Personality Disorders

Written By: Reid
Sep 01, 2019

(This Investigator Tip consists of selections from a chapter in our book, The Investigator Anthology)

While both psychologically healthy and psychologically impaired individuals can be guilty of a crime, in many of the cases the guilty party can be described as suffering from a personality disorder, or at least manifests some symptoms of a disorder. This discussion will evaluate these disorders as they relate to factual analysis, behavior analysis and interrogation. It should be noted at the outset of this discussion that we are not suggesting that investigators make psychiatric diagnoses, but recognizing and understanding certain personality traits can benefit the investigator's ability to solve cases. Before discussing the specific expressions of these disorders, a fundamental background in personality disorders is appropriate. To understand a disorder of the personality, one must first look at what is expected, or in other words, what is considered a "normal personality".

The Normal Personality

The personality is a rigid structure of attitudes, behaviors, and emotional responses which forms early in life. When talking about another individual's personality, usually we are referring to a predominant trait within the personality. A personality trait is an individual component of the personality which presents itself to the environment. Therefore, when describing another person as bitter, friendly, confident or anxious, we are actually referring to traits contained within, but not defining the limits of, the personality itself.

Normalcy, within mental health guidelines, is difficult to define and is dynamic in that social mores are not constant. A normal personality represents an average assessment of behavioral and emotional responses to environmental stimuli. Abnormal personalities, on the other hand, are characterized by behaviors or emotional responses which fall outside of "accepted normal" ranges.

The spectrum of personality disorders are broadly categorized into general traits with a specific diagnosis based on predominant features. The following table illustrates the general categorization of these disorders:


Eccentric Personalities

Individuals suffering from eccentric personality disorders do not respond appropriately during social interactions. Each of these personalities involve a thought disorder. That is, the individual's perceptions, beliefs, or ideas are considered unusual and peculiar. If the thought disorder becomes more rigid and pronounced where the individual has difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality, a psychosis may be diagnosed. It should, therefore, be emphasized that the eccentric personalities discussed below, while they interfere with social relationships or occupational responsibilities, do not constitute the extent of impairment associated with a psychosis.


The paranoid personality type shows a pervasive apprehension of others. During an interview, a paranoid suspect may appear suspicious, mistrustful, and hypersensitive. In addition, spontaneous emotional responses may be lacking. The following interview of a suspect accused of sexually exposing himself to a cleaning lady typifies a paranoid suspect:

I: What is your understanding of the purpose for this interview today?

S: No one told me anything. All I know is that I am being set up for something I didn't do! What are you writing down?

I: I'm just taking some notes because my memory is not very good. Explain what you are being set up for.

S: This lady said that I pulled my pants down in front of her and tried to rape her or something. I don't know. This whole thing is crazy. I'm no rapist.

I: Actually, what she is saying is that you exposed your bare penis through your zipper and masturbated in her presence. Why do you think she would make up a story about you exposing yourself to her?

S: I have no idea! Maybe she wants to sue me or something.

This suspect's general suspiciousness and inappropriate spontaneous remarks about the investigator's note-taking are indicative of the paranoid personality. The exaggerated claims (pulling pants down, attempted rape) are typical of the deceptive person and not only heard from the paranoid. In many cases a paranoid personality will place direct blame onto other people or the victim for "setting him up." Of course, in attempting to substantiate these suspicions, the suspect cannot offer a reasonable basis.

It is not uncommon for the paranoid personality to spontaneously utter during the interview, "You don't believe me, do you?" or to accuse the investigator during the interrogation of being prejudiced or unfair. The investigator should be prepared for these types of allegations and realize that the statement does not represent a personal affront, but rather is a natural extension of the suspect's affected personality.

The paranoid personality also has an elevated self-importance and is conspicuously open with his accomplishments. Not infrequently, this type of suspect may be successful in business or hold a professional position. The investigator may establish rapport with the paranoid suspect through sincere compliments about the suspect's accomplishments or by sympathizing with him by establishing a common "enemy", e.g., the police department or the victim.

It is appropriate, at this point, to differentiate between a paranoid personality, and the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. The diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia involves marked and rigid delusions (unshakable personal beliefs which are obviously untrue) centered around persecution or grandeur. Therefore, the suspect who unreasonably believes that the KGB is following him or that he has definite knowledge that the state governor is involved with the Mafia, would be suffering from a delusion which is associated with a psychosis. The paranoid personality disorder does not develop these types of rigid delusions.

The underlying cause of the paranoid's affected personality is anger or guilt and these individuals tend to project their feeling onto the environment. Denial is the most apparent defense mechanism involved, as these individuals will automatically refute evidence in opposition to their own beliefs.

