Name: James Hua
Student Number: 08623791
Tutor: Julie-Anne Carroll


Image source: Tim Cordell's Cartoon archive
This psychopath cartoon was produced by Tim Cordell – a freelance cartoonist prominent for his satirical cartoons on society. The artefact displays guide to drawing psychopath facial expressions in cartoons and Cordell humorously exaggerates yet highlights his message that psychopaths are characterised as lacking emotional responsiveness, primarily remorse or guilt. He portrays this by drawing the same faces for each emotion and setting the colour scheme to black and white to emphasize the emotional monotony.


"If a person suffers from a condition which makes it

genuinely difficult to empathise and appreciate the impact of his or her

actions on others, should that person be held responsible for his or her

conduct?" (NSW Law Reform Commission, 2010).

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Cordell depicts psychopaths as emotionally vacant, leaving food for thought that allows one to wonder why criminal psychopaths are this way and whether they bear responsibility for their crimes. Emphasis on aggressive and violent criminals is made in research; however psychopathy is an exclusive case which holds various personality and behavioural features, requiring constructed models of diagnosis for health and law practitioners (Glenn & Raine, 2008). Psychopathy is defined as a disorder – using Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R) (2008) and its characteristics include poor behavioural controls, a minimum capacity for remorse (Blair, 2003), deficits in effective interactions with others, pathological lying, lack of empathy, impulsivity and narcissism (Ogloff & Davis, 2005).

Psychopaths are shown to possess a high rate of recidivism (Fox, Kvaran & Fontaine, 2011), with generally only 15-20% not reoffending in violent crimes upon release from prison (Ogloff & Davis, 2005); thus possess a danger to society. In Australian law, there is much uncertainty about the classification of psychopathy as a defence for mental illness in crime, due to the primary obstacle of proving the individual was in fact unaware of the quality of the wrongness of their deed (NSW Law Reform Commission, 2010). Thus at present psychopaths are held criminally responsible without defence for insanity (Morse, 2008).

More studies are now focussing in on this controversial subject, for the issue of justice to a criminal psychopath. Analysis of the main determinants of this disorder – biological, social and environmental – have been extensive and studies involving the validity of criminal responsibility of a psychopath are also ongoing. Traditionally, psychopathy studies have been emphasizing a biological and genetic basis to the matter, and treatment for the disorder has traditionally been deemed untreatable (NSW Law Reform Commission, 2010). With evidence of social and environmental risk factors coming into play, the main issue proposes itself: Do social and environmental determinants matter and how should they be used to treat criminal psychopaths and psychopaths at risk of criminal behaviour?


The debates regarding the determinants of violent criminals have been extensive and ongoing for centuries. However it was not until the early 20th century that studies in criminals been investigated through academic methodologies and produced in academic literature. Psychopathology can be defined as either the scientific study of mental disorders or termed as a mental or behavioural disorder (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Biology has formed a large basis of psychopathology in psychopaths. Antisocial behaviour, the foundation of criminal activity in later life, shows association with negative health behaviours such as drug abuse, self-abuse and mental disorders (Fletcher, T., 2012). Psychopaths in society who suffer mental or personality disorders are reported to contain reduced volume grey matter levels in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) within the prefrontal cortex and in the right superior temporal gyrus (Weber, Habel, Amunts & Schneider, 2008; Fox et al., 2011; Glenn & Raine, 2008). It is important to note that as a methodological limitation, studies however have also shown that such damage to the OFC can be caused by drug use rather than an early neurological basis for psychopathy (Weber et al., 2008; Fox et al., 2011; Blair, 2003). Furthermore, convicted psychopaths suffer volume losses in the posterior hippocampus and amygdala; exaggerated structural hippocampal asymmetry, and an increase in callosal white matter volume evident in antisocial psychopaths (Weber et al., 2008). Through these findings, it is suggested that brain abnormalities in the prefrontal-tempero-limbic circuit – areas involved in emotions and learning – are associated with psychopathy. (Weber et al., 2008).external image 410296ac.0.jpg

For psychopathy, The amygdala has been a significant consideration among researchers, linking associations of amygdala dysfunction with increased levels of aggression and instrumental – or planned – aggression and difficulty with aversive conditioning – negative stimuli to undesirable behaviours (Fox et al., 2011; Blair, Peschardt, Budhani, Mitchell & Pine, 2006; Blair, 2003). There is even evidence for genetic factors in amygdala dysfunction (Glenn, 2008). Moral socialisation – the process of learning the right and wrong of their society – is led by amygdala dysfunction. Thus, as psychopathic individuals never learn to associate criminal behaviours with negative emotions, they feel no incentive to not harm others for perceived personal gain (Fox et al., 2011; Blair, 2003).

