BASS Sociology and Criminology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Criminal Psychopath

Course unit fact file
Unit code CRIM31172
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


When we call someone a psychopath, what do we mean? And how and why is criminality linked to, or even conflated it?

This class introduces students to the ‘Criminal Psychopath’. It aims for students to evaluate the relationship between psychopathy, crime, and criminal justice, revealing what we think makes someone ‘bad’ or ‘evil’.

Indicative content: (1) Who is the Criminal Psychopath?; (2) Social aetiology; (3) Biological aetiology; (4) Measurement; (5) Successful psychopathy; (6) Gender; (7) Cultural differences; (8) Culpability ; (9) Treatment; (10) Conclusion: Who is the Criminal Psychopath?


The ability to:

• Research, analyse and communicate, in an informed and critical way, research on psychopathy.

• Understand the basic science of psychopathy

• Critically analyse representation of psychopathy in the media and popular discourse

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this class, students should be able to: (1) Have an enhanced awareness of the relationship between the concept of psychopathy and crime; (2) Understand the basic science of psychopathy and the ethical implications; (3) Informatively and critically analyse the research literature of psychopathy; (4) Have a clearer writing style; and (5) Discuss and evaluate key points/perspectives and communicate these clearly and effectively.


Week 1: Introduction to the Concept of Psychopathy (Definition, Scope, Prevalence, Gender/Race, Controversies) Introduction: Who is the criminal psychopath?

Week 2: Aetiology (of psychopathy): social

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

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

Week 5:Psychopathy and White Collar Crime (Corporation, Success, Capitalism) Successful vs. unsuccessful psychopathy

Week 6:Psychology in Law (Mitigating and Aggravating Evidence) Thinking about difference: gender

Week 7: Treatment of Psychopathy (Models, Controversies, Effectiveness Research) Thinking about difference: comparative approaches

Week 8: Psychopathy in Prisons & Probation (Treatment models, PIPE, Segregation) The culpability of psychopathy

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

Week 10: Review and Overview (Conclusions, Controversies, Critiques)  Conclusion: Who is the criminal psychopath?



Teaching and learning methods

Teaching and learning across course units consists of: (1) preparatory work to be completed prior to teaching sessions, including readings, pre-recorded subject material and online activities; (2) a weekly whole-class lecture or workshop; (3) a tutorial; and (4) one-to-one support via subject specific office hours.

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
Other 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

This unit is assessed by workbook (40%) and 3000 word essay (60%)

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.

Jalava, J, Griffiths, S, Maraun, M (2015). The myth of the born criminal: Psychopathy, neurobiology, and the creation of the modern degenerate. Toronto: Toronto University Press.

Patrick, C. (2018). Handbook of Psychopathy. New York: Guildford Press.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 70

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 around 30-35 hours to study. Accordingly each course unit demands around 10-11 hours of study per week consisting of (i) 3 timetabled teacher-led hours, (ii) 7-8 independent study hours devoted to preparation, required and further reading, and note taking. 

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.

Please refer to your personalised Criminology timetable

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