Working to the investigator's advantage is the tendency of the paranoid to value powerful and intellectual people. Consequently, the investigator should stress the importance of his position in terms of the investigation. For example, the investigator might say:

"John, I've been here for 15 years now and I receive a great deal of respect from other people. What I say holds a lot of weight. If I say some guy's a dirtbag and doesn't deserve to be heard, that's probably what will happen. But in your case, I really feel that there were circumstances out of your control which are important to bring out."

A successful tactic to consider during the interrogation of a paranoid suspect is to describe a situation where perhaps the victim, witness, or a fellow investigator may lie about what the suspect really did, and that it is important for the suspect to get his side in before people start believing what other people might say about him. This tactic plays on the suspect's suspicious nature as he will easily believe that others are out to get him.

Given the underlying causality of anger and guilt, it is not surprising that an individual with a paranoid personality commits crimes of esteem such as indecent exposure or power rapes. The paranoid personality, however, is capable of aggressive behavior and may commit crimes of violence against another person. Typically these crimes will be impulse motivated, and closely associated with an intense emotional state.

Schizoid and Schizotypal

These two personality types can be presented on a continuum. The schizoid personality withdraws from society and lacks social incentives. Animosity, anger, affection, or any contact-type emotional response is inappropriately absent. The schizoid will appear as behaviorally cold and apathetic during an interview. Many schizoid personalities will be unemployed and perhaps spend the day wandering city streets or looking vacantly out of an apartment window caught up in their own fantasies. If a schizoid does witness a crime, he is unlikely to report it because of his aversion to social contact.

On the other hand, the schizotypal personality is characterized by peculiar thoughts and behavior. Examples are, magical thinking, where an individual believes he can communicate with the dead, or ideas of reference, where the individual has unsubstantiated associations of cause and effect (believing that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality). Some schizotypal individuals will also develop structured delusions. These symptoms tend to be transient, however, and are not fixed enough to warrant a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Despite this, the schizotypal suspect will strike the investigator as being odd or unusual.

In a recent screening interview, for example, a 37-year-old applicant declared at the outset of the interview that he had suffered two heart attacks and had lost brain tissue which had affected his memory. The interview was very difficult to structure because the applicant's thoughts would drift from one topic to the next. The applicant could not recall how many employers he worked for in the last three years, but did remember being fired from his last three jobs for unjust (but unspecified) reasons. When the interviewer asked the applicant whether or not he committed any criminal acts, the applicant started talking about his divorce and that he recently filed bankruptcy. The topic of criminal acts probably stimulated thoughts of courts or attorneys in the applicant's mind, which would account for his inappropriate answers. This applicant denied ever using any illegal drugs in his life, but the topic of illegal drug use stimulated recollections of his Army career which, according to the applicant, was in Korea in 1968 (the applicant was 15 years old in 1968, and the Korean conflict had long since been resolved). While this applicant denied any treatment for mental illness, his behavior is characteristic of the schizotypal personality.

The schizotypal's loose thought associations make behavior analysis very difficult, and the investigator should place more emphasis on factual analysis. If a schizotypal reports a crime, the investigator might consider seeking a psychiatric opinion to evaluate the individual's contact with reality. For obvious reasons, a schizotypal personality will probably not make a good witness in court. Similarly, if a schizotypal suspect confesses to a crime, the investigator should be prepared to verify the trustworthiness of the confession through very convincing corroborative evidence. Individuals with this disorder may account for many of the voluntary false confessions discussed in chapter 11 of this text.

Consistent with their thought content, schizotypal personalities will generally commit eccentric crimes. Religious or cult crimes (burning or carving a cross on the victim, sacrificing animals) oftentimes indicate a schizotypal or delusional offender. A bizarre M.O., such as bite marks on the victim, necrophilia (sexual acts to a corpse) or other morbid crimes, also may indicate the possibility of a schizotypal or schizophrenic offender.

Impulsive Personality Disorders

There are (several) subcategories of impulsive personality disorders: the histrionic, narcissistic, borderline, and antisocial. All of the impulsive personality disorders involve individuals with affected personal judgments. They will engage in spontaneous, and sometimes risky behavior, without giving careful consideration to the implications or consequences of their behavior. Their affect (outward emotional expressions) tends to be lively and alert, but also unstable and inappropriately extreme.


The narcissistic personality displays an exaggerated self-worth or uniqueness. Their life focuses around themselves with little concern paid to the welfare of others; they lack empathy and are considered cold and exploitative. These traits probably account for both the success these individuals experience in business, and the failure these individuals experience in developing meaningful interpersonal relationships. Most narcissistic personalities are male. However, as women achieve more recognition in the workforce, this statistic may become more balanced.