Neurotransmitters and Neuroendocrinology reveal another aspect to the biological perspectives of psychopathy. Neurotransmitter studies show psychopathy associations with increased ratios of dopamine metabolite homovanillic acid (HVA) to serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), leading to impaired regulation of dopamine, causing more aggressive impulsivity (Glenn, Raine, 2008). Lack of serotonin activity is also associated with low levels of the hormone cortisol , and inversely associated with testosterone, giving a higher chance for violent aggression tendencies (Glenn, Raine, 2008). This creates a link between neurotransmitters and hormones to the psychopathology of sociopaths.

It is important to note that in some cases subjects are compared to inadequate control groups that may limit the accuracy of the findings (Weber et al., 2008). Also, the PCL-R model for determining psychopathic individuals is varied among different studies which base their findings with the contributions of others with lower or higher cut-off scores; and the methodological differences in MRI data and processing may all contribute to reduction of comparability of the studies (Weber et al., 2008).

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The question of genetics’ role in psychopath biology brings closer the answer to how predetermined a psychopath is to their biology, contributing to the issue of whether social and environmental interventions are needed. Many studies conclude that although evidence exists for a neurological basis of psychopathy, it is unclear how most of these abnormalities originate (Fox et al., 2011; Blair, 2003). However, some studies have discovered genetic contributions to hormonal dysfunctions such as serotonin (Pridmore, Chambers, McArthur, 2005; Glenn & Raine, 2008). Genetic connections have been found between parent’s antisocial behaviour and behavioural problems in their children, with children expressing psychopathic traits to parents with psychopathic disorders themselves (Goodman & Gotlib, 1999; Lindberg, 2012), paternal violent record history and near-relative guilty of homicide (Lindberg, 2012). Thomas Fletcher (2012) states that although genetic and biological factors may play a role in psychopathy, so do environmental and social risk factors.

Past research has stated a contribution of environmental factors including early loss of parent, physical/sexual abuse, rejection, and discord in developing children (Finlay-Jones, 1992). More recent sources claim however, that there is a stronger genetic and neurological basis over a social one, as psychopaths are diagnosed with reduced emotional responsiveness, and instead are more likely to elevate emotional responsiveness (Blair et al., 2006). Socioeconomic and cultural factors such as unemployment and antisocial cultural and economic backgrounds have a stronger impact than early childhood social factors (Blair et al., 2006). Environmental factors have been treated through past research as independent to genetic factors; however that is not the case (Fletcher, 2012). A concept in which genetic predisposition risk to violent or antisocial behaviour is interrelated and had a higher possibility of violent behaviour when exposed to environmental disadvantage or high violent crime rates called Gene-Environment Interaction is a highly investigated theory (Barnes & Jacobs, 2012; Skeem, Poythress, Edens, Lilienfield & Cale, 2003). Studies and reviews have confirmed the validity of this theory (Barnes & Jacobs, 2012; Skeem et al., 2003).


The relevance and importance of social determinants in our society and culture stems from philosophical and social theories. In terms of the social concept of structure and agency, only structure applies to the psychopath as they “lack a number of attributes that are ascribed to an ordinary moral agent” (Fox et al., 2011), thus agency is not applicable to a psychopath. This issue sparks the subject of the long running Nature vs. Nurture debate, literally the question of, in this particular case, whether psychopaths are born or made to be. On one side are ideas of genetic and biological determinism, in which psychopaths are predisposed to antisocial behaviour. An opposing nurture supported theory is the idea of Tabula Rasa, or a “blank slate”, developed by philosopher John Locke, proposing that one is born without any predisposition and later behaviour is determined by exposure to certain environments.

From what has been investigated, evidence holds strong for the gene-environment process which produces criminals and psychopaths. As genetics and the environment both play a part, the answer of the significance of social and environmental factors has been answered, leading the following question: Should individuals who are at risks of obtaining psychopathic behaviour traits be incarcerated?

