Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us

by Robert D. Hare PhD

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Most people are both repelled and intrigued by the images of cold-blooded, conscienceless murderers that increasingly populate our movies, television programs, and newspaper headlines. With their flagrant criminal violation of society's rules, serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are among the most dramatic examples of the psychopath. Individuals with this personality disorder are fully aware of the consequences of their actions and know the difference between right and wrong, yet they are terrifyingly self-centered, remorseless, and unable to care about the feelings of others. Perhaps most frightening, they often seem completely normal to unsuspecting targets--and they do not always ply their trade by killing. Presenting a compelling portrait of these dangerous men and women based on 25 years of distinguished scientific research, Dr. Robert D. Hare vividly describes a world of con artists, hustlers, rapists, and other predators who charm, lie, and manipulate their way through life. Are psychopaths mad, or simply bad? How can they be recognized? And how can we protect ourselves? This book provides solid information and surprising insights for anyone seeking to understand this devastating condition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781606235782
Publisher: Guilford Publications, Inc.
Publication date: 09/20/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 236
Sales rank: 239,349
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Robert D. Hare, PhD, considered one of the world’s foremost experts on psychopathy, is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Hare is the developer of one of the most widely used tools for assessing psychopathy and the author of over 100 scientific articles and several books. He has received numerous awards for his distinguished contributions to psychology and criminology.

Read an Excerpt


"Experiencing" the Psychopath

I could see the dark blood from Halmea's mouth trickling down the sheet toward the part of her that was under Hud. I didn't move or blink, but then Hud was standing up grinning at me; he was buckling his ruby belt buckle. "Ain't she a sweet patootie?" he said. He whistled and began to tuck his pant legs into the tops of his red suede boots. Halmea had curled toward the wall....

Larry McMurty, Horseman, Pass By

Over the years I've become accustomed to the following experience. In response to a courteous question by a dinner acquaintance about my work, I briefly sketch the distinguishing characteristics of a psychopath. Invariably, someone at the table suddenly looks thoughtful and then exclaims, "Good lord—I think So-and-So must have been—." or, "You know, I never realized it before, but the person you're describing is my brother-in-law."

These thoughtful, troubled responses aren't limited to the social realm. Routinely, people who have read of my work call my laboratory to describe a husband, a child, an employer, or an acquaintance whose inexplicable behavior has been causing them grief and pain for years.

Nothing is more convincing of the need for clarity and reflection on psychopathy than these real-life stories of disappointment and despair. The three that make up this chapter provide a way of easing into this strange and fascinating subject by conveying that characteristic sense that "something's wrong here but I can't quite put my finger on it."

One of the accounts is drawn from a prison population, where most of the studies of psychopathy take place (for the practical reasons that there are a lot of psychopaths in prisons and the information needed to diagnose them is readily available).

The two other accounts are drawn from everyday life, for psychopaths are found not only in prison populations. Parents, children, spouses, lovers, co-workers, and unlucky victims everywhere are at this moment attempting to cope with the personal chaos and confusion psychopaths cause and to understand what drives them. Many of you will find an uneasy resemblance between the individuals in these examples and people who have made you think you were living in hell.


After I received my master's degree in psychology in the early 1960s, I looked for a job to help support my wife and infant daughter and to pay for the next stage of my education. Without having been inside a prison before, I found myself employed as the sole psychologist at the British Columbia Penitentiary.

I had no practical work experience as a psychologist and no particular interest in clinical psychology or criminological issues. The maximum-security penitentiary near Vancouver was a formidable institution housing the kinds of criminals I had only heard about through the media. To say I was on unfamiliar ground is an understatement.

I started work completely cold—with no training program or sage mentor to hint at how one went about being a prison psychologist. On the first day I met the warden and his administrative staff, all of whom wore uniforms and some of whom wore sidearms. The prison was run along military lines, and accordingly I was expected to wear a "uniform" consisting of a blue blazer, gray flannel trousers, and black shoes. I convinced the warden that the outfit was unnecessary, but he nevertheless insisted that one at least be made for me by the prison shop, and I was sent down to be measured.

The result was an early sign that all was not as orderly as the place appeared: The jacket sleeves were far too short, the trousers legs were of hilariously discrepant length, and the shoes differed from each other by two sizes. I found the latter particularly perplexing, because the inmate who had measured my feet had been extremely meticulous in tracing them out on a sheet of brown paper. How he could have produced two entirely different-sized shoes, even after several complaints on my part, was difficult to imagine. I could only assume that he was giving me a message of some sort.