Narcissistic personalities tend to lie through distortion and omission. Therefore, the narcissistic personality may place himself near the victim or crime scene, but lie about his reason for being there, or omit important circumstances surrounding his encounter with the victim. In this regard, the investigator should be very alert for the use of specific denials during an interview with a narcissistic suspect. For example, if a narcissistic suspect accused of accepting bribes was asked, "Has anyone ever offered you any money in exchange for a favor?" the suspect may confidently respond, "I was never approached by anyone." What the suspect is omitting is that he has approached others to solicit bribes on his behalf.

One way in which a narcissistic personality may be exposed is that this personality expresses intense and inappropriate rage after suffering a threat to their self-esteem. Certainly an arrest could stimulate this "narcissistic rage," and it would

be beneficial for the investigator to ask the arresting officer what the suspect's initial reaction was when the suspect was placed under arrest. Other traits associated with this personality disorder are:

  1. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, brilliance, beauty, or power.
  1. Expectations of special treatment, e.g., the suspect who insists on only talking to the person in charge, who schedules an appointment at a time only convenient for the suspect, who requests monetary reimbursement for the time spent during the interview, etc.
  1. Obsessive planning and preparation. The narcissistic personality does everything by design. He thinks through each act of the day and develops contingency plans, alternative strategies, etc.
  1. Exploitiveness. The narcissistic personality has a marked disregard for how his actions may affect others. To achieve personal success he will cheat, lie and cajole even people who consider him a personal friend.

The narcissistic personality should primarily be associated with nonviolent lifestyle motivated crimes (embezzlements, fraud schemes, accepting or receiving bribes, sexual harassment) which are continuing in nature and involve preparation. Narcissistic individuals may also commit crimes of noncompliance such as not paying parking tickets, tax evasion, or violating contracts.

Under certain circumstances, the narcissistic personality is capable of committing a violent act. In the case of a homicide, for example, a narcissistic individual could kill on impulse if their self-worth or success was threatened, e.g., a partner threatening exposure of unethical business practices, a mistress who threatened to break off the relationship. A sexual offense committed by a narcissistic individual would generally be power motivated -- for example, raping a secretary after she turned down sexual advances.

The interrogation of a narcissistic personality oftentimes results in a power struggle; the suspect and investigator fight for control of the interrogation. A minimization theme, wherein the suspect's crime is compared to a worse possible act is the recommended approach. Frequently, these interrogations rely heavily on factual analysis where the investigator appeals to the suspect's logic and reason to appreciate that the evidence against him is so overwhelming as to convince anyone of his guilt.

For this reason, the investigator should probably not confront a narcissistic suspect early in the investigation, but rather wait until enough evidence is developed against the suspect to use a factual analysis approach. Some general concepts to keep in mind when interrogating the narcissistic suspect are:

  1. Take advantage of the suspect's awareness that he is not well liked by others, and that witnesses will be more than willing to come forward to testify against him.
  1. Argue against self-interest during the interrogation. Do not allow the suspect to know that a confession may be necessary to obtain a conviction, but rather that the purpose for the interrogation is simply to be fair to the suspect and allow him to provide input to the investigation.
  1. Incorporate within the negative alternative the concept that unless the suspect tells the truth, the investigation will be expanded. For example, "If this is something where you have built your entire practice on falsified billing statements, and this is just one of thousands, I am going to have to spend weeks going through your records, contacting clients and insurance companies to verify each bill. But if this was something that just started a little while ago, you can save me a lot of time by telling me that. I'm really hoping that this was just an isolated incident. It was, wasn't it?" The narcissistic suspect will not confess to this alternative to help out the investigator, but rather to avoid further scrutiny. As mentioned earlier, any nonviolent offense committed by a narcissistic offender should be considered a continuing crime.


Within the… categories of impulsive personality disorders, the borderline suffers the greatest psychosocial impairment and, as the name implies, this individual represents a mixture of several components of the impulsive personality disorders. This personality is somewhat more frequently diagnosed in females, and, unlike the other impulsive personalities, the borderline personality is more likely to have a history of psychological counseling or hospitalizations.

The predominant feature of the borderline personality is a pervasive failure to develop a concrete identity of self, gender, vocation, or values. The borderline personality cannot tolerate being alone, and therefore is driven to impulsive and unstable relationships. These individuals may have a history of impulsive, self-abusive behaviors such as spending sprees, indiscriminate sexual practices, substance abuse, reckless driving, and eating disorders (anorexia, binge eating). They also have poor emotional control and may display frequent outbursts of anger resulting in verbal arguments and physical fights. Not surprisingly, the borderline personality is also at high risk for suicide, which frequently takes the form of self-mutilation with a knife or razor, although overdosing on drugs is common too.

