Mental Health

New study links psychopathic tendencies to racial prejudice and right-wing authoritarianism

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Pathological personality traits are associated with prejudicial views, according to new research published in Personality and Individual Differences. The findings indicate that people with calloused, deceitful, and manipulative interpersonal styles are more likely to endorse right-wing authoritarianism and express hostile attitudes towards marginalized groups.

“My interest in the relationship between pathological personality traits, such as those captured by psychopathy, and prejudicial tendencies originated from my experiences working with offenders in the Arizona correctional system prior to graduate school,” said study author Sandeep Roy, a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas.

“I noticed offenders who were elevated in psychopathic propensities, as measured by the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 2003), frequently used racial epithets to denigrate me and other staff. When I began studying this personality disorder more in my graduate training, I noticed a paucity of literature relating psychopathy to prejudice.”

“Given the increase in hate-based violence in the last few years, I wanted to explore if certain personality traits traditionally studied in the realm of clinical psychology may be predictive of prejudice and provide empirical research on this understudied topic. Psychopathy is particularly relevant to prejudice given that facets of the disorder, such as callousness or lack of empathy, are predictive of prejudicial tendencies.”

In the study, 386 Croatian undergraduate students and 378 Greek undergraduate students completed assessments of social dominance orientation (a measure of support for social power inequalities and hierarchy), right-wing authoritarianism, psychopathy and prejudicial views.

The measure of psychopathy used in the study, the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale-Short Form (SRP-SF), breaks down psychopathic personality features into four factors: a manipulative and deceptive interpersonal style, callousness and lack of empathy, impulsivity, and overt antisocial tendencies.

The researchers found that heightened interpersonal and affective psychopathic traits were positively associated with social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism, which in turn were linked to increased anti-immigrant attitudes towards Middle-Eastern refugees and distrust of minorities.

“The findings of the study suggest that psychopathic traits, particularly the calloused and deceptive traits, are robustly associated with the tendency to prefer a society that keeps marginalized groups low in status and power and are also predictive of the propensity to use aggression towards violators of traditional social norms, both of which are salient predictors of a variety of prejudicial attitudes,” Roy explained to PsyPost.

The findings are line with previous research from Austria, which found people with “dark” personality characteristics — including psychopathic traits — were more likely to vote for a right-wing, anti-immigrant presidential candidate.

Roy’s new study also found evidence that psychopathic tendencies were directly tied to prejudicial views.

“Psychopathic traits were still predictive of prejudice towards Middle-Eastern immigrants and distrust of minorities after taking these prejudicial social attitudes into account, indicating pathological personality traits, such as those captured by psychopathy, are predictive of increased tendencies to devalue marginalized groups,” Roy said.

Impulsive lifestyle traits, however, were associated with lower levels of prejudicial views, which is “in line with conceptualizations of explicit prejudice as a stable characteristic,” the researchers said.

“A major caveat is that the study was conducted with young adults so further research in populations clinically elevated in psychopathy (i.e., offenders) is warranted. Additionally, the current study mainly used self-report measures for both personality and prejudice so future studies using different assessment methods like clinical ratings and behavioral tasks indexing prejudice can certainly help further our understanding of these associations,” Roy noted.

“I believe the field of clinical psychology has acknowledged that the experience of prejudice can be a source of substantial distress for those impacted by it. However, very little attention has been given by our field to understanding the underlying traits of those predisposed to hold these negative beliefs,” the researcher added.

“Additionally, few researchers have attempted to integrate our understanding of clinical disorders with the considerable literature indicating individual variation in the propensity to hold prejudicial attitudes. I hope this study and others can provide a foundation of empirical research to help inform risk assessment and treatment of those with personality profiles predisposed to devaluing marginalized groups.”

The study, “Psychopathic propensities contribute to social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism in predicting prejudicial attitudes in a large European sample“, was authored by Sandeep Roy, Craig S. Neumann, Daniel N. Jones, Aikaterini Gari, and Zlatko Šram.

(Image by supervennix from Pixabay)