Researchers find tests meant to predict future violence by psychopaths is less accurate than chance

October 2, 2013 by Bob Yirka report

(Medical Xpress)—A trio of British researchers has conducted a study that has revealed that tests given to jailed psychopaths to predict the likelihood of engaging in future violence, are less accurate than chance. In their paper published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Jeremy Coid, Simone Ullrich and Constantinos Kallis describe how they interviewed and gave tests to inmates in British prisons and then followed up later to see if they engaged in violent activities after release—they found that tests given to predict such behavior in psychopaths were no better than 50 percent accurate.

In order to protect the public, trained psychology professionals are often asked to assess the likelihood of an incarcerated person engaging in illegal activities when authorities are considering whether or not such a person should be released before their sentence is up. Unfortunately, giving tests and interpreting their results has not yet proved to be a reliable science. In this new study in Britain, the researchers conducted interviews and gave psychological tests to 1,396 inmates imprisoned in England and Wales, six months to a year before their release—afterwards re-offense records were studied to compare with future activities.

The tests given to the inmates were meant to discover if they had mental impairments, and if so, which ones—that allowed for testing of re-offending rates to see how well the tests were able to predict future tendencies. The for assessing whether a person is a psychopath (one who is amoral) is considered to be highly reliable and is also used to predict whether a person will engage in future violent activities.

In analyzing the results, the researchers found that the tests did reasonably well in predicting behavior in people with no discernible mental illness—they proved to be approximately 75 percent right in predicting whether they would be jailed again for . The tests were less accurate for those with mental ailments such as schizophrenia, with a success rate of just 60 percent. Predicting whether a person diagnosed as a would re-offend, sadly, was no better than 50 percent, which, the researchers point out, is no better than flipping a coin. For this reason, they suggest that courts stop using such tests when considering early release of such prisoners.

Explore further: Britain to ban smoking in prisons (Update)

More information: Predicting future violence among individuals with psychopathy, Published online ahead of print September 26, 2013, DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.112.118471

Abstract
Structured risk assessment aims to help clinicians classify offenders according to likelihood of future violent and criminal behaviour. We investigated how confident clinicians can be using three commonly used instruments (HCR-20, VRAG, OGRS-II) in individuals with different diagnoses. Moderate to good predictive accuracy for future violence was achieved for released prisoners with no mental disorder, low to moderate for clinical syndromes and personality disorder, but accuracy was no better than chance for individuals with psychopathy. Comprehensive diagnostic assessment should precede an assessment of risk. Risk assessment instruments cannot be relied upon when managing public risk from individuals with psychopathy.

Press release

Related Stories

Britain to ban smoking in prisons (Update)

September 20, 2013
Britain said Friday it was looking at banning smoking in prisons, despite fears of a backlash from prisoners who claim a cigarette is one of the few joys of life behind bars.

New genetic tests, more information

May 29, 2013
Our ability to analyse the genetic make-up of the human body has rapidly improved over the last few decades. The genetic basis of different diseases is gradually being deciphered through scientific research and more and more ...

Why is orange the new black for female victims of trauma?

August 2, 2013
How do pathways to jail vary for females who are victims of specific types of trauma? New research published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, a SAGE journal, pinpoints the types of trauma such as caregiver violence, witnessing ...

Pre-test jitters might boost scores, study says

October 12, 2012
(HealthDay)—For students with a good memory, feeling anxious before taking an exam might actually lead to a higher test score, researchers have found.

Mental illness protects some inmates from returning to jail

January 17, 2012
People with mental illness have gotten a bad rap in past research studies, being labeled the group of people with the highest return rates to prison. But a researcher from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case ...

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 02, 2013
A paranoid, delusional schizophrenic of my acquaintance also possessed an intelligence great enough to estimate what the interviewer's questions were looking for and to provide answers that would lead the interviewer to exactly whatever conclusion he wanted.
He was also an accomplished liar, and could seem very credible when he chose to be.
His abilities in this regard exceeded those of the interviewers, who were almost never able to detect any dissemblance on his part.
He often remarked to me how easy it was to mislead the 'professionals.'
katesisco
1 / 5 (7) Oct 02, 2013
A study of 'the man on the street' several years ago found the majority of us are classifable as mentally ill.
Studying someone in jail being there by virtue of having been found guilty of moral law transgression to determine a moral failure is ridiculous.
pauljpease
5 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2013
A paranoid, delusional schizophrenic of my acquaintance also possessed an intelligence great enough to estimate what the interviewer's questions were looking for and to provide answers that would lead the interviewer to exactly whatever conclusion he wanted.
He was also an accomplished liar, and could seem very credible when he chose to be.
His abilities in this regard exceeded those of the interviewers, who were almost never able to detect any dissemblance on his part.
He often remarked to me how easy it was to mislead the 'professionals.'

Great point. The psychopaths are much more likely to attempt to manipulate the outcome of the test in their favor, whereas regular people probably answer the questions more honestly. Cheers.
Sigh
not rated yet Oct 03, 2013
"Predicting whether a person diagnosed as a psychopath would re-offend, sadly, was no better than 50 percent, which, the researchers point out, is no better than flipping a coin."
Sadly, that phrase really does show up in the paper. The comparison with flipping a coin is only relevant when there only two outcomes or classes of outcomes (true here) which are equally likely (NOT true here). To use a clearer example, if I could predict half of all winning lottery numbers, I'd get rich pretty quickly. It takes a bit of careful reading of the table in the supplementary data to find out that the assessment instruments intended to predict violence or reoffending really don't add any predictive power compared to the initial assessment of psychopathy, if the psychopathy score is over 30.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.