The borderline personality does not have the scheming mind of the histrionic or narcissistic personality and, therefore, should be associated more with impulsive crimes of passion. The adult shoplifter who steals insignificant items would typify this type of impulsive behavior. The borderline mother may abuse or even kill her child. Vice crimes such as prostitution, drug usage, and gambling would also attract the borderline personality. The borderline personality tends to lie through fabrication. It is much more typical of the borderline personality to totally fabricate a rape claim, or create a totally fictitious alibi.

A common theory relating to the borderline personality is that these individuals suffered an early childhood loss such as the death of or separation from their father. With this causality, it is not surprising that borderline individuals will easily project their behavior away from themselves. Therefore, during a theme, the investigator should blame circumstances, other people, or the victim for causing the individual to commit the crime. The concept of not being responsible for their behavior should be emphasized, as well as contrasting the difference between acting on the spur of the moment, versus carefully planning out a particular act. Because of the propensity toward suicide, or self-mutilation behavior, the investigator should be especially cautious in leaving these suspects alone following a confession.

The Antisocial Personality (Psychopath)

The…… impulsive personality disorder is the much popularized and misunderstood psychopath. While the incidence of psychopathy is relatively small in the population as a whole (3% male, 1% female), individuals with this disorder make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. One estimate indicates that 40% of convicted criminals are psychopathic or have psychopathic tendencies. Some of the diagnostic criteria applied to psychopathy are as follows:

  1. A pattern of recurring antisocial behavior as a juvenile, and continuing as an adult (truancy, theft, fights, sexual offenses, arson, con games, etc.)
  1. Impulsive behavior demonstrating lack of responsibility (inability to keep a job or maintain interpersonal relationships, poor credit record, frequent lying)
  1. Inability to experience guilt or remorse

From these criteria, it is no wonder that many criminals are included in the psychopathic statistics, since one of the diagnostic criteria involves habitual criminal behavior; it is important, however, for the reader to understand that not all habitual criminals are psychopaths and conversely, not all psychopaths are habitual criminals. Some psychopaths are successful salesmen, politicians, and businessmen. The

information in this discussion describes those individuals who are classified as clearly psychopathic as opposed to a much larger group of individuals who are classified as having psychopathic tendencies.

To appreciate the diagnosis of psychopathy requires an understanding and differentiation of the motivational drives which influence antisocial behavior. Most suspects who steal money, for example, do so because they want or need money. When the suspect later lies about the theft, he does so to avoid the negative consequences

associated with telling the truth. Those consequences may involve going to jail, losing a job, or loss of respect or self-worth.

The psychopath, on the other hand, engages in antisocial behavior to increase his self-esteem. When the psychopath steals money, for example, the theft is motivated primarily by the pure excitement of stealing; the psychopath commits a crime for the sake of a thrilling experience. In doing so, he demonstrates his superiority over the victim. When the psychopath later lies about his crime, he is not lying to avoid going to jail, but rather because he again is demonstrating his intellectual superiority by fooling the investigator, the judge, or jury. In other words, when the investigator is dealing with a psychopath, he must cast aside traditional motivations involving the commission of the crime and why the suspect is lying about it.

With this background, some of the misconceptions about psychopathy can be dispelled. The first is that the psychopath lies pathologically. Pathological lying implies uncontrollable (not impulsive) lying. Most authorities on the subject of lying agree that for a false statement to constitute a lie requires that the individual develop an intent to deceive; the liar must benefit in some manner from stating the falsehood. An individual who lies pathologically would not be in control of his lies and would not, therefore, benefit from the lie. While the psychopath may lie at will, and even about trivial matters, he is certainly in control of his statements, and clearly benefits psychologically by deceiving others. Therefore, very few psychopathic personalities are also "pathological liars". With respect to deception, the psychopath, similar to the borderline personality, has a tendency to lie through fabrication.

A second misconception relating to the psychopath is his detectability on the polygraph. The widespread belief is that because the psychopath experiences little guilt or remorse over lying, he is undetectable with the polygraph. However, studies comparing psychopathic subjects to non-psychopathic subjects indicate no significant difference in detection rates when a subject is diagnosed psychopathic.

