February 20, 2024

Can chimpanzees be psychopaths?

Researchers have used chimpanzees as models for human psychopathy.

Psychopaths have long pricked the curiosity of philosophers; they do after all, say a lot about what it means for humans to be morally aware social agents.

But why should we presume that only human beings are psychopaths? If indeed some non-human animals are conscious beings, then it seems by the same token that some may suffer from psychopathy.

Here’s what philosopher, neuroscientist and prolific blogger Andrew Vierra had to say:

“…the DSM-5 defined psychopathy in terms of behaviors. Individuals who had (e.g.) repeatedly broken the law and pathologically lied could be diagnosed as psychopaths, without the need for a personality inventory or fMRI scan.

One interesting consequence of defining psychopathy in terms of behavior is that it is at least theoretically possible for non-human animals (or perhaps extraterrestrial beings) to exhibit the requisite behaviors sufficient for a diagnosis.”

Recent behavioral research into psychopathy was recently conducted using chimpanzees as a model. A research team led by academics from Georgia State University studied three traits in chimpanzees which they took to be indicative of psychopathy:  disinhibition, meanness, and boldness.

While the paper was not intended to be a foray into animal psychiatry, it is, nevertheless, food for thought for those interested in related philosophical debates.


Can chimpanzees be psychopaths?
Xavier Symons
Creative commons
animal rights