Summary: While most people mellow with age, this does not appear to be the case for those with ASPD or psychopathy. Researchers report maladaptive behaviors associated with ASPD often get worse as people with the personality disorder age.
Source: University of Otago
Anyone waiting for a sociopath to grow up or calm down should give up; they will not change, a new study has revealed.
The research, published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, surveyed more than 1,200 partners, family members and friends of psychopaths—93% reported they were just as bad, or worse, as they got older.
Co-author Professor Martin Sellbom, of the University of Otago’s Department of Psychology, says the research focused on people with antisocial personality disorder/psychopathy who were aged over 50.
“There is a general idea that offenders burn out and change their antisocial ways. But this study shows that those with psychopathic traits very much remain the same past age 50, and some even become worse as they get older with respect to manipulation, deceit, and abuse,” he says.
The study took a unique victim-centered approach.
“This research gives a voice to the victims of psychopathy, providing a general indication of the degree to which victims are affected. Most of the time we focus on the individuals with such traits, and their biased perspectives.”
According to those surveyed, 935 individuals showed levels of disordered traits considered indicative of ASPD/psychopathy. Respondents said 99% were manipulative, 94% engaged in antisocial behavior, 93% were emotionally abusive, 89% were psychologically abusive, 58% were financially abusive, and 47% were violent.
Many respondents provided narrative descriptions of what they witnessed and experienced. One woman wrote about her ex-husband: “The older he got, the more abusive he became. He lied, cheated, used, and stole. As he aged, he seemed to care less about hiding his behavior, and he seemed to openly enjoy being cruel.”
Another respondent wrote about her mother: “Nothing ever changed. She exploits, lies, throws tantrums, rages, abandons, pouts, defames, threatens, and would still be physically violent if she had the physical strength.”
“There are many ways people can be victimized and many are unaware of the warning signs of psychopathy before it is too late. These individuals can be very charming and say all the right things to hook someone, but then the manipulation begins,” Professor Sellbom says.
Survey respondents reported significant harm caused by these over-50 individuals: 68% lost money, 45% incurred debt, 26% were physically abused or injured, and 27% had their lives threatened.
Psychological harm was even more widespread: 88% of survey respondents said they became anxious or depressed, 76% said the stress of the involvement made them ill, 70% said they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and 31% considered or attempted suicide.
Lead author Donna Andersen, founder of non-profit Lovefraud Education and Recovery, says the research shows people with antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy never stop their manipulative and deceptive behavior.
“Anyone who is waiting for a senior sociopath to grow up or calm down—whether this person is a romantic partner, family member, work colleague or friend—should stop wasting their life and escape. He or she will not change.”
About this personality disorder and behavior research news
Surviving Senior Psychopathy: Informant Reports of Deceit and Antisocial Behavior in Multiple Types of Relationships
A prevailing view among researchers and mental health clinicians is that symptoms of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)/psychopathy decrease as affected individuals reach middle age.
In the current investigation, informants were surveyed about the behavior of individuals who they believed showed traits of ASPD/psychopathy and were over the age of 50.
A final sample of 1,215 respondents rated the index individuals according to the ASPD/psychopathy traits derived from the pre-publication first draft of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, revealing high endorsement of traits associated with ASPD.
Survey respondents reported their observations that individuals who met a threshold for putative ASPD/psychopathy continued to engage in antisocial behavior after age 50, and as a result the respondents endured significant harm, including material losses, financial losses, and various self-reported mental health problems.
Those who knew the index individuals both before and after the age of 50 were specifically asked whether there was a change in the individual’s engagement in manipulation, deceit, and antisocial behavior; 93% of respondents reported that the behavior was just as bad or worse after age 50.
Other researchers have suggested that the DSM diagnostic criteria do not accurately describe ASPD/psychopathy symptoms and behavior in older adults, and that the disorder remains stable, but its manifestation changes with age. This study supports those conclusions.