BASS Politics and Criminology

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
The Criminal Psychopath

Unit code CRIM31172
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by DO NOT USE - Criminology
Available as a free choice unit? No


A favourite trope of fiction and the tabloid media is the concept of the ‘psychopath’, a term that generally evokes images of deceptive charm, emotional coolness and extreme violence.  But what is the precise origin of the term, what is the psychological science informing it, and how does it relate to psychiatric terms such as personality disorder? What is the relationship of the construct to crime, and what should we do with offenders who approximate to it? What is the emotional appeal of the concept culturally speaking?

Indicative content: (1) Definitions, control and moral panic; (2) Historical development; (3) Measurement; (4) Aetiology & evidence base 2; (5) Psychopathy & white collar crime; (6) Psychopathy in law; (7) Treatment of psychopathy?; (8) Psychopathy in prisons & probation; (9) Psychopathy in the public imagination; (10) Review & essay support.


The course unit will help provide a better understanding of the basic theory and science on the relationship between personality disorder and crime, with particular focus on the contested notion of psychopathy. It will explore and engage with the history of psychopathy and its role in criminal justice practice and the law.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to: (1) demonstrate an enhanced awareness of the concept of psychopathy and related issues and implications of its use; (2) understand the basic science of psychopathy; (3) critically analyse representations of psychopathy in the media and popular discourse; (4)critically engage with the research literature on psychopathy; (5) give and understand constructive peer feedback; (6) demonstrate a clearer writing style; (7) evaluate key points/perspectives and communicate these clearly and effectively.


Week 1: Introduction to the Concept of Psychopathy (Definition, Scope, Prevalence, Gender/Race, Controversies)

Week 2: History of Psychopathy and related Personality Disorders

Week 3: Measuring Psychopathy (Hare's PCL, Controversies & Alternatives, Violence risk assessment) 

Week 4: Aetiology of Psychopathy (Biology, Genetics, Social Environment, Childhood, Abuse)

Week 5: Psychopathy and White Collar Crime (Corporation, Success, Capitalism)

Week 6: Psychology in Law (Mitigating and Aggravating Evidence)

Week 7: Treatment of Psychopathy (Models, Controversies, Effectiveness Research)

Week 8: Psychopathy in Prisons & Probation (Treatment models, PIPE, Segregation)

Week 9: Psychopathy in the Public Imagination (Media, Popular Culture, Public Opinion)

Week 10: Review and Overview (Conclusions, Controversies, Critiques)


Teaching and learning methods

Teaching in academic year 21/22 will be flexible and allow us to adapt to changing conditions, however, the common intention across units is to provide a blended offer of the best in online and on-campus teaching that includes: (1) a subject hour used for a range of exercises and activities; (2) high quality learning materials; (3) a tutorial; (4) 1:1 support via a subject-specific contact hour.

Knowledge and understanding

An awareness of: 

  • The critically contested concept of the psychopath 
  • The relationship between personality disorder, crime and the criminal justice system 
  • The history of the concept of psychopathy and its role in criminal justice practice and the law


Intellectual skills

The ability to

  • Research, analyse and communicate, in an informed and critcal way, research on psychopathy.
  • Understand the basic science of psychopathy
  • Critically analyse representation of psychopathy in the media and popular discourse 


Practical skills

The ability to: 

  • Discuss, illustrate, debate and evaluate key points/perspectives and communicate these in a clear and effective way
  • Assess own skills and areas of personal development 
  • Identified and researched potential future careers

Transferable skills and personal qualities

The ability to:

Work effectively as part of a team and individually

Research, organise and deliver information orally

Prepare an academic essay using standard stylebook for citations and referencing that critically analyses a key aspect of the literature on personality disorders and crime.


Employability skills

(i) analyse, critique and (re-)formulate a problem or issue; (ii) rapidly and thoroughly review/rate argument and evidence from targeted bibliographic searches; (iii) plan, structure and present arguments in a variety of written formats and to a strict word limit, (iv) express ideas verbally and organise work effectively in small teams for a variety of written and oral tasks; (v) obtain, manipulate and (re-)present different forms of data; (vi) manage time effectively; (vii) reflect on and improve performance through feedback.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Formative feedback (both individual and collective) will be given on (1) tasks and contribution in class, (2) developing essay plans. Detailed summative feedback will be given on the submitted essay via Blackboard (Grademark).

Recommended reading

DeLisi, M. (2016). Psychopathy as a unified theory of crime. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 13
Independent study hours
Independent study 40

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Laura Bui Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Across their course units each semester, full-time students are expected to devote a ‘working week’ of 35-40 hours to study. Accordingly each course unit demands 12-13 hours of study per week consisting of (i) timetabled teacher-led hours, (ii) preparation, required and further reading.


Restricted to students on the BA Criminology, LLB (Law with Criminology), BA Social Sciences (Criminology Pathway) degrees.

This course is available to incoming study abroad students university wide.

Additional Assessment Methods Information

Essays will be approximately 3500 words in length. Students will be allowed to choose from a range of questions set earlier in the semester. 

Presentations will be individual (not group), will last approx. 5-10 minutes, and will take place in seminar sessions.

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