When people are asked to define a psychopath, examples from popular culture such as Psycho’s Norman Bates, Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal Lecter or the Saw series’ John Kramer might spring to mind. But psychopathy is a widely misunderstood form of personality disorder, according to the University of Waikato’s Professor of Psychology Devon L.L. Polaschek.
“News media, films and television shows often depict sadists, criminal masterminds and evil dictators as suffering from psychopathy but these depictions bear little resemblance to most of the people identified as psychopathic by scientific methods,” says Professor Polaschek.
“The scientific literature on psychopathy is also confused – psychopathy is more complex, more interesting, and at the same time, more ordinary than it first appears,” she says.
In her Inaugural Professorial Lecture this month, Professor Polaschek will talk about the modern scientific understandings of psychopathy. Using her longstanding research programme on high-risk violent prisoners, she will consider how some people become psychopathic criminals, whether they can be released safely into the wilds of our communities again, and whether the psychological treatments made available to them are helping them change their psychopathy.
A forensic clinical psychologist and professor of psychology and crime science, Professor Polaschek works in the University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the newly established Institute for Security and Crime Science. She completed a Diploma in Clinical Psychology at the University of Canterbury and a PhD at Victoria University. Her research expertise includes criminal behaviour, violent offending, imprisonment parole, sexual offending, offender rehabilitation, offender reintegration, family violence perpetrators and what works with offenders.
Professor Polaschek’s Inaugural Professorial Lecture ‘Mean, misunderstood, and mistreated: Psychopathy in the wild and in prison’ will be held at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts on Tuesday 30 May starting at 5.15pm. It is free and open to the public. Inaugural Professorial Lectures are the university’s way of introducing its latest professors to the community. Parking is free after 4.30pm in the University of Waikato’s Gate 1 (Knighton Road) carpark.