposites.

Anonymous said...

While I think the two conditions are indeed completely opposite to one another, that doesn't stop me from thinking that perhaps the two conditions are two sides of the same coin. While psychopaths and aspies might not be woven from the same thread, perhaps they're woven from the same kind of thread.

Being a (somewhat new?) regular reader of M.E.'s blog, I happened upon
this gem


What do you think Zhawq? Do you think it's possible for these two groups two come to a form of consensual armistice, perhaps build bridges between themselves? The aspie, for example, could learn emotional control, interpersonal/social skills from the psychopath. The psychopath in turn could learn more self-discipline and consistency. Perhaps even learn to "empathize" better with others.
From the characteristics you've listed above, an aspie can actually take a leaf from the psychopath's book and also vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Secondary psychopaths are stress reactive and do suffer from anxiety. But I believe this is regarding primary paths.

Anonymous said...

I understand that the "Secondary psychopath" is a category of Factor 2 traits on the PCL-R. It's always struck me as odd that a secondary "psychopath" is labeled as such. Isn't the base definition of psychopathy that of one who lacks guilt/remorse and empathy? If one doesn't possess certain and crucial factor 1 traits, wouldn't one be classified as having Antisocial Personality Disorder instead

Psychopath said...

Psychopaths are generally seen as lacking the capacity for remorse (Hare 1975), although the studies of Foulds, Caine, and Creasy (1960), Marks (1965), and Gudjonsson and Roberts (1983) indicate that psychopaths report experiencing strong feelings of remorse after transgression. An important distinction here is the primary--secondary categorization of psychopathy.

In contrast to primary psychopaths, secondary psychopaths exhibit strong symptoms of anxiety and autonomic arousal (Lykken 1957).

Mealy (1995) discusses some important differences between primary and secondary psychopaths, which are relevant to feelings of guilt. The main difference is that secondary psychopaths are primarily antisocial due to exposure to environmental risk factors, whereas the antisocial behaviour in primary psychopaths is primarily determined by their genotype (i.e. have a substantial genetic component). Another difference between the two types of psychopaths is that secondary psychopaths, in contrast to primary psychopaths, are capable of experiencing some sincere social emotions (e.g. guilt, shame, sympathy, empathy).

Lots of info online, and in books on secondary diagnosis. Or... just ask :)

Ettina said...

Incidentally, a lot of people misunderstand it, but Hams Asperger's use of the word 'psychopathy' basically just meant 'psychologocial disorder'. He wasn't referring to the condition we now know as psychopathy.

Anonymous said...

Aspergers, if left unchecked can start to manifest many characteristic of psychopathy. Such as becoming a pathological liar or even going as far as manipulating people around them.

Anonymous said...

I am sick of people confusing empathys meaning in regards to aspergers syndrome.

Empathy IS NOT sympathy! I, as an aspie, have difficulty telling what others are feeling, but this by no means means i do not care about people.

Also, as a child i got panic attacks at the thought of me being bad or breaking rules over the smallest things, very far from a complete lack of morals.

Ettina said...

"Aspergers, if left unchecked can start to manifest many characteristic of psychopathy. Such as becoming a pathological liar or even going as far as manipulating people around them."

No. Just no.

Lying is a very tricky concept for aspies to grasp. NT children understand basic deception at 4 years old, aspies often not until 8-14 years old. And their development in this area continues to lag behind. Since they find lies confusing, they tend not to lie very often. If they do lie, they do so with less skill than most people their age, and are easier to detect.

Manipulation is an extension of lying, really. To manipulate someone, you need to put yourselves in their shoes and figure out how they perceive the situation and their likely reactions. In childhood, many aspies don't even understand that others may see things differently from them, such as someone not knowing something because they weren't present to see it. Once they figure out those basics, they still are unskilled at figuring out what others think.

