Aberrant Self-Promotion or Subclinical Psychopathy in a Swedish General Population

By Pethman, Tonya M. I.; Erlandsson, Soly I. | The Psychological Record, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Aberrant Self-Promotion or Subclinical Psychopathy in a Swedish General Population


Pethman, Tonya M. I., Erlandsson, Soly I., The Psychological Record


This article reports the first step of a Swedish validation process of an American instrument for assessing Aberrant Self-Promotion (ASP), a previously proposed personality profile which is conceptualized as a subclinical form of psychopathy. Psychopathy is, in this view, seen as an extreme expression of normally distributed personality traits. A study that investigated the occurence and frequency of ASP in an American student population using five personality questionnaires combined to form a single instrument was replicated. Contrary to expectations, ASP was found to be more common in Sweden (12%) than in the US (6-11%), and the gender gap in Sweden was larger than the gender gap found in America. Further studies of more gender-balanced and non-self-select samples are called for to verify our results.

The present study had two goals: first, to validate a combination of American personality questionnaires that has previously been claimed to assess psychopathy, or Aberrant Self-Promotion (ASP), in a general population; second, to make a cross-cultural comparison of the traits the instrument measures. The present study investigated a Swedish student population, and its results were compared to previously attained American results (Gustafson & Ritzer, 1995). The aim was to illustrate the applicability of the combination of questionnaires outside the US, by investigating the occurence and frequency of ASP among Swedish students. The present study was the first one to investigate subclinical psychopathy in a general population in Sweden. Other, more clinical measures of psychopathy, for example, the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), were therefore not included in this exploratory phase of research. Further studies on subclinical psychopathy were begun after the completion of the present study. In this now o ngoing work, other methods of assessment are being used on the same population. The project presented in this paper should therefore be seen as the first step in the assessment of subclinical psychopathy in Sweden.

As proposed by Gustafson and Ritzer (1995), subclinical psychopathy can be conceptualized as a combination of four personality traits. The authors suggested that psychopathy in general populations can be described as a personality profile consisting of high narcissism and self-report psychopathy, and low socialization and social desirability. Gustafson and Ritzer named this profile Aberrant Self-Promotion (ASP), and investigated the occurrence and prevalence of ASP in two American student populations. The present study was a replication of this work in Sweden. The first hypothesis was: 1/that subclinical psychopathy, as conceptualized by the ASP-profile, does exist in a general population in Sweden, and therefore is not an American phenomenon. It was also expected that ASP in Sweden can be assessed using the same combination of personality questionnaires chosen by the American authors. The second hypothesis was: 2/that fewer than the 6-11% of student populations that were found to be ASPs in the US would fit the ASP profile in Sweden.

It has been suggested that looking beyond objective behavioral criteria is somewhat speculative, and that instruments like the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 1994), which relies on objective, quantitatively measurable phenomena, are quite adequate for research in the field of psychopathology. Trying to get "behind" behavior, or even to claim that there might be something behind it, is, in this tradition, seen as unnecessary. We are not objecting to methods of assessment that focus on behavior, but rather suggesting that sometimes assessing behavior may not be enough, as is the case in the field of psychopathy.

Since the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and the Zimbardo (1972) and Milgram (1974) studies on authority and obedience, researchers as well as laymen have attempted to understand and explain what looks like callousness, rigid compliance, sadism, and "evil. …

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