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Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003) 1463–1469
www.elsevier.com/locate/paid

Are there racial and ethnic differences in psychopathic
personality? A critique of Lynn’s (2002) racial and ethnic
differences in psychopathic personality
Marvin Zuckerman*
Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA
Received 1 April 2002; received in revised form 30 May 2002; accepted 6 November 2002

Abstract
Lynn’s claim that certain races or ethnic groups have a higher incidence of psychopathic personality is
not substantiated by large scale community studies in America that show no differences between these
groups in the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. No consistent racial differences are found in
traits closely associated with psychopathy, sensation seeking and psychoticism, and, Lynn to the contrary,
the Psychopathic Deviate scale of the MMPI. Antisocial behavior in Blacks is less related to personality
than in Whites. The results on criminality are not compatible with Rushton’s r/K theory of evolutionary
selection, as claimed by Lynn, because Native Americans and Hispanic groups are of Siberian Mongoloid
origin in the case of the former and mixed Central-American Indian and Spanish Caucasoid in the case of
the latter. The differences between African-American, Native-American, Hispanic, and European-American groups in antisocial behavior seems to be more a function of social class, historical circumstance, and
their position in Western society rather than racial genetics. Following Rushton (1988), Lynn (2002) has
presented a pastiche of population statistics on delinquency, criminal and sexual behavior, truancy, parenting, aggression, and disorders like Conduct Disorder (CD) and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD) to support the hypotheses that: (1) the races and ethnic groups differ in the incidence of
‘‘psychopathic personality’’; (2) these population differences are based in strong part to genetic differences
between the populations; (3) the differences have their distal origins in the different evolutionary histories
of the races (Rushton’s r–K theory of race differences). Lynn claims that Rushton’s theory ‘‘. . .has now
become widely accepted by scholars’’, citing only those who support the theory and ignoring those who
have criticized it (Lynn, 1989; Weizmann, Wiener, Wiesenthal, & Ziegler, 1990; Zuckerman, 1990; Zuckerman & Brody, 1988). Consequently, some of those criticisms as well as those based on more recent data
are addressed to the specific arguments in Lynn’s article.
# 2002 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Race; Ethnicity; Antisocial personality; Genetics; Evolution

* Fax: +1-302-831-3645.
E-mail address: zuckerma@udel.edu (M. Zuckerman).
0191-8869/03/$ - see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0191-8869(02)00362-8

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M. Zuckerman / Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003) 1463–1469

1. Diagnosis and ratings
At the offset, a distinction must be made between psychopathic personality, now called Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), and criminal behavior. APD is diagnosed only in those persons whose history of antisocial behavior begins before the age of 15 and persists beyond the age
of 18. APD must be distinguished from ordinary criminality by personality traits that apply to all
areas of relationships, not just the criminal world. Although criminal history is often used as a
surrogate for APD, actual diagnosis must inquire beyond the mere history of arrests and convictions. Otherwise there is no point in the distinction.
Conduct Disorder may be a precursor of APD but the majority of delinquent youths change in
the post-adolescent years and do not end as persistent criminals. Lyons (1996) has shown in twin
studies that early criminal behavior can be entirely explained by shared and unshared environment with no genetic component; early arrest by an equal contribution of genetic and shared
environment; and later criminal behavior and arrests by genetic factors (30–39%) plus unshared
environment alone. This supports Lykken’s (1995) distinction between the ‘‘Sociopathic Personality’’, or subcultural delinquency, based largely on family and neighorhood environmental factors, and the ‘‘Psychopathic Personality’’ which may arise in any type of family or social class and
therefore would be more due to temperamental-genetic factors. Cloninger, Reich, and Guze
(1975) reported that their data showed no genetically based differences in sociopathy between
Whites and Blacks. This means that the differences in crime between these populations could be
almost entirely a function of environment.
The most relevant statistics, therefore, would be the incidence of diagnosed APD rather than
population statistics on crime. The Environmental Catchment Area (ECA) study is the largest community study of diagnosis (Robins & Regier, 1991). This study found no significant differences
between Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in the incidence of APD. Similarly, the other large community study, the National Comorbidity Study (NCS, Kessler et al., 1994), found no significant differences between Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in APD diagnoses. Blacks were significantly lower
than Whites in substance use disorders. Thus two major community studies, using standardized
interview methods for diagnosis, found no differences in ethnic or racial incidences of APD!
These data would seem to be in contradiction to the larger proportion of the Black, Hispanic,
and Native American populations than the White population arrested and imprisoned for crime.
Fewer Blacks who are arrested meet the criteria for APD compared to Whites, but Blacks who
are arrested are more likely to be sent to prison than Whites, even when types of crimes are
equated (Robins & Regier, 1991). Criminal behavior is less related to personality in Blacks than
in Whites. Less association has been found between ratings of psychopathy and personality traits
in Blacks than in Whites (Kosson, Smith, & Newman, 1990; Thornquist & Zuckerman, 1995).
Both of these studies showed that a laboratory test of passive-avoidance learning was related to
psychopathy in Whites but not in Blacks.
The association between poverty or social class and crime is well-known. Lynn uses IQ to
control for this factor in comparing racial and ethnic groups on behaviors that he considered
indices of psychopathic personality. However, intelligence in the ECA study was related to APD
diagnoses much more strongly in Whites than in Blacks and Hispanics (Robins & Regier, 1991).
Hare (1991), summarizing many studies of the relationship between intelligence and ratings of
psychopathy on his Psychopathy Check List, concluded that there was no relationship. Robins