If one understands the polygraph technique, this finding makes perfect sense. The polygraph, at the most fundamental level, measures an individual's priority of concerns at the time of the examination. These concerns represent a goal which requires a need (to avoid detection) and a drive (means) to accomplish the goal, or in the case of the polygraph, an emotional state. The non-psychopathic subject experiences an emotional state when he lies because of the fear of negative consequences if he is caught in his lie (going to prison, being fired, etc.). However, for the psychopath to be caught in a lie by the polygraph involves internal failure; indeed, the psychopath's entire existence relies on his ability to get away with antisocial acts (lying included). For the unaffected individual to get caught by the polygraph means going to prison; for the psychopath to be caught by the polygraph means psychological failure. Therefore it is not surprising that laboratory and field subjects who were diagnosed as psychopathic had a high detection rate on the polygraph; a psychopath has more to lose if his lie is detected.

The final misconception relating to psychopathy is that the psychopath desires to be caught. This myth may be fueled by the apparent ease by which some psychopaths are caught. Examples are, the psychopath who writes a robbery threat on the back of a letter addressed to himself, or the psychopathic rapist who gives his real name to the victim prior to the assault. An explanation which is more consistent with the psychopath's personality structure is that he is sometimes easily apprehended because of his confidence avoiding punishment and also, because most of his crimes are impulsive, he does not have time for careful preparation. The psychopath may also achieve a special thrill by leaving clues or interjecting himself into the investigation through anonymous calls to a police department or media source. This involvement is not to assist apprehension, but to increase the thrill of the chase.

The Psychopath's Crime

As previously indicated, the psychopath is not generally selective in the types of crimes he commits. While some of the well-publicized psychopaths such as Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, or Hermann Goering committed heinous crimes, the investigator should not necessarily associate brutal crimes with the psychopath. It is estimated that within 60 minutes of experiencing social rejection the psychopath will engage in some antisocial behavior (lying, theft, aggression, etc.). This relationship describes the most identifiable aspect of the psychopath's criminal behavior -- it is impulsive and habitual.

Another aspect of the psychopath's crime is that frequently the victim is left feeling foolish or ashamed. The psychopath experiences a feeling of accomplishment when he has "outsmarted" the victim or has talked the victim into doing something quite irrational, such as turning over a life's savings. Another example of this would be using a water pistol during a robbery and leaving the pistol at the scene so the victim can be embarrassed when informed about the weapon used. Occasionally, there are media reports of probably psychopathic individuals who obtained employment in responsible positions (attorney, university professor, prison warden) using false credentials. The challenge of maintaining such a masquerade would greatly appeal to a psychopath since he again demonstrates his superiority over the victims.

Identifying the Psychopath During an Interview

The psychopath will appear glib and confident during a Behavior Analysis Interview. He has the uncanny ability to say what others want to hear, and reads other people's weaknesses at a glance. Because the psychopath is a practiced liar, the investigator should place less importance on upper body nonverbal behavior (eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures) than on behavioral leakage occurring in the lower body (posture, feet and legs). The psychopath may also portray an attitude toward the investigation which is nonchalant, unconcerned, and disinterested. Certainly the suspect who is overly friendly, offers well-timed smiles and accolades, is too willing to please the investigator and difficult to offend during interrogation must be looked upon suspiciously. At a risk of causing many false positive diagnoses, the following guideline is offered: a suspect who comes across during an interview as likable, personable and unusually friendly must be considered a possible psychopath.

A second indication of possible psychopathy is testing behavior, where the suspect may attempt to assess the investigator's helpfulness early in the interview process. Examples we have encountered include the suspect who, upon first meeting the investigator, immediately asks directions to a certain location, asks to use the phone, or requests a stamp for his parking ticket. It is not typical for a criminal suspect to request assistance immediately upon meeting the investigator. This type of testing behavior has also been documented in con men where the target is tested for susceptibility.

Another type of testing behavior is that psychopaths may lie during an interview about apparently insignificant facts such as their address, age, educational level, or marital status. While none of these areas directly deal with the suspect's guilt in the issue under investigation, these small lies allow the psychopath to test the investigator's acceptance of misinformation, as well as satisfying an inner need to lie successfully. Therefore, when a suspect is caught lying about seemingly irrelevant questions, psychopathy should be suspected. This same tendency can be explored during an interview by asking the suspect whether or not he has ever impersonated another person (police officer, attorney, roommate, etc.). Impersonation is a common psychopathic behavior and the suspect may acknowledge such behavior if it is not relevant to the issue under investigation.

The psychopath may be quite open during an interview about past acts of dishonesty, almost to the point where he appears to be bragging. For example, a suspect we investigated who claimed to be a witness to a homicide was proud to tell the investigator how he was able to avoid a parking fee that day by convincing the parking attendant that he was an employee of our building (impersonation). In another investigation, the suspect provided great detail of three armed robberies he committed years ago which were unsolved, even though he maintained his denial of involvement in the robbery under investigation. When a suspect does offer information about past acts of dishonesty, the investigator should attempt to evaluate whether or not the suspect feels remorse over these acts and is simply getting them off his chest, or, on the other hand, if the suspect emphasizes his cleverness and ingenuity in getting away with the crimes.

