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Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 381–395 | Cite as

Demystification of the Relationship Between Psychopathy and Happiness

  • Guillaume Durand
Open Access
Research Paper

Abstract

Recent findings have provided evidence for a negative correlation between psychopathy and happiness. In order to determine if this correlation is generalizable to all subtypes of psychopathy, participants from the community (N = 572) were recruited to examine happiness-related features among males and females by psychopathic subtypes. Examination of the Fearless-Dominance (PPI-I) and Impulsive-Antisociality (PPI-II) subscales of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Short Form provided evidence for two distinct patterns when comparing psychopathic personality traits to happiness-related features. PPI-I was positively correlated with higher durable happiness, presence of a meaning in life, personal growth and hope, and correlated negatively with fluctuating happiness. PPI-II was negatively correlated with durable happiness, presence of a meaning in life, personal growth and hope, and correlated positively with fluctuating happiness and searching for a meaning in life. Despite a few differences, both genders displayed an overall similar pattern between measures of well-being and psychopathic subtypes. Implications for psychopathy regarding the importance of performing analyses by gender and subtypes are discussed.

Keywords

Psychopathy Community Subtypes Happiness Adaptive features 

1 Introduction

Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by antisocial behavior and a wide range of deviant personality traits, including lack of empathy or remorse, callousness, aggressiveness, manipulation, egocentricity and impulsivity (Berg et al. 2013a, b; Perez 2012). While there are no official statistics on the prevalence of psychopathy, it is estimated to be around 1% in the general population (Cooke 1998). The diagnosis is known to be much more frequent in males than females (Benning et al. 2005a, b; Gao and Raine 2010). Incarcerated psychopaths are commonly guilty of violence, drug usage, domestic abuse and assault (Camp et al. 2013; Hall et al. 2004). Furthermore, psychopathy has until recently been considered untreatable (Patrick et al. 2009). However, examination of previous studies claiming the impossibility of treating psychopaths revealed that none of these studies had a proper research design; hence weakening the notion that psychopathy is untreatable (D’Silva et al. 2004). Preliminary results of recent studies were able to further disprove the impossibility of treating clinically diagnosed psychopaths by the use of schema therapy, which consists of an intensive form of individual psychotherapy combining cognitive, behavioral, and humanistic approaches (Bernstein et al. 2012; Chakhssi et al. 2014).

Although psychopaths are commonly viewed as criminals, Cleckley (1941) introduced the controversial concept of successful psychopaths. Successful psychopaths are individuals who more easily achieve high ranking positions in the society due to their emotional anomalies, such as social charm, low neuroticism, and shallow effect (Coid et al. 2012; Patrick et al. 2009; Sadeh and Verona 2008). In line with this suggestion, empirical evidence from large scale studies (Berg et al. 2013a, b; Gervais et al. 2013; Tonnaer et al. 2013) suggests that psychopathic traits are not dichotomous but rather dimensional in nature. Examples of adaptive psychopathic traits are high pain tolerance (Hare 1965), high interest for seeking rewards (Hare and Thorvaldson 1970), lower fear of pain (Hare 1966), and higher stress immunity (Hare et al. 1978). Such traits allow psychopathic individuals to function better in stressful environments, for example, allowing them to successfully fulfill executive functions in hypercompetitive workplaces.

The difference between a non-successful psychopath and a successful psychopath could be due to the strength of their subtype’s expression. Several studies have conceptualized psychopathy as consisting of two major factors: Factor 1 (i.e. primary psychopathy) which represents affective-interpersonal and adaptive features, and Factor 2 (i.e. secondary psychopathy) which represents social deviance and maladaptive features (Benning et al. 2003; Cleckley 1941; Cox et al. 2013; Harpur et al. 1989; Lykken 1995; Ray et al. 2009). Further studies examined the possibility of dividing both factors in two, creating a four-facet model (Hare and Neumann 2005; Williams et al. 2007). This four-facet model was based on the two factors of the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), which has typically been used in institutionalized settings (Hare et al. 1990). Other measures of the psychopathic personality, such as the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI), are divided upon a two factors model and are considered reliable to assess psychopathic personality traits within undergraduates and community samples (Lilienfeld and Andrews 1996; Patrick et al. 2009). However, while the second factor, assessing secondary psychopathy or psychopathic traits, from the PCL-R and the PPI are highly correlated to one another, evidences suggest a very low correlation between their primary factors, as they do not assess the same type of primary psychopathic traits (Poythress et al. 2010).