Treatment for aspies, in general, increases their tendency to lie and manipulate, partly as a side effect of helping them learn social skills, and partly directly because lying and manipulating to some degree is considered a good thing. (Things like emphasizing the positive in a job interview, or not telling someone that they look fat.)

So your comment is wrong on two levels - your 'prognosis' is very unlikely for any aspie, and treatment makes it *more* likely instead of less.

Anonymous said...

Aspie's typically feel strongly for "Justice" and "Truth"?! Ha!, the proverbial carrots for the donkey!? Silly how that Aspie's have been confused with AsPD...Just because they have trouble showing "empathy", oh look, another carrot.

I would like to add that people who actually throw around those words to insult some "meanie on the Internet" use them as just that, an insult. As if any angry Internet fool would go through the trouble to distinguish the differences between the two "disorders"; They are to preoccupied with attacking their vile Internet torturer over some petty slight. Thank you for putting out, in words, the crucial differences between Aspergers and AsPD.

-bSodmin

Anonymous said...

Part I
^ "While I think the two conditions are indeed completely opposite to one another, that doesn't stop me from thinking that perhaps the two conditions are two sides of the same coin. While psychopaths and aspies might not be woven from the same thread, perhaps they're woven from the same kind of thread."

Comment:
Why do humans find respite in the labels?
I perceive the following:
Comments all over this website clearly portray lack of understanding of ASD (Autistic SPECTRUM Disorders), and specifically, Aspies. Not what I would expect from certain individuals whom come through as significantly intelligent?
^ The above comment originated from one whom is enlightened - one on the path to TRUE understanding of his/her universe and place in it :)

Aspies and psychopaths ARE the same (we are all the same - humans). Don't have to believe it, it just is. Both labels are developmental DELAYS: variations of perception differences. Hence, variations of inability to learn from consequences (pos as well as negative) are dependent on the degree of individual drive/motivation towards gratification (self or otherwise). Both groups are TAUGHT to rely on self gratification for survival as a result of experiences. Self discipline (working through frustrations/challenges) required to work WITH others for the purpose of getting needs met is a learned SKILL. It is the intentions of the caregivers/teachers/mentors/significant relationships (and every being - human or not) that teach & form the skills necessary to mature from newborn thru life. Genetics/predispositions are a given for ANY individual (not limited to ASD’s, Psychopaths) for hosts of factors that make ANY organic being different?
Every individual which an individual interfaces with, or has a direct or indirect experience with, affects the outcome of that maturation. Organic and inorganic experiences. We are all connected. What ultimately has the GREATEST effect on a maturation are the core intention(s) of the individuals & experiences one is exposed to.

Neither group was genetically born (whether at actual birth or birth post trauma) with an ability to process data (experiences) as most (ug, another label) NT's. They are taught how. Sensory issues & how they are 'wired' (brain development) are but variables in what results. Both groups have an almost 'Rain man' instinctual NEED to solve questions, understand, control future experiences using 'data' from past experiences.

Anonymous said...

Part II
Instead of compassion and lacking pure (unselfish) intentions, "WE" teach each other how we perceive our world. Ultimately, "WE" (each one of us) define and thus, design our world and the people and beings in it.

Most healthy NT's 'get' this concept. Healthy NT's are content NT's. NT's are NO different from any other 'labeled' humans. We are ALL the same. If one puts forth the energy to find the differences in us all, that is what they create in their life. Anybody can be content. Some just have greater challenges with what they have to work with to attain content. That’s called ‘life’. I beg your pardon: I never promised you a rose garden.

Imagine the time devoted to this site and the peeling away of layers of individuals to identify differences and 'group' people - that (for just a moment even) it was re-directed to exactly the opposite? Example: instead of ‘hyperfocusing’ on the differences between psychopaths and ASD’s, in-depth research into the similarities. How about life experiences of ASD’s by their own descriptions. The similarities may well shock you, if up to the ‘dare’? The focus is on demonstrations of behaviors and expressions of understanding up until, say the teenage years – and beyond. Differences evident dramatically if the child is NOT identified as ASD. The unidentified with a lack of skills training have a predisposition towards diagnosis of ODD, CD, various PD’s. Fact. When parents and society fail at early detection, it is easier to avoid accountability and blame the child – the individual. And PD’s are the tool used to blame.