Psychopaths are a subcategory in individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder, and are deprived of “rational capacities that are fundamental for fair ascriptions of blame and punishment” (Morse, 2008). It should be noted that non-criminal psychopaths do not obtain a degree of interpersonal-affective and antisocial traits as high as those of criminal psychopaths (Mahmut, 2008), and consequently are less prone to be conducting criminal activity. Adding with the knowledge that psychopaths lack moral agency, criminal psychopaths – due to not bearing moral responsibility – should not be incarcerated, however should be subject to civil commitment in order to protect the welfare of the community (Fox et al., 2011).

The issue of criminal psychopaths has been addressed, leaving the treatment of young potential criminal psychopaths in question. There the issue of preventing potential criminality among them and ensuring societal welfare poses as such: How can government services and organisations intervene to help prevent environmental risk factors in psychopaths?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1943)
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1943)

As mentioned earlier by Blair (2006), socioeconomic factors are the most likely to have the greatest environmental impact on developing a psychopathic core in individuals. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) lists levels of human potentialities and fulfilment through levels of needs. Along with developing children without criminal records, past of current offenders can also reduce recidivism by having their needs fulfilled (Jones, 2004). Starting with one’s physiological needs to ensure one’s biological survival, Maslow proposes the next level of need to be one of Safety, and to ensure a structured sense of security through improving the socioeconomic status and environment. Through other levels s

uch as social acceptance and esteem requirements Maslow depicts the ultimate level of human potential. Therefore interventions and programs to improve the environment of others to promote better health and socioeconomic status among individuals is crucial to embrace in a public health perspective, in order to prevent the emergence of antisocial psychopaths and ensure the safety of the population.

"A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of

such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks

substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality

[wrongfulness] of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the

requirements of the law."

(Fox et al., 2011)


The first impression of Cordell’s cartoon struck me as humorous however left a deep crevice in my imagination, conjuring up questions regarding the dark nature of psychopaths and the extent of their responsibility in the behaviour they conduct.

It was surprising and interesting to find psychopaths were ingrained in their nature by a myriad of complex factors including genetic predisposition and neurological dysfunction to environmental factors that elevate this predisposition to produce psychopathic traits. As with all criminals, it was an extremely sombre experience to discover the complexities in psychopath development, especially upon researching the determinants of these individuals and discovering the large role of the structural patterns that kept them on their paths, without any opportunity to understand or enjoy moral agency. Knowing that psychopaths and most criminals were given these circumstances during development instead of choosing them helped me understand the great significance of the responsibilities that the public health sector and families must undertake; both creating a better environment and allowing healthier parenting opportunities to develop individuals at risk into respectable law abiding citizens.

Through the research and evaluations undertaken it is enlightening to be able to overcome the once ignorant and fearful attitudes towards criminals in general and to emphatically understand the core determinants of their being and the sad realities of their development. As a health practitioner, there is no doubt that it will be my responsibility – as a human being and as an officer devoted to the welfare of others – to not reduce the quality of life of every human being by mindless and ignorant incarcerations but to allow these feared individuals to grow, understand and embrace the importance of safety and humanitarian values of their society and increase welfare.


Barnes, J. C., & Jacobs, B. A. (2012). (In Press). Genetic Risk for Violent Behavior and Environmental Exposure to Disadvantage and Violent Crime: The Case for Gene-Environment Interaction. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi: 10.1177/0886260512448847

Blair, R. J. (2003). Neurobiological basis of psychopathy. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 182, 5-7.

Blair, R. J., Peschardt, K. S., Budhani, S., Mitchell, D. G., & Pine, D. S. (2006). The development of psychopathy. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(3-4), 262-275.

Finlay-Jones, R. (1992). The childhood of psychopaths. Paper presented at JV Barry Library Catalogue of Australian Institute of Criminology. Retrieved from http://

Fletcher, T. (2012). Born to be wild?. The Lancet, 379(9814), 395.

Fox, A. R., Kvaran, T. H., & Fontaine, R. G. (2011). (In Press). Psychopathy and Culpability: How Responsible is the Psychopath for criminal wrongdoing?. Law and Social Inquiry. Retrieved from

Glenn, A. L., & Raine, A. (2008). The Neurobiology of Psychopathy. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31(3), 463-475.