Considering the positive traits of successful psychopaths, along with a lack of remorse and egocentricity, one might propose that these individuals are satisfied and happy with themselves. Results of a recent study (Love and Holder 2014) suggest otherwise. In this study, undergraduate participants completed a number of questionnaires, including the Oxford Happiness Inventory (Francis et al. 1998), the Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky 2004) the Levenson Psychopathy Self-Report Scale (Levenson et al. 1995) and the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (Williams et al. 2007). Correlation analysis of these questionnaires indicated a negative association between psychopathy and subjective well-being, as well as positive affect, happiness, and life satisfaction. The investigators attributed these findings to the poor interpersonal relationships linked with psychopathic traits. However, the authors did not perform separate analyses by psychopathic subtypes or gender, which may have yielded different results (Anestis et al. 2011). Such distinctions are necessary as Factor 1 is associated with low levels of fear and emotional dysregulation, while Factor 2 is associated with impulsivity, anxiety and aggressive behavior (Berg et al. 2013a, b). Individuals higher on Factor 1 are therefore more similar to successful psychopaths, and might be happier than individuals higher on Factor 2 traits.

While few studies have investigated well-being-related features in psychopathy, past findings support the notion of a negative correlation between these features and psychopathy. For instance, individuals displaying higher scores on psychopathy scales also show less expression of a meaning in life (Bartels and Pizarro 2011). A strong negative correlation was also found between the expression of callous and unemotional traits and a lack of hope in life (Berg et al. 2013a, b). While these results stem from various studies analyzing several constructs related to psychopathy, no study to our knowledge has systematically investigated measures of well-being (i.e. happiness, meaning in life, personal growth, and hope) in relation to the expression of psychopathic personality traits by subtype.

In addition to investigating the role of psychopathic subtypes in well-being, the role of gender was considered because gender differences have been reported in studies of both well-being and psychopathy. Males have been reported to score substantially higher than females on most psychopathic personality assessment scales (Cale and Lilienfeld 2002; Lee and Salekin 2010; Nikolova 2013). However, few of the commonly used instruments to assess psychopathy or psychopathic personality traits assess or interpret results based on gender, creating a potential gender bias (Nikolova 2013). Gender differences are also observed on variables related to psychological well-being (Dambrun 2007; Emslie et al. 2002). Females tend to display higher psychological distress, lower resilience to stressful events, and higher lifetime rates of clinical depression, alongside lower general self-esteem (Dambrun 2007; George et al. 1996; Kudielka and Kirschbaum 2005; Martinez and Dukes 1997). These results highlights the potential gender bias when assessing measures related to well-being in a group of participants without analyzing results by gender.

2 The Current Study

The purpose of this study is to examine alternative views between psychopathic personality traits and well-being. Since the majority of earlier studies in the field of psychopathy were performed on inmates (Berg et al. 2013a, b), a strong stigmatizing association developed between criminal offenses and psychopathy, leading to the belief that psychopathy is categorized by negative aspects (Furnham et al. 2009; Vitacco 2007). Therefore, in the present study, positive characteristics, such as happiness, were investigated in a community sample to determine the legitimacy of the relationship between lowered expression of well-being features and the expression of psychopathic personality traits. Given that psychopathy may be conceptualized on a continuum, and most individuals display psychopathic traits to different degrees, this study examined patterns between subtypes of psychopathic personality traits and well-being features as proposed by Love and Holder (2015) and Berg et al. (2013a, b).

The present study investigates the relationship between psychopathic traits and happiness-related characteristics such as durable and fluctuating happiness, meaning in life, personal growth and hope. Durable happiness includes characteristics such as contentment and inner peace. Fluctuating happiness represents sudden increase in happiness, followed by a sudden decrease. Meaning in life can be described as the presence of a meaning in life or the search for a meaning in life. Hope includes constructs such as focusing on a goal and planning for a goal. Together, these constructs form an extended range of happiness-related characteristics.