My first workday was quite eventful. I was shown to my office, an immense area on the top floor of the prison, far different from the intimate, trust-inspiring burrow I had hoped for. I was isolated from the rest of the institution and had to pass through several sets of locked doors to reach my office. On the wall above my desk was a highly conspicuous red button. A guard who had no idea what a psychologist was supposed to do in a prison—an ignorance I shared—told me that the button was for an emergency, but that if I ever need to press it, I should not expect help to arrive immediately.

The psychologist who was my predecessor had left a small library in the office. It consisted mainly of books on psychological tests, such as the Rorschach Ink Blot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test. I knew something about such tests but had never used them, so the books—among the few objects in the prison that seemed familiar—only reinforced my sense that I was in for a difficult time.

I wasn't in my office for more than an hour when my first "client" arrived. He was a tall, slim, dark-haired man in his thirties. The air around him seemed to buzz, and the eye contact he made with me was so direct and intense that I wondered if I had ever really looked anybody in the eye before. That stare was unrelenting—he didn't indulge in the brief glances away that most people use to soften the force of their gaze.

Without waiting for an introduction, the inmate—I'll call him Ray—opened the conversation: "Hey, Doc, how's it going? Look, I've got a problem. I need your help. I'd really like to talk to you about this."

Eager to begin work as a genuine psychotherapist, I asked him to tell me about it. In response, he pulled out a knife and waved it in front of my nose, all the while smiling and maintaining that intense eye contact. My first thought was to push the red button behind me, which was in Ray's plain view and the purpose of which was unmistakable. Perhaps because I sensed that he was only testing me, or perhaps because I knew that pushing the button would do no good if he really intended to harm me, I refrained.

Once he determined that I wasn't going to push the button, he explained that he intended to use the knife not on me but on another inmate who had been making overtures to his "protégé," a prison term for the more passive member of a homosexual pairing. Just why he was telling me this was not immediately clear, but I soon suspected that he was checking me out, trying to determine what sort of a prison employee I was. If I said nothing about the incident to the administration, I would be violating a strict prison rule that required staff to report possession of a weapon of any sort. On the other hand, I knew that if I did report him, word would get around that I was not an inmate-oriented psychologist, and my job would be even more difficult than it was promising to be. Following our session, in which he described his "problem" not once or twice but many times, I kept quiet about the knife. To my relief, he didn't stab the other inmate, but it soon became evident that Ray had caught me in his trap: I had shown myself to be a soft touch who would overlook clear violations of fundamental prison rules in order to develop "professional" rapport with the inmates.

From that first meeting on, Ray managed to make my eight-month stint at the prison miserable. His constant demands on my time and his attempts to manipulate me into doing things for him were unending. On one occasion, he convinced me that he would make a good cook—he felt he had a natural bent for cooking, he thought he would become a chef when he was released, this was a great opportunity to try out some of his ideas to make institutional food preparation more efficient, etc.—and I supported his request for a transfer from the ma chine shop (where he had apparently made the knife). What I didn't consider was that the kitchen was a source of sugar, potatoes, fruit, and other ingredients that could be turned into alcohol. Several months after I had recommended the transfer, there was a mighty eruption below the floorboards directly under the warden's table. When the commotion died down, we found an elaborate system for distilling alcohol below the floor. Something had gone wrong and one of the pots had exploded. There was nothing unusual about the presence of a still in a maximum-security prison, but the audacity of placing one under the warden's seat shook up a lot of people. When it was discovered that Ray was brains behind the bootleg operation, he spent some time in solitary confinement.

Once out of "the hole," Ray appeared in my office as if nothing had happened and asked for a transfer from the kitchen to the auto shop—he really felt he had a knack, he saw the need to prepare himself for the outside world, if he only had the time to practice he could have his own body shop on the outside ... I was still feeling the sting of having arranged the first transfer, but eventually he wore me down.

Soon afterward I decided to leave the prison to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, and about a month before I left Ray almost persuaded me to ask my father, a roofing contractor, to offer him a job as part of an application for parole. When I mentioned this to some of the prison staff, they found it hard to stop laughing. They knew Ray well, they'd all been taken in by his schemes and plans for reform, and one by one they had resolved to adopt a skeptical approach to him. Jaded? I thought so at the time. But the fact was that their picture of Ray was clearer than mine—despite my job description. Theirs had been brought into focus by years of experience with people like him.

