4 Types of Psychopaths (Traits And Behaviors of Each)

Psychopaths typically lack empathy and cannot form genuine relationships with their parents, teachers, friends, or lovers.

They openly disregard norms and rules, have “fear-blindness,” and feel no remorse (find out the 10 warning signs of a psychopath).

They are impulsive, and cannot assess the consequences of their actions to stop the wrong ones.

Psychopathy is a common and severe psychopathological condition that affects about 1% of the general population and 15%-25% of male offenders in prison. (Hare, 1996; Neumann & Hare, 2008).

What are the 4 types of psychopaths?

There can be four possible types of psychopaths: primary, secondary, distempered, and narcissistic.

Each of the following four different types of psychopaths has unique characteristics that distinguish it from the others.

1. Primary Psychopaths

Primary psychopaths are thought of as born psychopaths. Their genes predispose them to psychopathy more than environmental factors like childhood trauma.

They lack empathy, guilt, and remorse, and can be charming, manipulative, and impulsive.

While primary psychopaths are more likely to indulge in criminal or violent behavior than the general population, not all of them do.

When focused on a goal, psychopaths show a deficit in threat processing.

Many of them openly live an antisocial and criminal lifestyle, harmful to both themselves and society, but some are good at hiding their true nature to blend in with society.

They are often referred to as “classic” or “true” psychopaths due to their tendency towards antisocial behavior.

four types of psychopaths
(Photo by cottonbro studio, Pexels)

Research suggests that primary psychopaths may have a dysfunction in their brain’s emotional processing centers, particularly the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (Blair, 2003; Marsh & Cardinale, 2012; Viding et al., 2012).

Psychopathic behavior has long been attributed to a fundamental deficit in fear that arises from impaired amygdala function.

Larson & Baskin-Sommers, 2013

This brain dysfunction may underlie their inability to experience empathy and their impulsivity.

Neuroimaging studies suggest that primary psychopaths have reduced gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, which may be linked to their difficulty in controlling their behavior and making decisions.

Primary psychopaths are often resistant to therapy because they do not see anything wrong with their behavior and lack the motivation to change.

While there is no cure for psychopathy, treating these people means helping them manage their behavior and reduce the risk of harm to themselves and others.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help them build coping mechanisms and strengthen their emotional regulation skills.
  • Another promising approach is mindfulness-based therapy, which can help primary psychopaths become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and improve their ability to resist acting on their emotions.

Since primary psychopathy is thought to have a strong genetic component, researchers are trying to develop more effective treatments that can help these people lead more beneficial and fulfilling life.

3. Secondary Psychopaths

Secondary psychopathy is thought to develop in response to environmental adversities.

Secondary psychopaths can experience intense negative emotions like anger, frustration, and irritability. They show greater risk-taking, impulsivity, short-term thinking, and antisocial behavior.

They often have a history of childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma.

These early childhood adversities may lead them to struggle with emotional regulation and problems forming healthy relationships.

They often develop a deficit in recognizing and responding to fear-related stimuli, such as fearful facial expressions (Marsh and Blair, 2008).

Unlike primary psychopaths, who have a genetic predisposition to psychopathy, secondary psychopaths may be able to recover from their condition, learn to manage their symptoms, and improve their quality of life with proper treatment and support.

Psychotherapy, medication, and other interventions can help secondary psychopaths learn to manage their emotions, improve their impulse control, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. However, the severity of the condition can vary depending on factors such as their environment, upbringing, and personal experiences.

Not all secondary psychopaths may exhibit the same behaviors or symptoms, and treatment must be tailored to each one’s individual needs.

Research has shown that individuals with secondary psychopathy may have differences in brain structure and function compared to those without the disorder (Rilling, 2007; Dolan and Fullam, 2009; Jones, 2009; Harenski, 2010; Finger, 2011; Marsh, 2011a).

People with secondary psychopathy may have a reduced volume of gray matter in areas of the brain involved in emotional regulation, decision-making, and empathy.

While the exact reasons are not yet clear, some studies suggest that secondary psychopathy may be more responsive to treatment than primary psychopathy.

Since secondary psychopathy is more strongly influenced by environmental factors, it may respond better to interventions that target these factors.

While more research is needed, some experts suggest that individually-tailored support can be more effective in helping these people manage their urges and impulses.

4. Distempered Psychopaths

Distempered psychopaths are prone to sudden outbursts of rage or frenzy.

They may have difficulty controlling their emotions and may lash out at others in response to even minor provocations.

They often have strong sex drives and can become obsessed with sexual urges during their frenzies.

These people are often highly impulsive and reckless, engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors without considering the consequences.

In addition to their rage outbursts, distempered psychopaths may have extreme mood swings, shifting rapidly between periods of intense anger or aggression and periods of extreme calm or even euphoria.

Not all who exhibit the behaviors associated with distempered psychopathy have the disorder. Therefore, a diagnosis should only be made by a qualified mental health professional.

Distempered psychopathy is usually treated with psychotherapy and medication to control symptoms and improve quality of life.

4. Narcissistic Psychopath

Narcissistic psychopaths, in particular, exhibit traits of both psychopathy and narcissism, which includes a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.

They can easily exploit others for their own benefit without feeling any guilt or remorse. They manage to stay immune to shame or sorrow even when they harm others.

Worse, they can approach someone they previously exploited to help them out and deceive them again.

Narcissistic psychopaths often have charming mannerisms which they use to entice others.

Since are often highly competitive and aggressive, and enjoy taking risks, they may engage in impulsive, reckless, and even downright cruel acts to impress or coerce others.

Narcissistic psychopaths can be highly dangerous. Their need for control over others can lead them to charm others into doing their dirty work and then scapegoat them for the negative consequences.

As Robert Hare, a leading expert in psychopathy, notes,

“Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets.”


  1. Are narcissistic psychopaths the same as charismatic psychopaths?

    Narcissistic psychopaths and charismatic psychopaths may both have a lack of empathy and disregard for rules, but are not the same.
    1. Charismatic psychopaths possess magnetic personalities and can charm and manipulate others to achieve their goals.
    2. Narcissistic psychopaths may lack natural charisma, so they rely on manipulation and aggression to get others to satisfy their grandiose self-importance.
    Charismatic psychopaths rely more on their charm and social skills to achieve their nefarious objectives, whereas narcissistic psychopaths may be more aggressive and ruthless in their tactics.
    Some famous examples of charismatic psychopaths include Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones, who used their charm and charisma to commit heinous crimes on their innocent victims.

  2. What are the 10 traits of a psychopath?

    1. Impulsivity
    2. Lack of empathy
    3. Superficial charm
    4. Pathological lying
    5. Proneness to boredom
    6. Lack of remorse or guilt
    7. Shallow emotional response
    8. Grandiose sense of self-worth
    9. Cunning and manipulative behavior
    10. Irresponsibility and failure to plan ahead
    However, a diagnosis of psychopathy should only be made by a trained mental health professional.

Final Words

Psychopaths have low fear, and this “fear-blindness” is a bigger issue than their lack of other emotions.

Fearful situations cause them to have very little electrodermal reactions (like piloerection or goosebumps), a startle response, or an active response to threats.

  • They also feel less dread within themselves.
  • They cannot perceive and respond well to fear-related stimuli.
  • They are unable to recognize fear in the faces or body language of others.

This makes them dangerous and violent, whether openly or indirectly.

• • •

Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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