Three hypotheses have been formulated for this study. First, we seek to confirm a gender difference within the PPI-SF, and explore potential gender differences within measures of happiness-related features. Second, we expect a positive correlation between the expression of the adaptive component of the psychopathic personality and measures of happiness and well-being. Third, we expect a negative correlation between the expression of the maladaptive component of the psychopathic personality and happiness-related measures. As different patterns among subtypes and happiness-features may arise based on gender, males and females were analyzed independently.

3 Method

3.1 Participants

A total of 597 participants from the general population were recruited and instructed to anonymously fill-in an online questionnaire. Recruitment was performed via social media and websites dedicated to the promotion of psychological studies. The study was advertised with the title ‘‘Personality and Attitude Towards Life’’. Inclusion criteria were formulated to optimize the comparability of our results with previous findings (Lee and Salekin 2010; Lilienfeld et al. 2014). These criteria included an age limit, i.e. between 18 and 40 years, and post high-shool education. The final population sample included 55% males (N = 316) and 45% females (N = 256). The mean age of the sample was 24.19 (SD = 5.28). The most common primary language was English (37.4%), followed by other (26.6%), German (16.3%), Dutch (7%), French (6.8%) and Spanish (5.1%). Considering the highest level of education achieved, participants were mainly attending college (32%), were college graduates (27.8%), other (17.3%), master graduates (14.5%) or technical school students (5.6%). Participants were predominantly single (68.7%), living with another (18.9%) or married (8.2%). Participants were mostly located in Europe (58%), the USA (14.2%), Asia/Middle East (12.2%), Africa (4.7%) and Canada (4.4%). To account for immigrants who were not native to their then-current location, participants’ ethnicity was also investigated. The majority of participants were Caucasian (74.3%), Asian (11.5%) or Hispanic (7.3%). A total of 95.1% of the participants fully completed the study.

3.2 Materials

3.2.1 Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Short Form (PPI-SF; Lilienfeld and Widows 2005)

The PPI-SF is a self-administered questionnaire of 56 items, rated on a 4-point Likert-type scale (1 = false, 2 = mostly false, 3 = mostly true, 4 = true). It gives a total score and 8 subscale scores using items such as “A lot of people in my life have tried to stab me in the back”. The subscales are composed of the 7 most highly correlated items from the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI; Lilienfeld and Andrews 1996): Machiavellian Egocentricity, Social Potency, Fearlessness, Coldheartedness, Impulsive Nonconformity, Blame Externalization, Carefree Nonplanfulness and Stress Immunity. The short form of the PPI has a good correlation with the long version, the Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised (r = .89) (Lilienfeld and Widows 2005). The PPI is also considered a reliable measure for assessing psychopathic personality traits in a non-incarcerated population (Kastner et al. 2012; Lee and Salekin 2010). Although the questionnaire does not possess normative scores on its own, a previous study on undergraduate students established an average of 130.56 for males and 121.01 for females (Lee and Salekin 2010).

The PPI consists of two subtypes, namely Fearless-Dominance (PPI-I) and Impulsive-Antisociality (PPI-II) (Benning et al. 2003). PPI-I is composed of the Stress Immunity, Social Potency and Fearlessness subscales, and represents the adaptive nature of the psychopathic personality. Alternatively, PPI-II is composed of the Blame Externalization, Machiavellian Egocentricity, Carefree Nonplanfulness and Impulsive Nonconformity subscales, and represents the maladaptive side of the psychopathic personality. The Coldheartedness subscale does not fall into either of the two aforementioned subtypes. This subtype classification has been used in previous studies (Benning et al. 2005a, b; Berardino et al. 2005; Patrick et al. 2006).