Ray had an incredible ability to con not just me but every body. He could talk, and lie, with a smoothness and a directness that sometimes momentarily disarmed even the most experienced and cynical of the prison staff. When I met him he had a long criminal record behind him (and, as it turned out, ahead of him); about half his adult life had been spent in prison, and many of his crimes had been violent. Yet he convinced me, and others more experienced than I, of his readiness to reform, that his interest in crime had been completely overshadowed by a driving passion in—well, cooking, mechanics, you name it. He lied endlessly, lazily, about everything, and it disturbed him not a whit whenever I pointed out something in his file that contradicted one of his lies. He would simply change the subject and spin off in a different direction. Finally convinced that he might not make the perfect job candidate in my father's firm, I turned down Ray's request—and was shaken by his nastiness at my refusal.

Before I left the prison for the university, I was still making payments on a 1958 Ford that I could not really afford. One of the officers there, later to become warden, offered to trade his 1950 Morris Minor for my Ford and to take over my payments. I agreed, and because the Morris wasn't in very good shape I took advantage of the prison policy of letting staff have their cars repaired in the institution's auto shop—where Ray still worked, thanks (he would have said no thanks) to me. The car received a beautiful paint job and the motor and drivetrain were reconditioned.

With all our possessions on top of the car and our baby in a plywood bed in the backseat, my wife and I headed for Ontario. The first problems appeared soon after we left Vancouver, when the motor seemed a bit rough. Later, when we encountered some moderate inclines, the radiator boiled over. A garage mechanic discovered ball bearings in the carburetor's float chamber; he also pointed out where one of the hoses to the radiator had clearly been tampered with. These problems were repaired easily enough, but the next one, which arose while we were going down a long hill, was more serious. The brake pedal became very spongy and then simply dropped to the floor—no brakes, and it was a long hill. Fortunately, we made it to a service station, where we found that the brake line had been cut so that a slow leak would occur. Perhaps it was a coincidence that Ray was working in the auto shop when the car was being tuned up, but I had no doubt that the prison "telegraph" had informed him of the new owner of the car.

At the university, I prepared to write my dissertation on the effects of punishment on human learning and performance. In my research for the project I encountered for the first time the literature on psychopathy. I'm not sure I thought of Ray at the time, but circumstances conspired to bring him to mind.

My first job after receiving my Ph.D. was at the University of British Columbia, not far from the penitentiary where I had worked several years before. During registration week in that precomputer age, I sat behind a table with several colleagues to register long lines of students for their fall classes. As I was dealing with a student my ears pricked up at the mention of my name. "Yes, I worked as Dr. Hare's assistant at the penitentiary the whole time he was there, a year or so, I would say it was. Did all his paperwork for him, filled him in on prison life. Sure, he used to talk over hard cases with me. We worked great together." It was Ray, standing at the head of the next line.

My assistant! I broke into the easy flow of his remarks with, "Oh, really?" expecting to disconcert him. "Hey, Doc, how's it going?" he called without losing a beat. Then he simply jumped back into his conversation and took off in another direction. Later, when I checked his application forms, it became apparent that his transcript of previous university courses was fraudulent. To his credit, he had not attempted to register in one of my courses.

Perhaps what fascinated me most was that Ray remained absolutely unflappable even after his deceit was revealed—and that my colleague was clearly going along for the ride. What, in his psychological makeup, gave Ray the power to override reality, apparently without compunction or concern? As it turned out, I would spend the next twenty-five years doing empirical research to answer that question.

The story of Ray has its amusing side now, after so many years. Less amusing are the case studies of the hundreds of psychopaths that I have studied since then.

I had been at the prison for a few months when the administration sent an inmate to me for psychological testing prior to a parole hearing. He was serving a six-year sentence for manslaughter. When I realized that the complete report of the offense was missing from my files, I asked him to fill me in on the details. The inmate said that his girlfriend's infant daughter had been crying nonstop for hours and because she smelted he reluctantly decided to change her diapers. "She shit all over my hand and I lost my temper," he said, a grisly euphemism for what he really did. "I picked her up by the feet and smashed her against the wall," he said with—unbelievably—a smile on his face. I was stunned by the casual description of his appalling behavior, and, thinking about my own infant daughter, I unprofessionally kicked him out of my office and refused to see him again.

