Instead of a single condition, psychopathy seems to be a multifaceted condition distinct by blends of personality traits, claims a new study.
While they are portrayed as charming, dishonest, guiltless, and in some cases, terrifying, researchers at the University of California suggest that psychopathy is actually a much more complex personality disorder.
The public perception of psychopaths has been shaped by characters such as Alex in 'A Clockwork Orange' or Patrick Bateman in 'American Psycho'.
According to the researchers, a sizeable group of juvenile and adult offenders labelled as psychopathic are actually more emotionally disturbed than emotionally detached.
They also stressed that while many people might assume that psychopaths are 'born', not 'made', it is not just a matter of genes. Many psychologists also assume that psychopathy is inalterable.
"Psychopathy tends to be used as a label for people we do not like, cannot understand, or construe as evil," the Daily Mail quoted Jennifer Skeem, one of the authors of the study as saying.
"However, there is increasing evidence that it is a confluence of several different personality traits," she said.
Skeem said that these important distinctions have long escaped the attention of psychologists and policy-makers.
"Psychopathy tends to be used as a label for people we do not like, cannot understand, or construe as evil.
"It appears to have multiple constitutional causes that can be shaped by environmental factors," Skeem said.
Skeem also pointed out that psychopathic individuals often have no history of violent behaviour or criminal convictions.
"Psychopathy cannot be equated with extreme violence or serial killing.
"Psychopaths do not appear different in kind from other people, or inalterably dangerous.
"Decisions about juvenile and adult offenders that are based on faulty assumptions about violence risk, and treatment amenability have adverse consequences, both for individual offenders and the public," she added.
The study will be published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.