3.2.2 Subjective Fluctuating Happiness Scale and Subjective Authentic-Durable Happiness Scale (SFHS and SA-DHS; Dambrun et al. 2012)

The 10-item SFHS and the 13-item SA-DHS assess two components of happiness: the fluctuation of happiness traits from time to time, and the stable happiness state of an individual. Fluctuation in traits as measured with the SFHS refers to the degree of change in happiness over time and how an individual can become happy in certain situations using items such as “I have often known periods of euphoria but they are almost always followed by much less exciting periods”. Stable-state happiness, as measured with the SA-DHS, refers to the baseline level of happiness of an individual and how this happiness enables the individual to cope with life in general using items such as “In your life, what is your regular level of pleasure”. Items for the two questionnaires are rated on a 7-point Likert-type scale. Cronbach’s alpha for the SFHS ranges from .85 to .92 depending on the sample. The SA-DHS also has a high internal consistency that ranges from .87 to .95, depending on the sample. During the development of the questionnaires, means were computed for both scales, with an average of 3.78 for the SFHS and 4.33 for the SA-DHS.

3.2.3 Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ; Steger et al. 2006)

The MLQ is a 10-item self-report measure that assesses the presence and search for a meaning in life. It is rated on a 7-point Likert-type scale, ranging from Absolutely Untrue to Absolutely True. The subscale of Presence is composed of fives items such as “I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful” and “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose”. The subscale of Search is also composed of five items, such as “I am looking for something that makes my life feel meaningful” and “I am searching for meaning in my life”. Both subscales show good internal consistency (α = .90 and α = .87). The average of the final group during the development of the questionnaire established a normative mean of 23.8 for the Presence subscale and 23.4 for the Search subscale.

3.2.4 Personal Growth Initiative Scale (PGIS; Robitschek 1998)

The PGIS is a 9-item self-report measure assessing the motivation of an individual to change and develop as a person, using items such as “I have a good sense of where I am headed in my life”. The items are rated on a 6-point Likert-type scale, ranging from Definitely Disagree to Definitely Agree. Cronbach’s alpha ranges from .78 to .90, and has proven reliable convergent and discriminant validity, along with adequate test/retest reliability (Robitschek 1998; Shorey et al. 2007). Means at 1-, 4-and 8-week test–retest during the development of the questionnaire ranged from 31.33 to 33.13.

3.2.5 Adult Hope Scale (AHS; Snyder et al. 1991)

The AHS is a 12-item self-report measure with 4 items assessing agency (e.g.: I energetically pursue my goals), 4 items assessing pathways (e.g.: There are lots of ways around any problem.), and 4 items acting as distracters (e.g.: I feel tired most of the time.). This questionnaire measures Snyder’s cognitive model of hope focusing on agency (directing energy towards a goal) and pathways (planning to meet goals). The responses available range from 1 = Definitely False to 8 = Definitely True. Its internal consistency range is from .74 to .84, and has been used in undergraduate samples and adult community populations (Shorey et al. 2007; Snyder et al. 1991).

3.3 Procedure

Written information about the procedure and goals of the study was given at the beginning. The participant then provided informed consent and completed the questionnaires. Upon completion, participants received a full debriefing, explaining that the personality traits researched are antisocial traits correlated with happiness related measures. At the end of the experiment, participants were informed they could register their e-mail address to participate in a lottery where they could win 100 Euros. Ethics approval was obtained from the Psychology Ethics Committee of Maastricht University, case number: 156-02-09-2015.

3.4 Statistical Analyses

In order to account for potential unreliable data, which can arise within online studies in the community, a Variable Response Inconsistency (VRIN2) procedure was implemented. This procedure identifies the 10 pairs of items from the PPI-SF with the highest correlation among them (Tellegen 1982). Twenty-five outliers with a total VRIN2 ≥ 8 were identified and excluded from the study, leaving 572 participants for the main analyses. There was no missing answers within each respective questionnaire for every participants. Examination of the Skewness range (−.829 to .214) confirmed the presence of a normal distribution within all questionnaires and subscales.

The analyses were performed using the statistical package SPSS version 21.00. Analyses of variance (ANOVA) were computed in order to assess gender differences between all the questionnaires. Bivariate Pearson correlations (two-tailed) were then conducted between each dependent variable. Due to anticipated gender differences, analyses were performed separately for males and females.

