Psychopathy: A Very Short Introduction by Essi Viding

Essi Viding’s Psychopathy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2019), a part of Oxford’s A Very Short Introduction series, identifies the common misconceptions about psychopathy and instead explores the term medically, psychologically, and sociologically. There is no shortage of both popular and academic texts on psychopathy, especially as the term relates to serial killers, but Viding’s text distills that body of information down to 102 pages, focusing only on the most reliable and salient sources, interpretations, and studies. 

Viding begins her introduction by encouraging her reader to leave their misconceptions about psychopathy behind. She states that “systematic research over the past 35-40 years convincingly shows that most psychopaths are not responsible for multiple homicides” (1). She also explains that it is not violence or antisocial behaviour that define whether someone is a psychopath, but rather “the profound absence of empathy and guilt” (3). Viding shows how this works in practice in chapter one, entitled “How can we know if someone is a psychopath or is at risk of becoming one?” Viding goes through different case studies to elucidate how psychopathy functions in everyday people, as well as in criminal situations. I found this approach extremely effective. Like most people, I generally associated psychopathy with violent criminals. To see how a psychopathic individual may function in a workplace situation or a relationship helped me to see this as a condition rather than just a precursor to serial killing. 

Another fascinating element to Viding’s text is her section on psychopathy in children. She mentions that “it would be overly harsh and irresponsible to use the psychopathy label in reference to children whose developmental outcomes are not fixed,” especially because “psychopathic traits and their behavioural manifestations can change over development and can change following intervention” (15). However, she does note that “psychopathy can also be observed in children and reliably used to predict increased risk for persistent antisocial behaviour” (15). Viding goes on to explain how the risk for psychopathy can be identified in children in medical settings. Like many other parts of this text, this section gives the reader just enough information to grasp what is clearly a very complex process. 

Viding goes on to explore many of the central issues of the psychopathic condition: the lack of empathy, whether there is a gene for this kind of a condition, the nature vs. nurture debate in relationship to psychopathy, and whether individuals with this condition can be treated. This extremely informative book would be great for anyone interested in criminology or psychology, and it would also be great for the true crime fan who is interested in taking a deeper, more accurate look at this condition. 

Please add Psychopathy to your Goodreads shelf.

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About the Writer: 

Jesyka Traynor is an academic living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not writing or researching her dissertation, she’s consuming all the true crime and non-fiction she can find time for. Jesyka holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in contemporary Californian literature. Her work on women in twenty-first century true crime is forthcoming from Crime Fiction Studies. 

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