Curious about what subsequently happened to this man, I recently tracked down his prison files. I learned that he had received parole a year after I had left the prison, and that he had been killed during a high-speed police chase following a bungled bank robbery. The prison psychiatrist had diagnosed this man as a psychopath and had recommended against pa role. The parole board could not really be faulted for having ignored this professional advice. At the time, the procedures for the diagnosis of psychopathy were vague and unreliable, and the implications of such a diagnosis for the prediction of behavior were not yet known. As we will see, the situation is quite different now, and any parole board whose decision does not take into account current knowledge about psychopathy and recidivism runs the risk of making a potentially disastrous mistake.

Elsa and Dan

She met him in a laundromat in London, where she was taking a year off from teaching after a stormy and exhausting divorce. She'd seen him around the neighborhood, and when they finally started to talk she felt as if she knew him. He was open and friendly and they hit it off right away. From the start she thought he was hilarious.

She'd been lonely. The weather was grim and sleety, she'd already seen every movie and play in the city, and she didn't know a soul east of the Atlantic.

"Ah, traveler's loneliness," Dan crooned sympathetically over dinner. "It's the worst."

After dessert he was embarrassed to discover he'd come out without his wallet. Elsa was more than happy to pay for dinner, more than happy to sit through the double feature she had seen earlier in the week. At the pub, over drinks, he told her he was a translator for the United Nations. He traveled the globe. He was, at the moment, between assignments.

They saw each other four times that week, five the week after. Dan lived in a flat at the top of a house somewhere in Hampstead, he told her, but it wasn't long before he had all but moved in with Elsa. To her amazement, she loved the arrangement. It was against her nature, she wasn't even sure how it had happened, but after her long stint of loneliness she was having the time of her life.


Excerpted from "Without Conscience"
by .
Copyright © 1993 Robert D. Hare, PhD.
Excerpted by permission of The Guilford Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. "Experiencing" the Psychopath
2. Focusing the Picture
3. The Profile: Feelings and Relationships
4. The Profile: Lifestyle
5. Internal Controls: The Missing Piece
6. Crime: The Logical Choice
7. White-Collar Psychopaths
8. Words from an Overcoat Pocket
9. Flies in the Web
10. The Roots of the Problem
11. The Ethics of Labeling
12. Can Anything Be Done?
13. A Survival Guide

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A fascinating, if terrifying, look at psychopaths. . . . Hare makes a strong case for the view that psychopaths are born, not made. . . . A chilling, eye-opening report—-and a call to action." —-Kirkus


Interested general readers; mental health and legal professionals. As a supplemental text in psychopathology courses, the book will be read with interest by students at the undergraduate or graduate level.

