Featured Manuscript of the Month: August 2017

Chosen and summarized by: Mary C. Baggio

Glenn, A. L., Efferson, L. M., Iyer, R., & Graham, J. (2017). Values, goals, and motivations associated with psychopathy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 36(2), 108-125.

Corresponding Author: Andrea Glenn ([email protected]) University of Alabama


Previous literature tends to focus on deficits in psychopathy including reduced moral concerns and a weaker moral identity. This featured study aimed to add to the literature by investigating what does motivate the behavior of individuals scoring higher in psychopathy in a large sample (N  = 3,521). They hypothesized that psychopathy would be positively associated with self-enhancement values as well as openness to change values, with more extrinsic goals, with more concern about their relative position in society than their absolute level of a particular resource, and with a social dominance orientation. Participants completed Levensons’s Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (LSRP), the Schwartz Values Scale (SVS), the Aspirational Index, the Material Values Scale, the Positional Versus Absolute Good Scale, and the Social Dominance Orientation (SDO).


A few key findings:


- Psychopathy was positively associated with Power and Hedonism values and negatively associated with Universalism and Benevolence values with these relationships being stronger for Factor 1 psychopathic traits.

- Individuals higher in psychopathy reported the goal of obtaining financial success was more important while improving the world was less important. They also were more likely to believe that possessions and their acquisition lead to happiness and life satisfaction, use possessions to judge their success and the success of others, and find possessions to be central to their life.

- Individuals scoring higher in psychopathy were also more likely to prefer a positional state of the world including having higher income, education level, more vacation time, and being berated less than others by supervisors, even if it meant a worse absolute level of things. They also preferred their children to have higher education and intelligence even if it meant lower absolute levels.

- Psychopathy was strongly associated with a social dominance orientation, which was primarily driven by Factor 1.


A few important implications:


- The results overall suggest that psychopathy appears to be primarily oriented with self-enhancing motivations, particularly related to experiencing pleasure and having relative higher social position.

- Those higher in psychopathy appear to be interested in experiencing pleasure, obtaining social status, and having control, while not valuing achieving this goal through ambition, success, and capability. This may suggest why individuals higher in psychopathy are more likely to cheat, commit fraud, or steal to get ahead, as they are interested in power but not achievement.

- Those higher in psychopathy are interested in financial success as a way to achieve status and power over others. The desire for social power may be a stronger motivator for those with psychopathic traits than even experiencing pleasure and accumulating wealth in of itself.


- A strong relationship with SDO may demonstrate how the core psychopathy feature of being exploitative and manipulative result in specific views of the world that may motivate behavior.