Proceed Carefully When Diagnosing Violent Criminals

skull-brainWhen we read about a horrific crime that has been committed or we watch a news clip of an alleged murder smiling as he walks in handcuffs into a courtroom, we often ask the question, “How could someone be so evil?” or “What was going on in that person’s mind to cause such behavior?” Maybe we think if we get some answers, we can take some solace in concluding we are nothing like that person. But as one clinical psychologist warns us in a recent article, we need to be careful about the diagnoses that are attributed to the individuals who commit some very ugly crimes.

Dr. Stanton Samenow published an article entitled “Autism Spectrum Disorder or Antisocial Personality?” and used the recent mass killing by Elliot Rodger near the University of California at Santa Barbara campus as an example to demonstrate a broader concern. Rodger was noted in the media as having Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the autism scale, due to his lack of connection to others and perhaps allowed their viewers then to determine that a person with a form of autism is more inclined to commit violence. Instead, Dr. Samenow asserts that killers like Rodgers actually have an antisocial personality and that this diagnosis shares some traits with Asberger’s.

While both disorders usually mean affected individuals have a lack of empathy and issues with communication and emotional reciprocity, an important distinction is that those with antisocial personality are very independent and shun the company of others because they consider themselves superior. Other people are just pawns to fulfill the desires of an antisocial individual. Those with autism do not have this grossly exaggerated sense of superiority and actually have a strong and concrete sense of right and wrong.

The short piece is thought-provoking, so check it out. And then if you continue your search for the psychological reasons behind Rogers’ actions, the theories multiply. We are reminded that while wanting to know the “why” is understandable, to unfairly categorize a group of people due to our own lack of understanding is unfair and dangerous.

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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