Mind of a Killer: Psychopaths Reveal Selves With Words

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This is believed to be a new approach to analyzing the actions of psychopaths, although there has been much research into the psychopathic mind. Other studies have shown psychopaths have an inflated and immutable sense of self-worth, thinking the world is "theirs for the taking." They are nearly always men, and contrary to a common image, most are not stupid.

But why would language -- or the words used to describe a violent crime -- be very telling? Because many "are skilled conversationalists and use language to lie to, charm, and ultimately use others for material gain, drugs, sex, or power," the study says.

So the researchers ended up with words, more than 120,000 of them, from the interviews, which they pumped into their computers. The psychopaths used about "twice as many words related to basic physiological needs, including eating, drinking and monetary resources when describing their murder" than the 38 killers who were not considered psychopaths.

A decade ago, when Hancock and his colleague Michael Woodworth were both working on their doctorates, they thought of combining their interests -- Hancock was studying language and Woodworth was studying psychopaths -- to see if they could find insights into the mind of a psychopath by the language he used.

They think they have found that, in this "leading edge" study, as Hancock put it, because the words are not purely voluntary. They are "beyond conscious control," and thus revealing.

But can language really telegraph the intentions of a very sick mind? Maybe, but Hancock said this "is not going to be the kind of thing where people will run an algorithm and label this person a psychopath.

"It's going to be one tool that an investigator or clinician can use in an overall assessment," he said.

As many other studies have shown, even a twisted mind knows how to hide, as we have seen so tragically and so frequently in the human pageant.

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