Such alternate research (open mind) would require a level of intellect and intelligence which most visitors here simply do not (yet) understand - of themselves nor FOR themselves - or are in denial to believe.

THIS is a common trait among the two 'groups' in question: lack of common sense. That statement is not intended to anger - it is intended to light a match on the fire of self introspection. Positive introspection - hard for both groups. Neither appreciates (fully) the potential for growth in change that originates with SELF. Because they were never taught to. WE have taught each other to learn by a set code of expectations - instead of teaching with an emphasis on intentions and not expectations.

Is what it is.
Its ALL up to US - not one 'group' of folks - each one of US.
We all have developmental learning disabilities. Various degrees & types.
The question is whether we choose, as individuals, to remain ignorant or become educated – first about ourselves.
;)
-Love

Anonymous said...

Most psychopaths have very low or absent anxiety, but some have very high anxiety. Personally, I would be screwed without it, well it certainly helps me anyway. Good symathy card

Anonymous said...

Interesting... I was wondering if it's possible for someone to be both an aspie and a psychopath? I'm just curious.

jordan moore said...

got bored and stopped rewding after you erroneously assumed tye term "psychopathy" meant the same thing to hans way back when and in a different land as it does to us today.

nope

psychopathology meant a pathology of the mind. the most similar modern term being a personality disorder.

Michael said...

Zhwaq, why are women with aspergers so attracted to psychopathic males to the point that they become obsessed with them?

Run Pooch said...

Yes, Asperger and psychopathy is possible.

I visit my cousins pretty much every year. About one of them, I know a few relevant things from being around him and talking with my parents who speak with their parents. Said cousin was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his early teens and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) when he was 21.

If I had to guess why he was diagnosed with Asperger, I would guess it's because he is generally introverted, and at least for a while in his teens, seemed a bit socially awkward. To me he looked slightly geeky in his earlier years. He is also intelligent, but I guess not necessarily always in a "people way". He also does strange OCD rituals sometimes. He mostly tries to avoid talking to people he doesn't know, rarely goes out to bars or clubs, etc. He acts more normal nowadays though, in terms of the social aspect.

But in other ways - he's still different.

This same guy also caused at least three people (maybe more?) to be hospitalized when he was a child, has been arrested multiple times (don't know how many exactly), and had a criminal record by the time he hit puberty. He trespasses and damages property. When I was with him over the holiday he shoplifted several times and told me he basically swindles money from his employer and lies to them all of the time. He celebrates when people die, including family members. In fact I think he may have permanently scared one of his siblings. He doesn't seem to have any remorse for his actions at all, brushing them off in my convos with him like he was discussing the weather. I'm sure he would score high enough on the PCL-R or probably any other measurement criteria to be considered a psychopath by any sensible standard.

And looking at the actual criteria or assessment tools for AS, ASD, ASPD, etc., I don't think it's surprising at all that there are people out there who are both autistic and psychopathic. Nothing in the ASPD criteria or PCL-R precludes an autistic individual from the conduct problems and lack of empathy that are the backbone of ASPD and psychopathy-based disorders. In fact there seem to be more fundamental traits of autism, particular Asperger Syndrome, that would predispose them to psychopathic traits more than the neurotypical. So I am surprised that anyone can say they are opposites.

So the autism and psychopathy spectra are not mutually exclusive, and Asperger Syndrome and psychopathic traits are on an overlapping Venn Diagram, not too separate circles. With 7 billion people in the world and counting, the combination has to occur now and then, as in my cousin's case. I wouldn't be surprised if there were quite a few other "autistic psychopaths" out there - in this case, in every sense of the word.

Run Pooch said...

