A recent special report by Reuters entitled From Hannibal Lecter to Bernie Madoff discusses the use of criminal profiling techniques by the FBI in an attempt to find a set of common traits for white-collar criminals.  While criminal profiling is not a new technique, it has received relatively widespread attention in the popular media with the emergence of televisions shows such as CSI, NCIS, Profiler, Criminal Minds, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and others. This commentary highlights the commonality of psychopathic features involved in white-collar criminals and the bases for psychological profiling.

Criminal Profiling

The basis for profiling is the accumulation of data on the various characteristics of offenders who commit a particular type of crime. A large, federal organization, such as the FBI, is well equipped in this regard as they have access to a vast amount of information across a large number of cases that, when coded and analyzed, can provide informative data on common characteristics for a particular type of offender.

The first step towards attempting to profile a specific white-collar criminal would be the accumulation of data on the various characteristics of known white-collar criminals. Given the significant implications that the actions of white-collar criminals such as Bernie Madoff, Samuel Isreal, and others have had on the U.S. economy over the last number of years, this would appear to be a worthwhile task.

To read the Reuters article, please click the link below:

Special Report: From Hannibal Lecter to Bernie Madoff

Psychopathy and White-Collar Crime

The following video is an interview with Sam Antar, former Crazy Eddie’s CFO and white-collar criminal (who, interestingly, still refers to himself as such in the present tense) on the difficulties involved in attempting to profile white-collar criminals.

What is striking about this video clip (aside from the fact that Sam Antar is now making a living consulting with federal agencies about white-collar crime) is that Sam Antar is describing a pattern of personality characteristics known as psychopathy.

Psychopathy is a constellation of affective, interpersonal, and behavioral characteristics first introduced by Hervey Cleckley in 1941 in his classic text, The Mask of Sanity. Cleckley described the person with psychopathy as lacking emotional responsiveness, having no sense of shame, being superficially charming and manipulative, showing irresponsible behavior, and being inadequately motivated. Many researchers, but especially Robert Hare and his colleagues, have continued to develop the concept of psychopathy throughout the last three decades and have been instrumental in describing how it is distinct from (and similar to) the concept of antisocial personality disorder (APD). Psychopathy is a broader concept than APD and encompasses an interpersonal/affective component in addition to the mainly behavioral component of APD.

Psychopathy is an important concept in forensic evaluation as the constellation of personality traits involved in psychopathy often has a significant impact on an individual’s understanding of and functioning within his or her environment. It is interesting to see Sam Antar describe, in essence, psychopathic behavior and personality style in white-collar criminals. This is an observation that has also been noted by others, such as Steve Hart and Robert Hare, experts in the study of psychopathy, who have long speculated that the most successful psychopaths are those who have not been caught and who, if committing crime, are most likely committing white-collar types of crimes. This is also the topic of Paul Babiak and Robert Hare’s recent book entitled, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work.

Photo courtesy of reuters.com