4 Results

4.1 General Descriptive Results and Gender Differences

The descriptive data of all questionnaires, as well as the internal consistency reliability and effect sizes by gender, are reported in Table 1. Several significant differences were found between males and females regarding psychopathic personality traits and measures of happiness features. First, males scored higher on the PPI-SF total [F(1, 570) = 24.75, p < .001], on PPI-I [F(1, 570) = 22.88, p < .001], and several subscales: Machiavellian Egocentricity [F(1, 570) = 7.34, p = .007], Fearlessness [F(1, 570) = 25.60, p < .001], Coldheartedness [F(1, 570) = 7.55, p = .006], Impulsivity Nonconformity [F(1, 570) = 8.99, p = .003] and Stress Immunity [F(1, 570) = 28.11, p < .001]. Males also scored significantly higher on the Inner Peace component of the Durable Happiness Scale [F(1, 568) = 10.77, p = .001], while females scored higher on the general Fluctuating Happiness Scale [F(1, 569) = 12.90, p < .001]. One more gender difference was found in the AHS, where males scored significantly higher on the Pathway component [F(1, 542) = 13.40, p < .001].
Table 1

Descriptive Data

 

Males (N = 297–316)

Females (N = 247–256)

d

Mean (SD)

Range

α

Mean (SD)

Range

α

PPI-SF

       

 Total***

132.95 (12.66)

94–173

.70

127.32 (14.34)

89–191

.77

.42

 PPI-I***

54.59 (7.83)

29–73

.71

51.41 (7.97)

29–73

.70

.40

 PPI-II

63.66 (8.78)

40–91

.72

62.12 (10.16)

39–93

.80

.16

 Mach egocentricity**

16.36 (3.63)

7–28

.65

15.52 (3.80)

7–27

.71

.23

 Social potency

17.48 (3.65)

10–25

.62

17.73 (3.45)

8–25

.56

.07

 Fearlessness***

18.18 (4.47)

7–28

.72

16.17 (5.03)

7–28

.76

.42

 Coldheartedness**

14.70 (3.92)

8–28

.65

13.79 (3.92)

7–26

.70

.23

 Impul nonconform**

17.84 (3.69)

9–28

.58

16.90 (3.78)

9–26

.60

.25

 Blame externalization

14.59 (4.72)

7–28

.86

15.01 (4.95)

7–28

.88

.08

 Carefree nonplan

14.86 (2.95)

8–27

.53

14.69 (2.80)

9–25

.47

.06

 Stress immunity***

18.93 (3.18)

10–25

.46

17.51 (3.17)

10–25

.46

.45

SADHS

       

 Total

4.26 (1.14)

1–7

.95

4.11 (1.21)

1–7

.96

.13

 Contentment

4.22 (1.19)

1–7

.94

4.19 (1.25)

1–7

.95

.02

 Inner peace***

4.33 (1.26)

1–7

.89

3.98 (1.29)

1–7

.90

.27

SFHS

       

 Total***

4.28 (1.24)

1–7

.89

4.64 (1.18)

1–7

.89

.30

MLQ

       

 Presence

20.74 (8.04)

5–35

.90

20.44 (7.71)

5–35

.90

.04

 Search

23.16 (7.81)

5–35

.90

24.09 (7.57)

5–35

.91

.12

PGIS

       

 Total

35.50 (8.80)

9–54

.88

35.16 (9.58)

9–54

.92

.04

AHS

       

 Total

45.32 (9.54)

18–54

.86

43.94 (10.38)

8–63

.90

.14

 Agency

20.95 (5.97)

5–32

.82

21.07 (6.21)

4–32

.86

.02

 Pathway***

24.37 (4.56)

10–32

.76

22.87 (5.02)

4–32

.82

.31

N Number of participants finishing the first questionnaire and finishing the last questionnaire, SD Standard deviation, α Cronbach’s alpha, d Cohen’s d effect size, PPI-SF psychopathic personality inventory–short form (Lilienfeld and Widows 2005), Mach Ego machiavellian egocentricity, Impul Nonconform impulsive nonconformity, Carefree Nonplan carefree nonplanfulness, SADHS Subjective Authentic-Durable Happiness Scale (Dambrun et al. 2012), SFHS Subjective Fluctuating Happiness Scale (Dambrun et al. 2012), MLQ Meaning in Life Questionnaire (Steger et al. 2006), PGIS Personal Growth Initiative Scale (Robitschek 1998); AHS Adult Hope Scale (Snyder et al. 1991)

