The Mask of Sanity  

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The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality is a 1941 book by Hervey M. Cleckley on psychopathy and psychopathology, it is considered his magnum opus. It is considered a landmark in the field. Dr. Cleckley revised and expanded the work with each edition published in his lifetime. The second American edition of 1950 underwent the most substantial additions and improvements. Robert Hare devised the "Psychopathy Checklist" (PCL) to assess the main characteristics of psychopathic behavior, based in part on Dr. Cleckley's work.

The The Mask of Sanity is distinguished by its central thesis, that the psychopath exhibits normal function according to standard psychiatric criteria, yet privately engages in destructive behavior. The book was intended to assist with detection and diagnosis of the elusive psychopath for purposes of palliation and not as a cure for the condition itself. The idea of a master deceiver secretly possessed of no moral or ethical restraints, yet behaving in public with excellent function, electrified American society and led to heightened interest in both psychological self-introspection and the detection of hidden psychopaths in society at large, leading to a refinement of the word itself into what was perceived to be a less stigmatizing term, "sociopath."


On Anna, the female psychopath

"More specific inquiry brought out opinions on Hamlet's essential conflict, comparison between the music of Brahms and the music of Shostakovitch, an impressive criticism of Schopenhauer's views on women, and several pertinent references to The Brothers Karamazov." --The Mask of Sanity


In the 1800s, Philippe Pinel first used the French term manie sans delire ("mania without delirium") to designate those individuals engaging in deviant behavior but exhibiting no signs of a cognitive disorder such as hallucinations or delusions. Although the meaning of the term has changed through numerous writings on the subject over time, the writing of Cleckley and his use of the label "psychopath" in The Mask of Sanity brought the term into popular usage.


The label "psychopath" as used by Cleckley had been embraced by popular culture, and is often applied to serial killers and other violent criminals, irrespective of whether they qualify (although most serial killers do); for this reason the imprecise popular use had been deplored. Therefore, although in popular culture the term is common, it had little relevance to criminology, forensic psychology or psychiatry.

Robert Hare developed a Psychopathy Checklist based on the psychopath construct developed by Cleckley. Later two items were removed from the checklist in order to more clearly represent the structure of a two-factor analysis.

The DSM-III committee, in attempting to develop a trait-oriented basis for the antisocial personality diagnosis, made efforts to combine the work of Lee Robbins's 1966 criteria of behavioral acts with trait items based on the work of Cleckley, as his list of core traits still remains relevant.

See also

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