Yes, Asperger and psychopathy is possible.

I visit my cousins pretty much every year. About one of them, I know a few relevant things from being around him and talking with my parents who speak with their parents. Said cousin was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his early teens and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) when he was 21.

If I had to guess why he was diagnosed with Asperger, I would guess it's because he is generally introverted, and at least for a while in his teens, seemed a bit socially awkward. To me he looked slightly geeky in his earlier years. He is also intelligent, but I guess not necessarily always in a "people way". He also does strange OCD rituals sometimes. He mostly tries to avoid talking to people he doesn't know, rarely goes out to bars or clubs, etc. He acts more normal nowadays though, in terms of the social aspect.

But in other ways - he's still different.

This same guy also caused at least three people (maybe more?) to be hospitalized when he was a child, has been arrested multiple times (don't know how many exactly), and had a criminal record by the time he hit puberty. He trespasses and damages property. When I was with him over the holiday he shoplifted several times and told me he basically swindles money from his employer and lies to them all of the time. He celebrates when people die, including family members. In fact I think he may have permanently scared one of his siblings. He doesn't seem to have any remorse for his actions at all, brushing them off in my convos with him like he was discussing the weather. I'm sure he would score high enough on the PCL-R or probably any other measurement criteria to be considered a psychopath by any sensible standard.

And looking at the actual criteria or assessment tools for AS, ASD, ASPD, etc., I don't think it's surprising at all that there are people out there who are both autistic and psychopathic. Nothing in the ASPD criteria or PCL-R precludes an autistic individual from the conduct problems and lack of empathy that are the backbone of ASPD and psychopathy-based disorders. In fact there seem to be more fundamental traits of autism, particular Asperger Syndrome, that would predispose them to psychopathic traits more than the neurotypical. So I am surprised that anyone can say they are opposites.

So the autism and psychopathy spectra are not mutually exclusive, and Asperger Syndrome and psychopathic traits are on an overlapping Venn Diagram, not too separate circles. With 7 billion people in the world and counting, the combination has to occur now and then, as in my cousin's case. I wouldn't be surprised if there were quite a few other "autistic psychopaths" out there - in this case, in every sense of the word.

Gertrud Martin said...

Here are some tips for further reading.

For the brighter side of the issue go to autismandempathy.com, and as a first read to the article from Adam Smith about the "Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis": http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1031&context=tpr.

For the darker side (serial killing, necrophily, less social political ideologies) I recommend the more recent work of psychatrist Professor Michael Fitzgerald. As far as I see it he is the scholar who has most to say on the subject. Fitzgerald identifies a special "Autist Psychopatholgy" underlying the personalities and behaviors of some serial killers. He also suggests that some politicians like the father of Thatcherism Sir Keith Joseph might have been autistic, considers Joseph s ideology as being more or less intrinsic to his autist personality and criticizes it for its social "insensitivity and its harshness".

BTW Fitzgerald seems to be, in Ireland and the UK at least, next to Baron-Cohen, the big authority on autism, he has published quite a lot on genius/creativity and Asperger, too.

Factotum said...

"Makes you wonder why people confuse the two, right? We're almost complete opposites."

I understand how one could have this view, if one had a double digit IQ and / or a complete lack of understanding of the nature of how brains work.

Most humans present to the world as emotional beings. That was number One on both lists, and word for word identical
"present a certain lack of empathy, or what is called a limited range of shallow emotions. "

One felt empathy for only a very few, and one felt empathy (that is an emotion) for none. Not identical, but very similar

Another key is the ability to focus.

Further people are not either / or on these traits or most other traits. Even something like sex is not either / or. Depending on what traits one is speaking of there can be a lot of blurring.

People can have a few of AS or Psycho traits, or some of each. One should be aware of trying every object that is not a square into a hole that is either round or star shaped. There are a lot of other shapes.

Pink Mommy said...

