Thursday, June 12, 2008

What's A Sociopath?

As my fourth and final post for Clink Week here at Shrink Rap, I have been inspired by Roy (again). I was curious about our different reactions to the character Tippi Hedron played in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Marnie. Roy pointed to different aspects of her personality to say that she wasn't a sociopath, so it got me thinking about why I reacted so differently. We've already speculated about whether or not Darth Vader had borderline personality disorder, so lets progress to another Cluster B disorder by talking about Marnie.

First of all, sociopathy per se does not exist in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It was originally conceived in the mid-nineteenth century as "moral insanity", in other words a defect in moral reasoning. Even then there was argument about whether or not this constituted a "real" mental disorder.

Later in the Twentieth Century sociopathy was further refined by Hervey Cleckley's book The Mask of Sanity. His series of case reports of psychopaths formed the basis for Robert Hare's later Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a tool that is in common use in forensic settings. Both of these sources describe several core features of psychopathy:

  • a parasitic lifestyle, the ability to control or manipulate others
  • superficial charm, glibness, pathological lying
  • criminal versatility
  • lack of remorse, inability to empathize or lack of regard for impact on others
  • shallow or feigned emotions
  • early behavior problems, impulsive or unstable adult behavior
The descriptions go on and on, but those are some of the main aspects. So, that being said, how does Marnie stack up?

Well, what struck me at first was her level of ease and comfort while committing her crimes. She took her time, observed her workplace surroundings, kept her cool and escaped without breaking a sweat. She readily used aliases and multiple false identities, and her facile lying ability allowed her to quickly gain the confidence of the employers who later became her victims. Many people commented on her confidence, poise, intelligence and charm. She showed no apparent remorse nor did she ever even comment upon the damage her crimes inflicted on others. It's true that she was committing crimes to buy the love of her mother, as Roy suggests, but she showed a startling level of callousness to a young girl in her mother's care who also needed attention. She loved her horse, an attachment that seemed to be her only genuine emotion. Although she agreed to marry Connery, her love for him is closely tied to his willingness to help her as he made restitution for her crimes and took steps to help her avoid prosecution. As far as the impulsive or unstable lifestyle goes, one of the most intense scenes in the movie took place after she shot her horse (her only strong consistent relationship) when it seemed she might shoot Connery as well.

And for the last criteria---the early childhood behavior problems---well, you'll have to watch the movie to find out what that was. Let's just say it's not the behavior of a typical child. (I'm amazed she was so strong for such a little kid!)

So that's why I thought Marnie was a sociopath, for those who are interested in them.

I'm going to let Dinah out from under the floorboards now.