Because the psychopath's crimes are impulsive, frequently factual analysis will point to his deception. The investigator must, therefore, not allow apparent truthful verbal and nonverbal behavior to distort analysis of the investigative findings. The rule, for any suspect, is that when factual analysis indicates deception and behavioral analysis indicates truthfulness, factual analysis is more likely correct. The following table summarizes the points covered under identifying the psychopath during an interview.

Interview Symptoms Suggesting Psychopathy

Interrogating the Psychopath

The psychopath is a master con, and is suspicious of anyone offering sympathy or compassion. Therefore, a factual approach to interrogation is recommended. Psychologically, the psychopath operates from a perspective labeled as a "second chance phenomenon." This essentially means that the psychopath has developed a belief that, no matter what the odds, he can always escape punishment one more time (and frequently he does). The investigator should try to shut down this defense by making statements during interrogation which imply that "this time will be different;" e.g., "I am sure you have done many things we can't prove and I don't expect you to tell me about those things. On the other hand, our evidence in this case is so complete, that you would have to be a fool to think that this will go away simply by telling me you didn't do this." This statement also challenges the suspect's intelligence -- "you would have to be a fool...". Psychopaths tend to have an above-normal IQ and consider themselves superior to the investigator. Consequently, the suspect's intelligence is an appropriate target for a challenge during the interrogation.

The psychopath is a good candidate for repeated interrogation sessions. For example, if the investigator is unsuccessful during the initial session, he may imply that there is more evidence to be analyzed and that it would be a good idea for the suspect to return to go over the results of that evidence. If the second session is unsuccessful, the investigator may offer to thoroughly check out the suspect's alibi, for example. The key with multiple interrogations is to not alienate the suspect (by exhibiting dislike or resentment toward him) and to provide some sort of pretense for the future confrontations. The reason multiple interrogations may be successful with the psychopath is that he is not necessarily committed to denial during the interrogations, but rather is playing a game with the system -- the psychopath enjoys the challenge of the interrogation and perceives it as a game. To keep the game going, he may offer small changes in his story to encourage further interest in his adversary. These small changes may be sufficient to discredit his position in court.

In conclusion, while the psychopath represents a small portion of the population, this personality type has frequent encounters with law enforcement investigators. His ability to escape punishment contributes to his habitual criminal offenses and makes him a frustrating suspect with which to deal. If he is incarcerated, the prison psychologist may become his next victim of deception to earn an early release. Edmond Kemper, for example, was incarcerated at age 15 for killing both of his grandparents. After serving six years in prison, two psychologists reported that, "He has made an excellent response to treatment," and, "I see no psychiatric reason to consider him a threat to himself or any other member of society." After being released from prison he murdered and dismembered six young girls. Three days before confessing to these murders, he bludgeoned his mother to death with a hammer and strangled one of her friends.

Depressed Affect Disorders

All of the four subtypes of depressed affect disorders involve individuals with an underlying sense of inadequacy and failure. Save extraordinary circumstances, these personality types do not typically commit violent crimes and should be more associated with nonviolent crimes which are impulsive in nature. The investigator will find that individuals suffering from a depressed affect disorder are generally compliant and cooperative during an interrogation because of the suspect's inability to tolerate the anxiety associated with interrogation, coupled with guilt over their crime. However, these suspects are also likely to psychologically withdraw during an interrogation. In general, the depressed personality types will commit spontaneous crimes on the spur of the moment, as opposed to premeditated, calculated crimes. The reason for this is that these individuals do not have the confidence or anxiety tolerance to spend the time to plan out and anticipate a specific criminal act. The four classes of these disorders will be presented separately.

Avoidant Personality

The avoidant personality lacks self-confidence in social situations because of the fear of rejection, humiliation, or scrutiny by others. As a protective measure, the individual withdraws from social contact unless acceptance is essentially guaranteed. Their life is dictated by negative expectations, which of course, reinforces the probability of a negative outcome when they do become socially bold. At the outset of an interview, the avoidant personality may appear nervous, uncomfortable, and offer little information. The investigator should be patient with this type of suspect and offer positive statements which reassure acceptance. The old proverb that more can be accomplished with a carrot (expressions of sympathy and compassion) than a stick (intimidation and implied threats) could have been written with the avoidant personality in mind. The investigator who plays "tough" and attempts to elicit information or a confession from this type of suspect through displaying authority will find that the suspect will psychologically withdraw and say nothing. The following are associated characteristics of the avoidant personality:

  1. Reference to personal inadequacies, e.g., "I've never been well liked;" "I can't hold a job;" "I'm not good with numbers."
  1. Lame excuses to avoid social situations
  1. Inappropriate focus with respect to embarrassing situations, or feelings of shame
  1. Focussed achievement in one area without generalizing their abilities to other areas; examples are the suspect who comments on her abilities to be a "good mother" but perceives herself as a failure in other roles such as being a good wife or employee.