Here's a wrench to throw into the mix...I have a four year old daughter who is an Autistic Sociopath. High functioning savant autism, really. She's got the mentality of a 12 year old. Her IQ is 138. She has enough of the symptoms to keep her Autism diagnosis, but also enough symptoms for psychotic disorder-nos, and sociopathic tendencies. She enjoys torturing animals and her 20 month old sister. Has nearly killed her sister twice. She's callous, remorseless, and down right disturbed. Genetics is the factor. She got the shittiest end of the gene stick so to speak. She's a master con-artist, and the coldest, cruelest child you will ever come across. It's heartbreaking for me as her mother, but this is what I was given, and I will love and care for her because she's my child.

Anonymous said...

"How about life experiences of ASD’s by their own descriptions."

Take a look here

Anonymous said...

"Most psychopaths have very low or absent anxiety, but some have very high anxiety. Personally, I would be screwed without it, well it certainly helps me anyway. Good symathy card"

Are you sure you really mean that? Anxiety is a very unpleasant feeling that limits you and holds you back. You can gain far more sympathy if you 'play it' right. Being anxious pushes people away from you because it is unsettling to them too.

Factotum said...

Reply to pink mommy. "but this is what I was given, and I will love and care for her because she's my child."

Assuming that your posts are accurate, you must have the head in the sand gene. Yes you will love her. Whatever that means. You may even love her after she does kill her sister. Maybe you will love her after she kills your husband. You will cease loving her after she kills you.

Pretending a problem does not exist does not make it go away. She needs to be fixed or quarantined before she does serious damage. If not, then she will be after she does this damage. Your choice

Anonymous said...

Have you ever looked into Martyn Bryants profile. One psychiatrist labelled him an Aspie, but too me he seems to be a psychopath or sociopath with slight autistic bent. Whats your take if you have one ?

Anonymous said...

"Most psychopaths have very low or absent anxiety, but some have very high anxiety. Personally, I would be screwed without it, well it certainly helps me anyway. Good symathy card"

Are you sure you really mean that?

Of course not.

Anonymous said...

i'm an aspie but according to your list, i have many things in common with psychos, what am I?
i have no remorse,
i like life i nthe fast lane and do daring things,
i feel strongly about justice and truth but i'm also a pathological liar, i don't have much restraint against lying, manipulating cheating or stealing,
don't have much loyalty, i act loyal purely for my own interests,
i have very good ability to observe people and read them like a book quite often (not all the time),
i have narrow interests but also many interests that i go into and drop out of quickly,
anxiety is occasionally present and i have serious problems with handling anger, usually the best method is to release it violently and destructively. killing things has proven to be the best way and i get hit with a huge surge of exhilaration afterwards.

if i can't be aspie and psycho, then what is this?

Zhawq said...

Anon Feb 18:

[i]"i have very good ability to observe people and read them like a book quite often (not all the time)

i have narrow interests but also many interests that i go into and drop out of quickly,"[/i]

These two things seems to suggest your Aspergers diagnosis is incorrect. Whether you're a psychopath or "merely" have ASPD I can't say, but from what you describe here, Aspergers it is not.

bob said...

Yes but we are in the same families, genetically inheriting our conditions from each other. My mother is a psychopath and from your post I guess I'm 'aspie'. Also I worked with Autists for some years and observed from the perspective of the Autism Spectrum - not saying it exists but it makes sense typologically - the way various conditions are similar. 1%? Our milder cousins, the Nerds, built the modern world.

There can be stupid psychopaths - my mother followed a lifelong plan to make her children supply her emotional needs. But she went too far. Legislation emerging gives me the upper hand. Remember what they say, 'all your eggs in one basket'. Diversification, shape-changing, playing cognitive ambiguities - survival lies that way. Perhaps such Psy-paths are the future and we 'aspies' merely a staging post of evolution, preparing your way. C'est la vie.

Opposite ends of the same spectrum, yet a spectrum is also a circle, where the ends meet.