This blog post aims to answer the question, “Does a psychopath know right from wrong?” and explore psychopathy, and the traits, behaviours and tendencies of a psychopath to help understand the answer.
Does a psychopath know right from wrong?
Yes, a psychopath does know right from wrong. Psychopaths have a normal sense of good and wrong, but poor morally acceptable behaviour control.
It can be said that a psychopath knows right from wrong due to the following 5 reasons –
- Psychopaths are well aware of societal norms and laws.
- Psychopaths are accountable for their behaviour.
- Psychopaths are morally irresponsible.
- Psychopaths are two-faced for self-interests.
- Psychopaths are intentionally manipulative.
What are these 5 reasons why psychopaths know right from wrong?
Psychopaths are well aware of societal norms and laws.
A psychopath is well aware of which acts are acceptable and which are not in polite society.
As a result, kids understand what is right and wrong for them, as well as how the laws of right and wrong function in general. They know them so well that they can utilise them to predict and control their victims’ actions.
Psychopaths are accountable for their behaviour.
Fast forward to the present, and most countries’ legal systems are free of similar issues. Psychopaths are commonly believed to be totally accountable for their behaviour.
Psychopaths are not deemed crazy, unlike psychotics, who are not held accountable for their crimes due to their insanity. They have a personality disorder rather than a mental illness. They go to jail, not a mental hospital if they are guilty of a crime.
Psychopaths are notorious for convincing their victims that they are lovely individuals at the outset of a relationship. The negative behaviour begins only after the victim is ‘caught.’ Potential victims are initially unaware of this domineering, brutal feature. This is done on purpose.
Psychopaths are morally irresponsible.
Psychiatrists and sociologists have pondered the topic, “Do psychopaths discern good from wrong?” since the seventeenth century. They were perplexed by and observing a group of people at the time who seemed to be able to choose to do terrible or evil things with ease and not be affected by it.
Even after being discovered and penalised for doing something ‘wrong,’ these persons continued to participate in unlawful, morally incorrect, or immoral activities. Initially, it was assumed that they were incapable of learning from their mistakes.
‘Moral insanity, “moral idiot,’ and ‘morally irresponsible’ were among the terms employed. It produced issues for a while since the judicial system couldn’t decide whether these people should be imprisoned or transferred to asylums for mental health treatment when they were found guilty of crimes.
Psychopaths are two-faced for self-interests.
Another prevalent trait of psychopaths is that they present a public persona to others outside the home while assaulting their spouse behind closed doors.
Outsiders are kept in the dark about the psychopath’s abusive character, which is done on purpose to protect the psychopath’s reputation. These are not things that a psychopath would mess up.
Psychopaths are intentionally manipulative.
Psychopaths abuse reciprocity. They may, for example, do something nice for their victim and then claim that they have done them a favour.
The victim develops a sense of debt or responsibility as a result of this. They believe they owe the manipulator something, and it’s tough for the victim to say no when the manipulator comes to collect, even if the victim never asked for a favour in the first place. The psychopath is aware of this and has no qualms about using the victim.
A psychopath will also do a tiny favour in exchange for a large one. For example, a cult leader who lends someone a book in exchange for sexual favours, or a psychopath who gives his girlfriend money to purchase lunch but then demands her to pay hundreds toward his monthly vehicle payment even though he says he doesn’t have the money.
A psychopath will also do a favour once and expect to be compensated for it again. A manipulator who assisted with paperwork for a job project years ago but wants the victim to do their taxes every year for decades, or a psychopath who vacuumed once 6 months ago and expects their wife to do it for the rest of the year, are two examples.
The psychopath has no qualms about informing the victim of debt. “I’ve always been generous, kind, and compassionate. It’s now your turn “is a well-known message.
The manipulator has no feeling of duty or obligation to repay a favour if someone performs them a favour due to their psychopathic nature.
Psychopaths have no inclination to repay a favour, but they are well aware that others are obligated to do so. The psychopath is also aware that they are feeling this way because it is the correct thing to do.
Because they realise that people are motivated to do the right thing, they will utilise guilt and shame to persuade people to return favours.
For obvious reasons, societies have laws and regulations. People who follow the rules do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. Psychopaths are aware of this and will use it to manipulate others into acting in specific ways.
What does research say about psychopaths’ understanding of right and wrong?
Moral judgements are impacted by intellect, intuition, and emotions, but the relationship between the three in making moral judgments is not well understood. Emotional processing was assumed to be required in the process of making such decisions.