** p < .01; *** p < .001 indicates a significant gender difference

4.2 Main Analysis Males

Correlations between the PPI-SF and its subscales and the happiness-related measures can be found in Table 2. Examination of the PPI-SF total score does not show any correlation between the expression of psychopathic personality traits and happiness or meaning in life. However, weak positive correlations were found on the PGIS (r = .14), AHS (r = .20), and the pathway subscale (r = .28). Closer examination of the PPI-SF subscales reveals two distinct tendencies. PPI-I has a weak to moderate positive correlation with all measures of durable happiness (r = .27 to .36) and a weak negative correlation with fluctuating happiness (r = −.21). Moderate positive correlations are also found on the MLQ presence subscale (r = .31), the PGIS (r = .43), and all measures of hope (r = .42 to .49). The opposite trend is found in PPI-II on almost all measurements. PPI-II yields weak to moderate negative correlations with all measures of durable happiness (r = −.28 to −.32) but shows a moderate positive correlation to fluctuating happiness (r = .44). PPI-II displays a weak negative correlation with the presence of a meaning in life (r = −.21) and a weak positive correlation with the search of a meaning in life (r = .21). PPI-II also has a weak negative correlation with the PGIS (r = −.21), the AHS total (r = −.17), and the agency subscale (r = −.23).
Table 2

Correlations between psychopathic personality traits and happiness related features in males

Scales

PPI-SF total

PPI-I

PPI-II

SADHS total (N = 314)

.01

.35**

−.32**

 Contentment (N = 314)

.02

.36**

−.32**

 Inner peace (N = 314)

.00

.27**

−.28**

SFHS total (N = 315)

.06

−.21**

.44**

MLQ-presence (N = 311)

.04

.31**

−.21**

MLQ-search (N = 311)

.07

−.03

.21**

PGIS total (N = 305)

.14*

.43**

−.21**

AHS total (N = 297)

.20**

.49**

−.17**

 Agency (N = 297)

.10

.42**

−.23**

 Pathway (N = 297)

.28**

.47**

−.05

Pearson bivariate correlation, two-tailed, cases excluded pairwise. N number of participants who completed the respective questionnaire, PPI-SF psychopathic personality inventory–short form (Lilienfeld and Widows 2005), SADHS Subjective Authentic-Durable Happiness Scale (Dambrun et al. 2012), SFHS Subjective Fluctuating Happiness Scale (Dambrun et al. 2012); MLQ Meaning in Life Questionnaire (Steger et al. 2006), PGIS Personal Growth Initiative Scale (Robitschek 1998), AHS Adult Hope Scale (Snyder et al. 1991)

p < .05; ** p < .01

4.3 Main Analysis Females

Correlations between the PPI-SF and its subscales to happiness-related features can be found in Table 3. The PPI-SF total shows a weak negative correlation with the SADHS total (r = −.15) and the contentment subscale (r = −.17), but displays a weak positive correlation with the SFHS (r = .20). The PPI-SF total is weakly negatively correlated with the presence of a meaning in life (r = −.13) and has a weak positive correlation with the pathway subscale of the AHS (r = .13). Examination of PPI-SF subtypes reveals similar results to those obtained for males. Indeed, PPI-I shows weak positive correlations with all measures of durable happiness (r = .20 to .21) and a weak negative correlation to fluctuating happiness (r = −.15). PPI-I is also weakly correlated with the presence of a meaning in life (r = .24) and moderately correlated with personal growth (r = .35), as well as with all measures of hope (r = .35 to .44). Opposite results are once again found for the PPI-II subscale. PPI-II shows a moderate negative correlation to all measures of durable happiness (r = −.32 to −.42), but is strongly correlated with fluctuating happiness (r = .50). It also displays a moderate negative correlation to the presence of a meaning in life (r = −.39) and a weak positive correlation to the search subscale of the MLQ (r = .27). PPI-II shows a moderate negative correlation with personal growth (r = −.33), and weak to moderate negative correlations with all measures of hope (r = −.20 to −.33).
Table 3

Correlations between psychopathic personality and happiness related features in females

Scales

PPI-SF Total

PPI-I

PPI-II

SADHS Total (N = 256)

−.15*

.21**

−.40**

 Contentment (N = 256)

−.17**

.20**

−.42**

 Inner Peace (N = 256)