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Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
GolemDW More than 1 year ago
Excellent review of research and various models of psychopathy, both past and present. Extensive discussion of terminology and definitions, which is very important, since 99% of the time the term "psychopath" is used the wrong way, and likewise a large percentage of psychopaths are never described that way, either through poor (or lack of) diagnosis or through misunderstanding or hesitation (including on the part of professionals). Especially chilling -- descriptions of child psychopaths. This is something that begins much earlier than people think, which makes it even more mysterious. Then we get into questions of good vs. evil. Psychopaths are not "crazy" in the usual sense; in fact they may be quite resourceful and productive -- "highly functioning" in fact. But there is something missing -- a conscience, empathy, caring, concern... and so the question becomes, are they crazy in a different way, or just plain bad, i.e. evil? Or are they more like a different species -- an alien life form? Did they at some point make a conscious decision to be, or become, the way they are? (The strong implication is no.) So they are, in a sense, seriously damaged human beings who don't know that they are damaged, and think other people are, basically, chumps and deserving victims. Then the question becomes, how to avoid getting tangled up with and victimized by them -- and many useful suggestions and observations are offered. But it's also acknowledged that psychopaths can have a mesmerizing effect on others, especially on people with low ego strength and self esteem -- so they are most likely to become victims. There is also discussion, in general terms, of the cost to society of having these individuals in our midst -- a cost that could be reduced, but seems unavoidable. The bottom line on psychopaths seems to be that they are like mad dogs -- it may not be their "fault" that they're the way they are, but they have to be dealt with somehow, and denial and avoidance of the issue on the part of society just aggravates the problem. In reading this I could not help but think of numerous encounters I've had over the years with people who appeared to be psychopaths or who certainly had psychopathic tendencies. And as the author points out, they can be highly amusing, entertaining, fascinating, and so on. There is something strangely attractive in their ability to remain unmoved by normal human concerns -- a kind of strange aloofness or perfection. But after the encounter you wind up feeling somewhat used, as if you've lost something. But the psychopath just goes on his (or her) merry way, without a care in the world. Sound familiar? I think we've all run into people like this -- or read about them in the paper, or seen them on TV. And they really are just about everywhere, in all walks of life, which is even scarier.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is definitely the place to start in your study of psychopathy. Many other works give further examples of what this author has outlined, but his work is by far the best. His book is cited EVERYWHERE this topic is mentioned, and for good reason--it's the classic. It's sad but true, but all the "normal" people in the world need to understand the psychopaths, in order to avoid falling prey to them.
Jx714 More than 1 year ago
A short conscise read for an accurate and compelling insight into the minds of the mentally inept criminals that walk amoungst us daily. Truly a definitive guide to the soul of the broken and destructive.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are the well-to-do parents of a daughter of marriageable age you will be smart, in fact, wise to read this book as there could be a Trust Bandit waiting in the wings who will sue to collapse trusts, commit extortion by threatening that you will never see your daughter again as well as turn her into a puppet who may remain under mind control for the rest of her life. This book may be the most important that you may ever come across. There is help for those whose daughters have cut off their families, former friends, other relatives and former advisors. They are parents who have encountered some of these painful experiences. Dr. Hare and his colleagues are wonderful and caring people who may know of or refer you to survivors and sympathetic counselors..One cannot say that about the psychopath who is completely lacking in empathy and who look upon people as objects only.
CaitlinS More than 1 year ago
I found this book very helpful. It gives full profiles of different psychopaths. I also found it easy to read and understand. If you find your life being turned upside down by someone this could be the reason. Even if you have the pleasure of not having a relationship with one this could save you tons of trouble.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book on the nature of the psychopath. Very easy to read and understand; I just wish I had read it before one turned my life upside down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was required reading for my forensic psychology class, and I'm so glad it was. It is very insightful and explains psychopathy very well. It is really easy to understand. I wish everyone was required to read this to help better educate them on the issues at hand. Although some of the cases are very disturbing, they are true and important to showing the reality and scope of circumstances that are associated with psychopaths.
FarMillRiverFalls More than 1 year ago
I found my way to this seminal work on psychopathy through Jon Ronson's book The Psychopath Test. In many ways, by the time I read Without Conscience, I felt like I had already read it before since it was quoted extensively in Ronson's work. But Ronson is a journalist and Hare is the scientist. This is the source material. It's a relief in some ways to know that, having survived encounters with people who seemingly fall into the category of the "high functioning" or non-criminal psychopath, you're not the crazy one and there is an explanation for this pattern of behavior. Of course, the research has advanced since this book was originally published in 1993, and Ronson's work picks up the thread and moves it forward from there. But if you want to understand the literature and the science behind the latest bestseller, this is the place to start.
Hawnwillow More than 1 year ago
A thought provoking book on the study of individuals without conscience. Eye opening with accounts from case studies.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is wonderful to be able to read a book such as this! I think it should be required reading for every highschool senior. People like Ted Bundy and Wayne Gacy are, unfortunately, every where. By reading this book one can become more knowledgable, and more safe. I resent the fact that someone said Bill Clint was a sociopath!! (George W. Bush has alot of the charactistics!)...she should keep her opinions to herself!
johnleach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting subject matter, but told in a trashy and sensationalist manner, which is a bit hard going.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Required reading for any person that has involvement with sociopaths or psychopaths.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was raised to believe that a loving God made every being equal even as I was taught about the devil. This book details decades of serious research and is a riveting read – and an important one that re-educates the world to the stark fact that equality is not a given. Some predators became deranged through bad treatment in childhood. Others are simply born with a less efficient capacity for empathy, just as some babies are born with other mental deformities. ‘Without Conscience’ urges a too-kind, too accepting public to become discerning and then to instruct their vulnerable children to become knowledgeable too. It teaches about the profile of a predator, warning signs and ways to protect oneself. Education is the best crime prevention tool. I used to feel guilty when I felt suspicious of a person. Now I congratulate myself and step aside as quickly as possible. Forewarned is forearmed.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr Hare is by far the best in his field when it comes to working with psychopaths. All of a sudden psychopaths are everywhere but he has been working with them and truly understands how they work. Devious minds. It has helped reading his book since I work in a jail setting and have come across a few.
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Very interesting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
im eating a baked potato... and its delicous. but anyway this is a great book