In 2010, research published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience attempted to address the issue of “can psychopaths discern right from wrong?” using a different premise than normal. They questioned if the psychopath was aware of the distinction but had a problem with immoral conduct management.
They looked at psychopaths, non-psychopathic criminals, and healthy people. They prompted them to make moral decisions in circumstances involving personal harm (physical touch) and impersonal harm (no physical contact) (no physical contact or injury).
Their findings revealed that all groups believed that scenarios involving impersonal injury were more acceptable than those involving personal harm.
Despite the fact that psychopaths have impaired emotional processing (as well as different actions than the control group), there was no difference in moral judgements made concerning personal or impersonal circumstances.
And, despite the fact that the psychopaths’ scores on the Hare Psychopath Checklist-Revised differed and the nature of their crimes differed, these characteristics had no impact on their moral judgements.
Despite their emotional abnormalities, psychopaths were able to form moral judgements that were comparable to those of delinquents or normal persons. This implies that psychopaths are aware of the distinction between good and wrong.
The authors speculate that aberrant emotional processing has a role in how people evaluate judgements and how they choose activities. In other words, when it comes to their conduct, the psychopath doesn’t care if it’s ethically correct or bad.
Psychopaths can differentiate right from wrong, according to other research. So, how do we explain the above-mentioned moral irresponsibility? Why do psychopaths continue to conduct terrible or incorrect things despite being punished for it?
It is assumed that they are less concerned with long-term implications and are more concerned with immediate enjoyment. They are aware that they are breaking the law and that there will be consequences if they are found, yet they are unconcerned.
They’re looking for instant pleasure, and they’re looking for it now. This explains why individuals appear to be incapable of learning or ignorant in some way, which is rarely the case.
Much has been written on psychopaths’ self-awareness and motivations; they appear to be aware that they are different from the rest of us and actively strive to damage and suffer others.
Do psychopaths, on the other hand, understand the distinction between right and wrong, and do they understand that the things they do to others are wrong?
Psychopaths are aware that what they are doing is wrong academically and cognitively, as proven by the fact that they are stealthy and covert in how they do evil against others, and they also go to the same extent as everyone else to hide and conceal their activities.
Psychopaths, on the other hand, have arrogance and entitlement that makes them believe they are free to transgress moral and ethical boundaries whenever it suits them.
The crux of the problem here is a fine line between not knowing the rules and just deciding not to obey them. Psychopaths are fully aware of what other people consider to be morally and ethically correct and incorrect behaviour, but they regard these norms with scorn and disgust, believing that they are above them.
They will follow them if it is essential to integrate into society undetected, but they are uninterested in following them because they are good or moral.
The lack of empathy that distinguishes psychopaths is also a major contributor here because, without empathy, psychopaths are unable to feel how their actions affect others, even if they comprehend cognitively that certain actions are morally “good” or “wrong” in the eyes of others.
The psychopath stands out from the rest of us because he or she lacks this emotional fail-safe, which makes them an extremely hazardous sort of personality while out in the world. Let’s take a look at a psychopath’s concept of good and wrong from a few different angles.
This blog post aimed to answer the question, “Does a psychopath know right from wrong?” and reviewed psychopathy and the traits, behaviours and tendencies of a psychopath to help determine if a psychopath knows right from wrong. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.
Cima, M., Tonnaer, F., & Hauser, M. D. (2010). Psychopaths know right from wrong but don’t care. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 5(1), 59–67. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2840845/
Cima, Maaike & Tonnaer, Franca & Hauser, Marc. (2010). Psychopaths Know Right from Wrong but Don’t Care. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience. 5. 59-67. 10.1093/scan/nsp051. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/40869701_Psychopaths_Know_Right_from_Wrong_but_Don’t_Care
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Cima, M., Tonnaer, F., & Hauser, M.D. (2010). Psychopaths know right from wrong but don’t care. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 5 1, 59-67. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Psychopaths-know-right-from-wrong-but-don%27t-care.-Cima-Tonnaer/9a372536de983cc19a18f304dbffd891c84cbc63
Fox, A. R., Kvaran, T. H., & Fontaine, R. G. (2013). Psychopathy and Culpability: How Responsible Is the Psychopath for Criminal Wrongdoing? Law & Social Inquiry, 38(1), 1–26. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/23357736
Li S, Ding D, Lai J, Zhang X, Wu Z, Liu C. The Characteristics of Moral Judgment of Psychopaths: The Mediating Effect of the Deontological Tendency. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2020;13:257-266. Retrieved from https://www.dovepress.com/the-characteristics-of-moral-judgment-of-psychopaths-the-mediating-eff-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-PRBM