M. Zuckerman / Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003) 1463–1469

1465

(1978) found that criminality is more related to socioeconomic class of origin in Blacks than in
Whites. Control for social class would have been more appropriate in analyses of the forms of
social behavior discussed in this article. Analyses of crime, illegitimacy, and similar variables in
Almanac statistics are usually not controlled for this variable.

2. Test scores
Lynn interprets several studies to show that Native Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics score
higher than Whites on the Psychopathic Deviate (Pd) Scale of the MMPI. Those who know this
scale realize that a number of the items ask about antisocial behavior during childhood rather
than current behavior. Furthermore it is incorrect to interpret the MMPI based on a single scale
in isolation from the profile. Many groups with other kinds of disorders score high on the Pd
Scale, but even higher on other clinical scales. It is only when the Pd Scale is high and accompanied by a peak on the Hypomania (Ma) scale that the results are interpreted as indicative of a
psychopathic personality. But the interpretation of the single scale results, based on studies
selected by Lynn, is contradicted by Greene’s (1987) comprehensive review of studies comparing
ethnic groups. Greene concluded that in normal, prison, or psychiatric populations there is no
evidence of any consistent differences between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans
on any of the MMPI scales. The moderator variables of socioeconomic status, education, and
intelligence were more important determiners of MMPI performance than race or ethnicity.

3. Sensation seeking
Sensation seeking, particularly Disinhibition, or excitement seeking, is among the personality
scales showing the highest relationships with psychopathic personality disorder (Blackburn, 1978;
Emmons & Webb, 1974; Harpur, Hare, & Hakstian, 1989; Harpur, Hart, & Hare, 1994; Thornquist & Zuckerman, 1995). Lynn’s review discusses other personality traits but omits this one.
Zuckerman (1994) reviewed 10 studies involving comparisons between Blacks and Whites in
normal children and adults, college students, general population, delinquents, and drug abusers.
In eight of the 10 studies Blacks scored lower than Whites on the Total score of the Sensation
Seeking Scale (SSS), and there was no significant difference in the two remaining groups. On the
Disinhibiton subscale, which is the most culture-free of the subscales and the one most highly
related to psychopathy, there was no significant difference between Blacks and Whites in five of
the six studies analyzing this subscale and Whites scored higher than Blacks in the remaining
study. These results do not confirm the prediction that Blacks should score higher than Whites on
sensation seeking if they have a higher incidence of psychopathic personality.

4. Psychoticism
Like Rushton, Lynn ignores the Eysenck and Eysenck (1976) Psychoticism Scale in his racial
comparisons. The Eysencks broad concept of psychoticism includes psychopathy. Delinquents

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M. Zuckerman / Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003) 1463–1469

and prisoners are among the highest scoring groups on this scale, scoring higher than actual
psychotics. I have suggested that the scale might be more appropriately called Psychopathy rather
than psychoticism (Zuckerman, 1989). The scale is the best marker for a factor consisting of low
conscientiousness, agreeableness, and socialization, and high impulsivity, sensation seeking, and
aggression, all consistent with the psychopathic personality (Zuckerman, Kuhlman, Joireman,
Teta, & Kraft, 1993; Zuckerman, Kuhlman, Thornquist, & Kiers, 1991).
Paul Barrett and Sybil Eysenck (1984) did a large cross-cultural study using a modified
form of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire that was comparable across all countries
studied. The countries included European, Asiatic, and African countries with populations
predominantly of one of the three races. Among males the three highest scoring countries
were India, Australia, and Hong Kong, the first two predominantly White and the last predominantly Asian (Chinese). The three lowest scoring countries for males were Israel, Spain, and
Nigeria, two Caucasoid and one Negroid nation. Ugandan males scored in the middle range.
Among the females the three highest scoring nations were India, Yugoslavia, and Uganda, and
the lowest were Hungary, the United Kingdom, and Iceland, and the next lowest were Israeli and
Nigerian women. Clearly there is no relation of psychoticism (or psychopathy) to the race of
these populations, and the Nigerian group is actually among the lowest on the P scale for both
men and women.
Eysenck and Eysenck (1976) state that the content scales of the EPQ, particularly P, cannot be
interpreted without consideration of the Lie (L) scale scores. The L scale is regarded as a social
desirability type of measure, although elsewhere they have suggested that it also might assess the
trait of conformity. Conceivably, group differences in L scale might account for differences in P.
If this were the case the groups scoring high on P should score low on L and the low P groups
should score high on L. Although this general tendency is apparent in their data, a comparison of
two of the racial/ethnic groups, Indians and Nigerians does not clearly support this idea. Among
males, the low P Nigerian men did score relatively high on L but not much higher than the Indian
males who were among the high P groups. Among females, the low P Nigerian women actually
scored lower on L than the high P Indian women. The differences between these two racial/ethnic
groups on P does not appear to be a function of differences on L.