Goodman, S. H., & Gotlib, I. H. (1999). Risk for psychopathology in the children of depressed mothers: A developmental model for understanding mechanisms of transmission. Psychological Review, 106(3), 458-490.

Hare, R D. (2008). In B. L. Cutler (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Psychology and Law. Retrieved September 29th, 2012 from: DOI: 10.4135/9781412959537.n134

Jones, M. (2004). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Can Lower Recidivism. Corrections Today, 66(4), 18-21.

Lindberg, N. (2012). Psychopathic Features in Adolescence. In H. Häkkänen-Nyholm & J. Nyholm (Eds.), Psychopathy and Law: A Practitioner's Guide (pp. 129-134). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Mahmut, M. K., Homewood, J., & Stevenson, R. J. (2008). The characteristics of non-criminals with high psychopathy traits: Are they similar to criminal psychopaths?. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(3), 679-692.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.

Morse, S. J. (2008). Psychopathy and Criminal Responsibility. Neuroethic, 1(3), 205-212.

NSW Government. (2010, January). People with cognitive and mental health impairments in the criminal justice system: criminal responsibility and consequences. Paper presented at NSW Law Reform Commission. Retrieved from$file/CP06.pdf

Ogloff, J., & Davis, M. R. (2005). Assessing risk for violence in the Australian context. Issues in Australian crime and criminal justice, 301-338.

Pridmore, S., Chambers, A., & McArthur, M. (2005). Neuroimaging in psychopathy.Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 39(10), 856-865.

Skeem, J. L., Poythress, N., Edens, J. F., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Cale, E. M. (2003). Psychopathic personality or personalities? Exploring potential variants of psychopathy and their implications for risk assessment. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 8(5), 513-546.

Weber, S., Habel, U., Amunts, K., & Schneider, F. (2008). Structural Brain Abnormalities in Psychopaths – a Review. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 26(1), 7-28.


Comment 1 -
Name: Georgia Gascoigne
Student Number: 8006199
Wiki Title: A Cruel Injustice - The Controversy Surrounding Elite Female Athletes

Your wiki page was greatly structured and thoughtfully written! It was a good strategy of you to draw readers in with the video, as that did spark a lot of questions in my mind and made me want to continue reading. It was quite surprising to witness the BBC reporter forcefully verifying as if in doubt that her mother truly believes her daughter was a female. Your literature review was well studied by showing scientific & social perspectives of things and nicely consolidates the information to show the true flaws of gender verification based of genuineness of competition. By doing that you highlighted the unfairness of bias and stereotypical classifications towards Caster Semenya. Indeed what you chose is a highly controversial topic, and I found it a nice interesting read.

James Hua

Comment 2 -
Name: Amanda Adams
Student Number: 04373596

Wiki Title: Losing My Religion - Cultural Safety as the Guardian of Spirituality and Religion in Australian Healthcare

Post 1
That was an excellent post, well done! I certainly found the cultural artefact quite humorous - as I myself am an avid fan of House - however I found it to be so much more meaning after reading your page. Your use of statistics and reputable sources is fantastic and you really highlighted the importance of this issue which really made me realise how much I have personally overlooked this topic in the past. The literature review was greatly structured and informative (especially about Aboriginal and Hindu culture) yet meaningful. I found it extremely ironic that one of the top multicultural nations is falling behind in terms of cultural safety and the methods of interventions you have provided sound very strong and effective. I too used to think that resolving cultural safety was just the matter of simply increasing our awareness of other cultures, however it definitely all makes so much sense now to convert the focus onto the practitioner's own beliefs and manner of behaviour, including interpersonal skills that help reduce non-bias in conversations. This was a meaningful and great read, thanks!

Post 2 - Personal experience
It also reminds me of a time on the day of my grandmother's death in January, when my devout Buddhist family was quite inclined to stay with the body for numerous hours and performing Buddhist chanting rituals with the use of objects and noises. It was interesting to see a segregation between the group of practitioners who were respectful and understanding and those who were less tolerant and impatient so as to transfer the body as soon as possible. This is definitely an important issue you have written about and I truly believe that with the implementations of the strategies you've described, Australia will be a much healthier and happier nation.

James Hua