The Mafia Mind

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 15 2014 @ 8:58am

A recent study out of Sicily suggests that, contrary to popular perception, mafia members may be less psychopathic than other criminals:

To measure psychopathic traits, the researchers administered the Italian version of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R). This is an interview in which the assessor rates whether the subject displays each of 20 specific features characteristic of psychopathy, such as pathological lying; impulsivity; and callous lack of empathy. The scores are added up to give a total, with 30+ being the conventional cutoff for being ‘a psychopath’.

It turned that none of the Mafia scored above cutoff on the PCL-R, while 10% of the comparison group did. Overall, scores were significantly lower among mob members than in the ‘other’ criminals. The difference was quite pronounced.

Neuroskeptic has doubts about the study:

[I]t’s hard to know whether these Mafia members are a representative sample of their kind. They were all in prison: it might be that the ones on the outside are a different breed. The authors also noted that they could only interview low-ranking mafiosi, since Italian law forbids any contact with jailed Mafia bosses, even for research.

But a bigger problem, in my view is with the control group. These non-Mafia criminals are not a representative sample of all Italian criminals because most criminals don’t go to jail. Jail is reserved for serious and persistent cases. … In other words, maybe ‘ordinary’ criminals need to be especially horrible to end up in the same jail as the Mafia – and in the comparison group of this study. In which case, the Mafia might be just as psychopathic as those who commit similar crimes outside of the organization.

(Video: Michael and Kay discuss family business in The Godfather)