Robert Hare is a Canadian psychologist who made major contributions to the fields of criminal psychology and forensic psychology. He is best known for his research on psychopathy. Hare is the creator of the Psychopathy Checklist and the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. These tools help to assess a person’s psychopathic and antisocial tendencies as well as the potential risk he or she may pose to other people.
Robert Hare's Early Life
Robert D. Hare was born on January 1, 1934 in Calgary, Alberta. He was raised in a close-knit, working class family. Hare’s mother had French Canadian roots and her family dated back to Montreal in the 1600s. Hare’s father was a roofing contractor who spent much of his time during the great depression riding the rails and looking for work.
Hare enjoyed his time in school. He performed relatively well academically and often found his classes to be very easy. He claims that he coasted through high school and may gotten even better grades had he decided to apply himself. Besides his academic pursuits, Hare also played football and other sports. He recalls that during his youth he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.
Hare enrolled at the University of Alberta in Edmonton after graduating from high school. During his first year, he did not have a clear view of what he wanted to study. His favorite subjects were science and math and he was interested in ancient history and archaeology. In the end, he took a mixture of courses that included an introduction to psychology.
Hare remembers being jealous of his friends who all “knew exactly what they were going to do.” The introductory course in psychology that he took proved to be interesting so he decided to take another psychology course. That second psychology course led to another and another. When he graduated, Hare had earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis on psychology. He claims that his initial focus on psychology was “by default” than by design.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Hare was eager to study human perception, emotion, and motivation. He was particularly curious about “what was going on from an experimental scientific perspective.” In 1959, Hare married an undergraduate student named Averil whom he had previously met in a class on abnormal psychology. He earned his masters degree in psychology from the University of Alberta in 1960.
One year after they were married, Hare and Averil had a daughter named Cheryl. The entire family moved to the United States so that Hare could enroll in the PhD program in psychophysiology at the University of Oregon. However, Cheryl soon developed medical issues. These issues prompted Hare and Averil to move back to Canada where treatment was less expensive.
Hare was eager to find employment after returning to Canada. Although he had no training, experience, or interest in forensic psychology, he accepted a position as the sole prison psychologist at the British Columbia Penitentiary—a federal maximum security men’s prison near Vancouver. Hare was stationed in an isolated part of the prison, some distance away from the guards and was asked to evaluate the prisoners using a variety of psychometric tools such as Rorschach ink blots and personality tests. However, he found that these tests were all scientifically unreliable and that he obtained more accurate data on each prisoner by simply speaking with the prison guards.
One hour into his first day on the job, Hare met his first psychopath—a prisoner he refers to as Ray. During their first encounter, Ray surprised Hare by pulling out a handmade knife, waving it at him, and then telling him that he planned to use the knife on another prisoner. Hare believed that Ray was testing him to see whether he would alert the guards. As he wanted to establish a rapport with Ray, Hare chose to keep the incident to himself and violated the first of several rules in the prison.
Hare spent a total of eight months working at the prison. During that time, the smooth talking Ray persuaded Hare to recommend him for the best prison jobs, including working in the prison’s auto repair shop. When the time came for Hare to leave the prison and pursue his PhD, he took his car to the prison auto shop for a tune-up before traveling cross country with his family. As he and his family were driving downhill, the brakes on the car failed. An inspection at an auto service station revealed that someone had rigged the brake line on Hare’s car so that it leaked brake fluid slowly.
Hare entered the PhD program in experimental psychology at the University of Western Ontario. For his doctoral thesis, Hare studied the effects of punishment on human behavior. Hare’s research eventually led him to the book The Mask of Sanity, which was written by American psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley. The book described some of Cleckley’s interviews with patients in a locked institution and outlined what Cleckly described as the basic elements of psychopathy. While reading Cleckley’s book, Hare was able to recognize traits exhibited by Ray and other inmates he assessed at the prison. Hare eventually earned his PhD in experimental psychology in 1963.
Hare’s Research on Psychopathy
After receiving his doctoral degree, Hare accepted a position in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia. His goal was to continue his study on how people respond to fear, punishment, rewards, and motivation. Unfortunately, Hare had no equipment or volunteers to work with. At the time, the University of British Columbia was a small regional school and the psychology department was located in several old army huts on the edge of campus.
