Experts Say There Are Key Differences Between American Psychopaths and Those in Europe

A psychopath, by definition, is someone who suffers from a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior. Recently, new research from a study done among American and Dutch psychopaths has shown that there are key differences between the two. But what does it all mean? We broke down the research to discuss what these differences say about society.

The study looked at 7,450 psychopaths from the United States and the Netherlands

A support group sitting in a circle and talking

This study found plenty of people with psychopathic behavior to learn from. | Bowdenimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The study was conducted using three large groups: Two from the U.S. and one from the Netherlands. One U.S. group was created from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and consisted of 1,559 people. The second U.S. group consisted of 3,954 general offenders from Wisconsin. Of those tested, about 21% in the U.S. were deemed psychopaths, and 28% in the Netherlands were deemed psychopaths. (It should be noted that the groups contained general criminals, not psychopaths, which is why only a certain percent proved to be psychopathic.)

To conduct the study, the groups were analyzed using the Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (PC-R). The PC-R test asks 20 questions that focus on a range of traits related to psychopathy’s four aspects: affect, lifestyle, interpersonal, and antisocial.

Next: What do these aspects mean? 

Let’s break down the ‘aspects’ of the PC-R

a woman with a pen in her hand sitting and talking to another woman across from her

Here’s a breakdown of the four aspects of psychopathy. | Julief514/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The four aspects of the PC-R refer to different areas of a person’s life. Affect refers to a lack of empathy, fearlessness, or shallow emotional experience. Interpersonal refers to detachment, such as being a pathological liar or having a manipulative personality. Lifestyle is in relation to whether or not a person is irresponsible or doesn’t have control of their behaviors. Finally, antisocial is related to behavioral problems with other people; it often leads to criminal behavior later in life.

Next: Here’s the U.S. trait and aspect that appeared the most. 

U.S. psychopaths lack empathy

Two angry businesspeople sitting next to each other in an office

The test found this to be true for Americans. |

When the two U.S. groups were given this test, callousness/lack of empathy proved to be very common among U.S. psychopaths. It was considered the most “central” of all of the traits and fell under the affect aspect. The researchers noted that the lack of empathy trait was very common among clinical psychopaths. However, psychopaths from the Netherlands had different results.

Next: This trait proved to be the most common among Dutch psychopaths. 

Dutch psychopaths are more ‘irresponsible’ than American psychopaths

Couple paying bills online at home

If you’re a Dutch psychopath, you may be less likely to pay your bills on time. |

Although a lack of empathy was fairly common among the Dutch psychopaths as well, Dutch psychopaths showed two traits that American psychopaths did not. The first was irresponsibility, which falls under the lifestyle aspect. Examples of irresponsibility would be failing to fulfill commitments — paying the bills, not showing up to work, not keeping one’s end of the bargain, etc. Dutch psychopaths were more likely to fall through with their obligations.

Next: Here’s where Dutch and American psychopaths also differ. 

Dutch psychopaths live a ‘parasitic’ lifestyle

unhappy couple sitting on opposite sides of the couch

A “parasitic lifestyle” often means one person is relying on another way too much. | Image Source/Getty Images

The Dutch also proved more likely to live a parasitic lifestyle — this is another trait under the lifestyle aspect. In a parasitic lifestyle, one person lives off of another person, which results in harm to the other person. This kind of lifestyle can be common among psychopaths because they often rely on others for financial dependency without giving anything in return.

Next: This trait played the smallest role among American psychopaths. 

‘Short-term marriages’ played the smallest role in determining psychopathy in Americans

Senior couple walking in the park

Being divorced doesn’t necessarily point to psychopathy, experts say. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Some of the peripheral traits, meaning the traits the did not affect whether or not someone was diagnosed with psychopathy, differed greatly between the two countries. In the U.S. groups, the three traits that appeared to be unrelated to psychopathy were “short-term marriages,” “a lack of realistic long-term goals,” and “revocation of conditional release.” (The third trait refers to those who violated their probation.)

Each of these traits could be found among any group of criminals in the U.S., so it makes sense why they didn’t play a role in determining psychopathy. Plus, the U.S. has a 53% divorce rate, which shows that divorce is common among many other groups of people — it is not particular to psychopaths.

Next: One of the most common traits in American psychopaths appeared to be the opposite in Dutch psychopaths. 

In Dutch psychopaths, ‘lack of empathy’ played the smallest role in determining psychopathy

blond girl complaining with tears and hands hiding her face

Lacking empathy isn’t necessarily a sign of psychopathy for the Dutch. |

In American psychopaths, a lack of empathy was a strong sign of psychopathy. However, for the Dutch, “lack of empathy” was a peripheral trait — it was unrelated to the diagnosis. So, the two countries were opposites when it came to the importance of “lack of empathy” in determining a diagnosis.

Next: The Dutch had another peripheral trait that differed from the Americans.

‘Promiscuous sexual behavior’ also played a very small role for the Dutch

female legs peeking out of a pencil skirt from the back

Dutch and American psychopaths definitely don’t have this in common. |

Aside from lack of empathy, the Dutch had another trait that played almost no role: promiscuous sexual behavior. Although this trait was not “central” in American psychopathy, it did play a significant role — opposite from the Dutch. This shows that the traits that determine Dutch psychopaths and American psychopaths are extremely inconsistent.

Next: What does it all mean? 

What do these results mean?

a man and woman looking at each other lovingly in bed

Cultural differences could be the reason for these differences. |

It can be a handful to comprehend what kind of conclusions all of these results have drawn. According to the researchers, the difference in central and peripheral traits between American and Dutch psychopaths raises two hypotheses: 1. There could be cultural differences in how psychopathy manifests itself in Europeans versus Americans. 2. European psychiatrists could measure or rate psychopathy differently than American psychiatrists.

Next: What are the next steps? 

The next steps in the study

Friends on a couch taking a selfie together

The next step might be testing out different cultures. |

Researchers can’t draw a full conclusion yet — more studies are necessary. The researchers suggested that extending the same analyses to different samples and cultures would be an accurate way to determine if European and American psychopaths are truly that different. They suggest that these findings could draw better conclusions about what psychopathy is and how it is defined from one country to another.

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