Psychopathy: A controversial & challenging concept

Date & time

4–5pm 24 November 2015




Professor David J Cooke, Glasgow Caledonian University

Prof David Cooke is a Consultant Forensic Clinical Psychologist and former head of the Forensic Clinical Psychology service in Glasgow. He is currently the Professor of Forensic Clinical Psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University and a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway. He undertakes research on psychopathic disorder, the risk management of violent offenders and the impact of institutional settings on violent and disturbed behavior. He has published widely in the field and he serves on a number of editorial boards and expert groups.

David is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was President of the European Association of Psychology and Law (2009 – 2012). In 2006 he received the Senior Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Forensic Psychology from the Division of Forensic Psychology of the British Psychological Society. In 2012 he received the David the Invincible Medal from the Armenian Philosophical Academy. David is called frequently to provide expert evidence in courts in the UK on matters of risk. He has provided workshops on violence risk assessment and psychopathic personality disorder in the UK, Europe, Australia, North America, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, the Middle East, Far East and the Caribbean.



Psychopathy remains a controversial concept yet its importance for clinical and forensic decision-making increases. Psychopathy can affect violence risk, treatment responsivity and engagement with risk management strategies. Many controversies in the field are underpinned by operationalism—the confusion between the concept and the measurement of that concept. A key problem has been inadequate construct explication; this has led to inadequate measurement. I will outline our attempts to describe the psychological terrain that constitutes psychopathy: The Comprehensive Assessment of Psychopathic Personality entails 33 symptoms rationally allocated into six conceptual domains. I will use the CAPP model to explore four areas of controversy. First, what are the core features of the disorder? Second, do these features combine into meaningful dimensions and meaningful configurations of dimensions? Third, in what ways is the expression of psychopathic traits affected by gender, culture and comorbid mental conditions? Fourth, does knowledge of psychopathic traits assist in prognostications about future offending? I will argue that for both effective clinical and forensic decision-making our challenge is to develop a precise, detailed, nuanced and systematic understanding of the configuration of symptoms in any individual patient.


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