Do male and female psychopaths have different beliefs about morality?

New research published in Personality and Mental Health investigated whether psychopathic men and women have different moral concerns.

“I’m interested in gender differences in psychopathy and how men and women differ in what they believe is morally important in their lives,” said Leah Efferson of the University of Alabama, the corresponding author of the study.

“This study was a perfect way to combine both interests. Research also suggests that males and females higher in psychopathy might differ on moral constructs, and I wanted to explore that.”

The study of 2,916 U.S. adults was based on moral foundations theory, which holds that our moral judgments are based on five foundations that exist universally.

“It seems as though males and females higher in psychopathy do not differ substantially in five different moral intuitions: preventing harm, preserving fairness, respecting authority, being loyal to an in-group, and practicing purity,” Efferson told PsyPost.

“However, we did replicate previous findings that females view preventing harm and preserving fairness as being more important to them than males. Also, people who scored higher in psychopathy viewed preventing harm and preserving fairness as being less important than those who scored lower in psychopathy.”

The researchers used the Moral Foundations Questionnaire to assess morality, but Efferson noted that many questions on the survey are specific to physical harm.

“One question that I’m interested in exploring further is the type of harm that males and females higher in psychopathy endorse as being morally acceptable,” she explained. “That is, do females tend to endorse harming others more passively, such as through manipulation, whereas males endorse harming others physically? Our study only asked about the physical harm, so it’s hard to say.”

“I’m excited to see more research in the future that explores gender differences in the relationship between psychopathy and morality,” Efferson concluded. “These are important topics to study if we want to figure out why males and females commit antisocial and criminal behaviors.”

The study, “The influence of gender on the relationship between psychopathy and five moral foundations“, was also co-authored by Andrea Glenn, Rheanna Remmel, and Ravi Iyer.