The Science of Those Without Conscience

From Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Whitey Bulger to portrayals of psychopaths in television and film—Dexter, Hannibal, Kalifornia, The Silence of the Lambs, and Changeling—psychopaths captivated us.  But what do we really know about them?  How can we understand their actions?

In THE PSYCHOPATH WHISPERER: The Science of Those Without Conscience , Dr. Kent Kiehl, one of the world’s leading researchers into psychopaths, recounts his two decades working with psychopaths and studying their brain processes.  Kiehl, who designed the world’s first mobile fMRI system to study psychopaths in prison populations, has collected the world’s largest repository of brain scans from psychopaths and violent criminals, interviewing and testing the brains of more than five hundred psychopaths and over three thousand criminal offenders.

In THE PSYCHOPATH WHISPERER, Kiehl explores the science of psychopathy, drawing on his extensive experience and his own original research to illuminate the mind and brain of psychopaths and to answer such fundamental questions as: Are psychopaths shaped by their environment and upbringing?  Or are they innately born with the traits? Kiehl argues that the answers lie in understanding the differences in brain structure and function. 

Kiehl explains that for the first one-hundred and fifty years of studying psychopaths, experts didn’t have a solid diagnostic instrument to assess individuals.  It was only with the Psychopathy Checklist, created in 1991 by Dr. Robert Hare, Kiehl’s mentor that scientists have had a diagnostic tool that has served as the gold standard for psychopathy. The checklist includes twenty traits of socially deviant behavior, including pathological lying; lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse; grandiose sense of self-worth; manipulation; and failure to accept one’s actions, among others.  The reader will come away with an understanding of how scientists score psychopathic traits as well as how to recognize psychopathic traits in those outside of prison. Among the questions Kiehl poses about psychopaths in the book are:  What percentage of the general population suffers from psychopathy? What do you do if you discover your roommate or romantic interest has traits that define a psychopath?

THE PSYCHOPATH WHISPERER offers an array of startling facts throughout the book, such as the fact that:

70% of psychopaths in the U.S. are incarcerated

One in four maximum-security inmates is a psychopath

Psychopaths are six times likelier than other criminals to commit new crimes after release from prison

Incarceration in a maximum security juvenile prison can cost $514,000 per youth, per year

The cost of crime in the U.S. is $3.2 trillion per year—greater than expenditures for all health care