−.09

.21**

−.32**

SFHS Total (N = 256)

.20**

−.15*

.50**

MLQ-Presence (N = 253)

−.13*

.24**

−.39**

MLQ-Search (N = 253)

.07

−.08

.27**

PGIS Total (N = 249)

−.02

.35**

−.33**

AHS Total (N = 247)

.05

.42**

−.29**

 Agency (N = 247)

−.02

.35**

−.33**

 Pathway (N = 247)

.13*

.44**

−.20**

Pearson bivariate correlation, two-tailed, cases excluded pairwise. N number of participants who completed the respective questionnaire, PPI-SF psychopathic personality inventory–short form (Lilienfeld and Widows 2005), SADHS Subjective Authentic-Durable Happiness Scale (Dambrun et al. 2012), SFHS Subjective Fluctuating Happiness Scale (Dambrun et al. 2012), MLQ Meaning in Life Questionnaire (Steger et al. 2006), PGIS Personal Growth Initiative Scale (Robitschek 1998), AHS Adult Hope Scale (Snyder et al. 1991)

p < .05; ** p < .01

5 Discussion

The present study sought to confirm the gender differences within the PPI-SF and happiness-related features, and also to determine if the expression of psychopathic personality traits is negatively correlated to measures of well-being and happiness. Gender differences were found on the PPI-SF total score, on multiple PPI-SF subscales, and on various measures of well-being. Furthermore, as expected, PPI-I was positively correlated to all measures with the exception of fluctuating happiness, with which PPI-I showed a negative correlation, and searching for a meaning in life, with which PPI-I showed no correlation. PPI-II displayed the opposite pattern, where all measures but two were negatively correlated to this subtype, with the exception of a positive correlation with fluctuating happiness and a search for a meaning in life. Indeed, beside an absence of correlation between the pathway subscale and PPI-II within males, both genders displayed similar correlations with regards to PPI-I and PPI-II. However, examination of the PPI-SF total score revealed a few differences between genders in relation to correlations with happiness-related features. Males did not display any correlation between the PPI-SF and happiness features, except personal growth, hope, and planning to meet goals. Females displayed negative correlations between the PPI-SF and durable happiness, contentment, and presence of a meaning in life, as well as a positive correlation with fluctuating happiness and planning to meet goals. The findings of this community-based study hence emphasize the importance of conducting analyses in the field of psychopathy by subtypes and gender.

Consistent with previous findings, males scored higher than females on the PPI-SF and several of its subscales (Cale and Lilienfeld 2002; Hicks et al. 2012; Lee and Salekin 2010). The reason behind the difference of psychopathic personality trait scores is not well established, although several hypotheses have been promoted. Several questionnaires assessing psychopathy and/or psychopathic personality traits focus on physical aggression and physical activities, which might be more typical of males, rather than indirect aggression and less physical activities, which may be more typical of females (Grann 2000; Vitale et al. 2002). Indeed, items of the PPI-SF such as ‘‘If I were a fire-fighter, I think I might actually enjoy the excitement of trying to rescue someone from the top floor of a burning building’’ explores a situation involving high-risk physical action, which may create a bias towards males scores. Alternatively, these differences might be caused from unknown genetic or environmental gender influences (Berg et al. 2013a, b).

Gender differences were also observed on three scales related to well-being. Males scored significantly higher than females on the inner peace subscale of the SADHS and pathway component of the AHS, while females displayed higher levels of fluctuating happiness than males. Previous studies have found a higher level of psychological distress, anxiety and stress in females than males (Dambrun 2007; Emslie et al. 2002). Males’ lower scores in the fluctuating happiness scale might indicate that they have better emotional control than females. A meta-analytic review on emotional expression in children concluded that, while males tend to express more externalizing emotions (such as anger) than females at a young age, in adolescence this pattern changes so that females express more externalizing emotions than males (Chaplin and Aldao 2013). It is possible that this difference in the emotional profiles of males and females remains during adulthood, explaining the higher fluctuation in happiness and lower inner peace and goal planning within females.