Because of the pervasive lack of confidence experienced by the avoidant personality, the investigator must be cautious to not misdiagnose these suspects as deceptive through behavior analysis. For example, a truthful suspect with an avoidant personality may exhibit general nonverbal displacement behavior during an interview and respond in a tentative manner to the "Results" question, e.g., "Well, I hope that it will show that I'm telling the truth." During early stages of the interrogation, even though the suspect is telling the truth, the avoidant personality is not likely to offer strong protestations of innocence. However, this lack of confidence will not result in a false confession if the interrogation is properly conducted.

For an avoidant personality type to commit a crime would generally require a real need -- a situation which creates a perceived double bind where the individual would suffer great embarrassment or hardship unless he committed the crime. Consequently, during an interrogation the suspect's general integrity and honesty should be emphasized. A theme centering on the suspect's past character and loyalty, which should not be jeopardized because of one mistake, could be considered with an alternative contrasting whether or not the suspect has done things like this on many occasions in the past, or if this was just the first time, i.e., "Is this characteristic of your general behavior or were unusual circumstances involved?"


The dependent personality has never achieved a sustained period of autonomy and, therefore, becomes dependent on others to assume most responsibilities in his life. Not uncommonly, the individual who develops a dependent personality has experienced some significant loss early in life; this may involve being physically or medically handicapped, sexually abused, or losing a parent to divorce or death. The dependent personality develops a feeling of helplessness and a fear of being isolated from significant others. The beaten wife syndrome, where the wife would rather tolerate her husband's beatings than be isolated from him, is a classic example of the dependent personality's thought process. The fear of living without the husband is greater than the fear of the next beating, and, therefore, the wife becomes forgiving of her husband's beatings. Contributing to this distorted thought process is a justification of the beatings in that the wife believes that the beatings are deserved because she is not a very good wife, and respects the husband for not leaving her.

Associated characteristics of the dependent personality:

  1. More frequently female
  1. History of being victimized (sexual, physical, emotional)
  1. Irrational and unconditional trust and forgiveness

When the dependent personality commits a crime, the investigator should always consider the theme that the crime was committed for someone else. In theft cases, for example, the suspect may steal for her children, or to help her husband out financially. A second consideration with this class of suspect is that they may act as an accomplice to the crime or have guilty knowledge. In the latter case, it is very difficult to persuade a dependent personality to implicate the person upon whom he or she is dependent. Examples are, persuading a wife to acknowledge that her husband is sexually abusing a child, or a young woman to admit that her boyfriend is selling drugs. Since the dependent witness has psychologically justified the behavior of the significant other, the investigator should not criticize the other person's behavior. Rather, the investigator should express concern that the criminal behavior will get worse in the future and that the witness, through her cooperation, can help out the other person by stopping the behavior before it gets too serious. The essential theme is that if you really care about this person, you will tell me what he has done.


A person with a compulsive personality disorder places a higher priority on productivity than on satisfaction with interpersonal relationships. Despite the high priority on productivity, the compulsive personality is an inefficient worker and is preoccupied and overwhelmed with unfinished business. The compulsive personality type avoids emotional expression and is conditioned to respond intellectually and logically to an emotional situation. The behavior of the compulsive individual is driven by a fear of loss of control -- in essence, he is keeping his life intact by maintaining constant productivity.

Associated characteristics of a compulsive personality:

  1. The workaholic -- unable to relax or get mind off of the job
  1. Inappropriate precision of answers, e.g., "I left the house at 6:07;""I live 2.2 miles from work."
  1. Inability to say "no" to professional or social engagements
  1. Susceptibility to alcohol, drug abuse and gambling

During the interview of a compulsive personality the investigator should always inquire about alcohol or illegal drug use at the time of the crime. If the suspect acknowledges such use, a primary interrogational theme will be to blame the effects of the intoxicant which caused poor judgment on the part of the suspect (loss of control).

