Hancock, J.T., Woodworth, M., & Porter, S. (2013). Hungry like the wolf: A word pattern analysis of the language of psychopaths. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 18, 102-114.


Purpose.  This study used statistical text analysis to examine the features of crime narratives provided by psychopathic homicide offenders. Psychopathic speech was predicted to reflect an instrumental/predatory world view, unique socioemotional needs, and a poverty of affect.

Methods.  Two text analysis tools were used to examine the crime narratives of 14 psychopathic and 38 non-psychopathic homicide offenders. Psychopathy was determined using the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). The Wmatrix linguistic analysis tool (Rayson, 2008) was used to examine parts of speech and semantic content while the Dictionary of Affect and Language (DAL) tool (Whissell & Dewson, 1986) was used to examine the emotional characteristics of the narratives.

Results.  Psychopaths (relative to their counterparts) included more rational cause-and-effect descriptors (e.g., ‘because’, ‘since’), focused on material needs (food, drink, money), and contained fewer references to social needs (family, religion/spirituality). Psychopaths’ speech contained a higher frequency of disfluencies (‘uh’, ‘um’) indicating that describing such a powerful, ‘emotional’ event to another person was relatively difficult for them. Finally, psychopaths used more past tense and less present tense verbs in their narrative, indicating a greater psychological detachment from the incident, and their language was less emotionally intense and pleasant.

Conclusions. These language differences, presumably beyond conscious control, support the notion that psychopaths operate on a primitive but rational level.