While the strength of the correlations between the PPI-SF subtypes and happiness features differed slightly by gender, both males and females displayed a very similar pattern in psychopathic traits subtypes and well-being measurements. The correlations between PPI-I and happiness features supports the notion of successful psychopathy. Indeed, PPI-I’s positive correlation with durable happiness and negative correlation with fluctuating happiness supports the alleged emotional control of Factor 1 psychopathic individuals (Berg et al. 2013a, b; Patrick et al. 2009; Witt et al. 2009). Furthermore, the correlation between PPI-I and the presence of a meaning in life, personal growth, hope, and goal-related behaviours further emphasize the benefits of Factor 1 psychopathic traits. It is possible that the psychopathic traits related to Factor 1 of the PPI-SF, such as social potency and extroversion, contribute to a higher degree of self-esteem and hence, well-being (Lilienfeld et al. 2012). The nature of attachment among those with elevated psychopathic traits may also play a role. A previous community-based investigation assessing the relationship between attachment anxiety and happiness in adults supports a negative correlation (r = −.39) between the two constructs (Wei et al. 2011). While psychopathic individuals might display a more superficial type of attachment, the primary psychopathy traits related to lower anxiety and higher social potency might be due to a general notion of reduced attachment anxiety, which is consistent with higher degrees of happiness and well-being.

While the aforementioned results are not consistent with the previously reported negative association between psychopathic personality traits and well-being, the results from PPI-II and measures of well-being support the negative correlations reported in psychopathic individuals (Love and Holder 2014). The negative correlation of PPI-II with durable happiness and positive correlation with fluctuating happiness is consistent with the notion of emotional instability reported in secondary psychopathy (Douglas et al. 2012; Patrick et al. 2009). Furthermore, while the lack of a meaning in life can reflect an overall lower sense of well-being, the search for a meaning in life is unexpected. Secondary psychopathy has been linked to several maladaptive constructs such as reactive aggression, impulsiveness and temperamentality (Benning et al. 2005a, b; Berg et al. 2013a, b). The search for a meaning in life can indicate that individuals with high levels of PPI-II traits desire to seek more happiness in life. Once again, while females showed a negative correlation between PPI-II and the pathway component that males did not, results of both genders show the same negative pattern between PPI-II and measures of happiness, meaning in life, personal growth and hope.

6 Conclusion

This study comprehensively investigated constructs of happiness and related emotions in regards to gender and psychopathic traits. These findings emphasize the importance of performing separate analyses by gender and by psychopathy subtypes in order to fully comprehend the different emotional trends related to the expression of psychopathic traits. These findings support the importance of considering psychopathy a dimensional construct as opposed to a categorical one. The results demonstrate that a higher expression of PPI-I related traits correlate with several adaptive features in terms of happiness-related emotional constructs, whereas a higher expression of PPI-II related traits correlate with several maladaptive characteristics.

This study was designed to include previous recommendations in the field of psychopathy and happiness, most notably by performing analyses by gender and psychopathic subtype on individuals from the community (Love and Holder 2014, 2015). Despite these improvements, this study was nevertheless limited in a few respects. First, an online self-report questionnaire was used. While self-report measurements are commonly used, clinical and experimental evaluation might give better results. Also, only one method for evaluating the psychopathic personality was used. While the PPI-SF is a widely used instrument, other questionnaires for assessing psychopathic traits, such as the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, the Triarchic Psychopathy Measure, and the Short-Dark Triad could provide further information with regards to the correlation between psychopathy and happiness (Jones and Paulhus 2014; Levenson et al. 1995; Patrick 2010). Finally, the present study does not examine psychopathy itself, but the expression of psychopathic personality traits. Replicating this study on clinically diagnosed psychopaths, by the use of the PCL-R, could allow a better understanding of the relationship between psychopathy and happiness.

Although these results are promising, they need to be replicated in an experimental setting in order to assess their validity. Nevertheless, this study presents the first attempt to investigate happiness, hope, personal growth, and meaning in life by both gender and psychopathic factors. Examination of the results clearly shows that levels of happiness vary greatly between individuals. Fortunately, improving one’s happiness is within everyone’s reach and can be done in multiple ways, such as improving health-related behavior, engaging in physical activities, and increasing socialization (Veenhoven 2008).

Notes

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the previous drafts of this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and NeuropsychologyMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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