During interrogation, the compulsive personality may be reluctant to give up control to the investigator, but not nearly to the degree of the previously mentioned narcissistic personality. An underlying theme for compulsive offenders is that the investigator is permitting the suspect some input to the investigation, so that he has some control of the outcome. For example:

"Mike, it is important for you to realize that I don't have a legal obligation to go over the investigation results with you. I just thought that if I were in your shoes, I would want to have some input in terms of where this thing is going. If we leave things stand as they are, we will have to make all of the decisions based strictly on the evidence."

Passive Aggressive

It is psychologically healthy and normal for an individual to verbally express anger or resentment toward another person or circumstance, e.g., "How can you expect me to protect and serve when I haven't had a decent vacation in a year!" The passive aggressive personality, however, does not have the confidence to confront other people or express feelings openly. Their anger (aggression) is indirectly expressed through noncompliance with significant others and obstructionistic behavior. When investigating an act of sabotage or product tampering at a company, for example, the investigator should be looking for not only disgruntled employees, but also employees with a passive aggressive personality.

The passive aggressive personality experiences unresolved anger and lacks the self-confidence to express that anger openly or honestly. As a result, the anger is vented through obstructionistic and possibly criminal behavior. Because of this orientation, many of the crimes committed by passive aggressive personalities have an underlying motivation of revenge. For example, tax evasion, which is generally thought of as a monetary gain crime, would more likely be motivated out of irritation toward the government if committed by a passive aggressive personality. Similarly, if a suspect in an arson or homicide exhibited a passive aggressive personality, the investigator should carefully consider the possibility that the crime was revenge motivated. Anger rapes, where the victim oftentimes symbolizes a woman in the suspect's life, may be committed by a passive aggressive personality.

In the late 1990s, a series of school shootings involving students made headline news. This type of behavior is typical of the passive aggressive personality, where bottled up, and previously unexpressed emotions, explode in a rage of violence. Unable to resolve emotional discord through accepted means, these students acted out their frustration through uncontrollable violence.

Associated characteristics of the passive aggressive personality:

  1. Confident and independent -- an aversion to relying on others for help.
  1. Acting out behavior -- beliefs or behavior which are contrary to societal norms, or purposefully contradicting a parent's, spouse's, or friend's values.
  2. Preoccupation with fantasy -- the suspect plays the role of a hero, either through fantasy games or simple day-dreaming.
  1. Impulsive crimes of passion and loss of emotional control.

During interrogation of the passive aggressive suspect, the investigator should place heavy blame onto the victim for causing the suspect to commit the crime. In addition, general stress should be blamed for making the suspect less responsible for their behavior. In this regard, when interviewing a passive aggressive suspect, investigate closely emotional precipitators that may have led to the commission of the crime. The other significant feature we have noted regarding these suspects is that, not uncommonly, they will admit responsibility for the crime, but they will also attempt to deny or distort the true intention behind the crime. Examples of this include a 17-year-old arson suspect who admitted starting the fire but claimed it was accidental; countless shoplifters who acknowledged not paying for certain merchandise but claim that they had absent mindedly walked out of the store without knowing the merchandise was in their possession and a manager at a convenience store who claimed that, in violation of company policy, he took the deposit bag home and left it in his car overnight, but when he got in his car the next morning the deposit was gone. When a suspect acknowledges physical responsibility for the crime but denies personal responsibility for it, e.g., "Oh sure, I may have touched her vaginal area but it was accidental," the investigator should consider the possibility of a passive aggressive personality.


There are many investigators who are able to review a file or interview a suspect and comment about the personality of the suspect, oftentimes providing insight with respect to an interrogation of the suspect. Occasionally these investigators will voice their confidence in a suspect's innocence by stating, "That suspect doesn't have the personality to commit this crime." These investigators may not have substantial training in psychopathology but they do have good memories and over many years of experience are able to form mental associations of different personality types. In the previous discussion we have attempted to supplement experience with education by presenting eleven different types of personality disorders. We should also reiterate that not all suspects can be classified within a particular personality disorder. In truth, most personalities will spill over into two or more areas. However, predominant traits are often present. Most importantly, if a suspect's personality does appear to be affected, this fact alone is not an indication of deception; the investigator must determine whether or not the suspect's affected personality is consistent with other factual information. Primarily, this assessment is used to help formulate an effective interrogational strategy once other evidence supports deception.

* Classification and terminology for psychological disorders are variable from year to year. The concept of personality disorder is used here, not to make clinical diagnosis, but as a model to help understand different subject personalities. For a more updated description of these disorders see Kaplan, H. & Sadock, B. Synopsis of Psychiatry 8th ed. William and Wilkins, 1998. While the DSM-V (2013) has reorganized personality disorders into six broad categories, the information in this chapter is still relevant and useful to criminal investigators in understanding a suspect and the crime he may have committed.

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