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Here we review the most cited scientific works in the field of psychopathy.   Future reviews will include the latest papers that highlight significant developments in the science of psychopaths.

Top Psychopathy Works

Hare, R.D. (1991; 2003) Manual for the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (Hare PCL-R). Multi-Health Systems, Toronto, CA.

The Hare PCL-R is the main tool researchers and clinicians use to assess psychopathic traits.  It was originally published in 1991 and a revised in 2003.  The manual is only available to professionals.  The Hare PCL-R is well described in Dr. Hare’s book Without Conscience and also in Dr. Kiehl’s book The Psychopath Whisperer: The science of those without conscience.

 Google scholar ranking:  5209 citations (as of 03.27.04)


Blair, R.J.R. (1995).  A cognitive developmental approach to morality: Investigating the psychopath. Cognition 57 (1), 1-29.

This article describes a psychological model for immoral behavior in psychopaths.  The model makes predictions and tests hypotheses in a sample of 10 psychopaths and 10 nonpsychopaths.  This is an influential paper in the field of psychopathy establishing Dr. Blair’s Violence Inhibition Mechanism (VIM).

Google scholar ranking: 905 citations (as of 03.27.14).


Lykken, D.T.  A study of anxiety in the sociopathic personality.  The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol 55(1), Jul 1957, 6-10.

An oldie but a goodie.  It was the first paper to show that psychopaths show less palm sweating (skin conductance) in anticipation of punishment.  Basically, psychopaths don’t worry about punishment and so don’t learn from bad experiences in the same way the rest of us do.

Google scholar ranking:  894 citations (as of 03.27.04).


Harpur, T.J., Hare, R.D., & Hakstian (1989).  Two-factor conceptualization of psychopathy: Construct validity and assessment implications. Psychological Assessment, 1 (1), 6-17.

This paper showed that there are two components to psychopathic traits – one component includes interpersonal and affective traits (i.e., glibness, lack of empathy, guilt and remorse) and the other component contains traits measuring impulsivity and life-course trajectory (i.e., hot headedness and poor behavioral controls, early childhood problems before the age of 12, serious adolescent antisocial behavior, and continued behavior as an adult).

Google scholar ranking:  830 citations (as of 03.27.14).


Top Brain Imaging Papers in Psychopathy

Kiehl, K.A., Smith, A.M., Hare, R.D., Forster, B.B., & Liddle, P.F. (2001). Limbic abnormalities in affective processing in criminal psychopaths as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Biological Psychiatry, 50, 677-684. PMID: 11704074.

Google scholar ranking:  548 citations (as of 03.27.14).

This was the first functional MRI publication in criminal psychopaths.  Authors reported limbic (emotional) brain problems in psychopaths during processing of emotional stimuli.


Birbaumer, N., Veit, R., Lotze, M., Erb, M., Hermann, C., Grodd, W., & Flor, H.  (2005). Deficient fear conditioning in psychopathy: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 799-805.

Google scholar ranking:  449 citations (as of 03.27.14).

Following Lykken’s model of low anxiety in response to punishment stimuli, this study found psychopaths showed less brain activity in limbic regions than nonpsychopaths when facing punishment stimuli.   The study included individuals with low to moderate psychopathy scores (Hare PCL-R scores from 10-31).


Yang, Y., Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., LaCasse, L., & Colletti, P. (2005). Volume reduction in prefrontal gray matter in unsuccessful criminal psychopaths.  Biological psychiatry, 57 (10), 1103-1108.

Google scholar ranking: 206 citations (as of 03.27.14).

Study reported that psychopaths showed reduced gray matter (brain volumes) in parts of the frontal lobes.


Kiehl, K.A., Smith, A.M., Mendrek, A., Forster, B.B., Hare, R.D., & Liddle, P.F.  (2004).Temporal lobe abnormalities in semantic processing by criminal psychopaths as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 130 (1), 27-42.

Google scholar ranking: 176 citations (as of 03.27.14).

First paper to implicate the anterior temporal pole in psychopaths.   This anterior temporal pole is part of the paralimbic system of the brain.



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