5. Race and ethnicity
Whereas Rushton confines his theory to races, combining diverse populations within the
descriptions Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid, Lynn makes a distinction of ethnic categories,
particularly Hispanic, in contrast to race. However, he still regards Whites, Blacks, Asiatics, and
Native Americans as pure racial representatives of their respective groups. The 19th century
conception of race is not widely accepted among modern anthropologists and ethologists. There
is simply too much diversity in genetic types among broad groups designated as Mongoloid,
Caucasoid, and Negroid, to make these meaningful descriptions of populations (Zuckerman,
1990; Zuckerman & Brody, 1988).
However, accepting the premises that these are races within the context of Rushton’s r/K theory
the data do not make a great deal of sense in terms of a ranking of races on psychopathy. Blacks
and Native Americans score highest on psychopathy as defined by Lynn. But Native Americans

M. Zuckerman / Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003) 1463–1469

1467

are of Asiatic origin, emigrating across the land-bridge from Siberia to Alaska about 30,000 years
ago. Asiatics, according to the theories of Lynn and Rushton, are the least psychopathic or the
most conscientious of the three primary racial groups. The current Native-Americans are primarily a mixture of these early ancestors of Asiatic origins and Caucasoid groups after the European invasion of the North American continent in the 16th century. Why then should they have
psychopathic traits equivalent to those of African ancestry?
Intermediate degrees of psychopathy are said to exist in the Hispanic groups, largely Mexican
in these studies, who are mostly a mixture of Caucasoid (Spanish) and Central-Native American
stocks. The racial/genetic explanation is not consistent in explaining the ethnic differences. An
explanation based on history, poverty, cultural prejudice, and isolation from the dominant
groups in the society is more reasonable.

6. Evolution and the r/K hypothesis
Lynn uses the r/K hypothesis propounded by Rushton to explain the purported racial
differences in psychopathy. According to Lynn the source of racial differences is climate. He
says that the problems of survival in the colder climates of Euroasia, affecting Mongoloids
and Caucasoids. led to stronger bonding between males and females with greater commitment by males to provisioning their families, more responsible parenting, enhanced capacity to
delay gratification, and stronger control over aggression and sexuality than in the tropical climes
of Africa.
Stringent controls over behavior and the formulation of laws to govern human behavior
probably originated in the early civilizations that formed in the warmer climes of the Mediterranean basin, the fertile African Nile basin, and the fertile crescent between the Tigris and the
Euphrates rivers in Babylonia. Agriculture-based civilizations, with their class hierarchies,
required stability of residence and tighter regulation of family and social behavior, began in the
warmer areas of the world, including Central America, tropic West Africa and the Sahel, the Indus
valley, New Guinea, and the Andes and Amazonia as well as Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Western
Europe (Diamond, 1999). Siberia was the last place where stable law-abiding societies arose. The
American Plains Indians were direct descendents of the Siberian Mongoloids and most of these
tribes were hunters and gatherers even into the 19th century. They were not characterized by strong
controls over aggression or cruelty. Neither were the ancient or modern Europeans for that matter.
For prototypes of psychopathic leadership who can top the Mongolian Ghengis Khan or the European Hitler?
All of these kinds of retrospective evolutionary arguments are problematical. To suggest that
the behavior of modern descendents of these ancient regional ethnic groups is a function of
evolved genetic mechanisms which are specific to their ancestry is not a plausible hypothesis. The
more recent history of ethnic populations is much more relevant. Psychopathic personality does
have a genetic component, probably mediated through the personality traits that compose it, but
the evidence suggests that it is equally distributed across ethnic groups. The indisputable differences in criminality and antisocial behavior between groups has both genetic and environmental
sources, but one cannot generalize from genetic explanations of behavior within groups to the
sources of differences between groups.

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M. Zuckerman / Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003) 1463–1469

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