Recognizing that he needed more resources, Hare decided to get creative. He recalled from his time at the British Columbia Penitentiary that some of the prisoners seemed immune to the threat of punishment. Hare received approval from Correctional Services Canada to carry out assessments on the inmate population. As he still had several colleagues at the BC Penitentiary, he was able to conduct his research at the prison.
Hare’s first experiment on psychopathy focused on physiological arousal. Male volunteers were fitted with a sweat gland monitor and told that they would receive an electric shock eight seconds into a 12-second countdown. The study showed that the control subjects and most of the inmates experienced much physiological stress as they waited for the shock. However, inmates who were suspected of being psychopaths did not show significant distress.
One year later, Hare conducted a second experiment. This time, the subjects were asked to choose whether they preferred to be shocked immediately or wait ten seconds for the shock. While more than 80% of the control group and non-psychopathic inmates preferred to be shocked immediately, only 56% of psychopathic inmates chose that option. The results suggested that (1) most people prefer to get an unpleasant experience behind them as quickly as possible, and (2) psychopaths are indifferent about experiencing a negative event right away or waiting for it at a later time.
Hare was intrigued by the results of his experiments. However, there were hardly any other researchers conducting studies on psychopathy at the time and he was tempted to switch his focus elsewhere. Thankfully, his first book Psychopathy:Theory and Research (1970) garnered some attention and led to more graduate students volunteering at his lab. Hare believes he was “revived” by his students and often credits them for their great ideas and support.
Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist
As Hare continued his studies in the mid 1970s, his greatest challenge was finding a valid psychometric tool that could be used to assess psychopathy. He realized that the concept of psychopathy had to become quantifiable in order for it to be thoroughly researched. Although self-report tests were available and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provided broad guidelines on assessing antisocial personality disorder, psychopaths were able to outsmart these tools with ease. So Hare set about creating a valid assessment tool himself.
The first tool Hare devised was a checklist using the key traits Cleckley identified in his book. However, this checklist was not ideal as the traits were not specific for an assessment of psychopathy. Hare decided to work with two independent assessors to conduct more interviews with psychopathic prisoners and then analyzed the data. He shortened the list from 100 items to 22 and published a paper describing the Psychopathy Checklist in 1980.
The Psychopathy Checklist proved to be a useful tool among researchers in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. According to Hare, “They might not have agreed with all the elements, but it allowed us to speak the same language and put all of us on the same diagnostic page.”
Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist Revised
Hare and his students continued to make adjustments to the Psychopathy Checklist and in 1985, they released the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R). The PCL-R consists of a semi-structured interview as well as a review of the subject’s history and records. The PCL-R is administered by a trained clinician who scores 20 items that are designed to measure the primary elements of psychopathic character. These items assess the nature of the subject’s relationships with other people, the subject’s emotional involvement in those relationships, the subject’s lifestyle and any evidence of inappropriate social behavior. The 20 traits evaluated by the PCL-R include:
- glib and superficial charm
- grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
- need for stimulation
- pathological lying
- cunning and manipulativeness
- lack of remorse or guilt
- shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
- callousness and lack of empathy
- parasitic lifestyle
- poor behavioral controls
- sexual promiscuity
- early behavior problems
- lack of realistic long-term goals
- failure to accept responsibility for own actions
- many short-term marital relationships
- juvenile delinquency
- revocation of conditional release
- criminal versatility
The clinician may score each item with 0 (no presence of trait), 1 (uncertain), or 2 (trait definitely present). The maximum score is 40. A person must score 30 points to be regarded as a psychopath. Non-psychopathic criminals typically score about 22 or 23 points on average. People without criminal backgrounds usually score 5 points or less.
As psychopaths tend to lie frequently, the information collected in the interview is checked against the files in the subject’s case history. The clinician also interviews family members, friends, workmates, or other associates to determine whether the subject was truthful.
A study conducted by Hare and his colleagues found that 80% of criminals who were rated as psychopaths by the PCL-R committed a new offence within three years, compared to 20% of non-psychopaths. Many researchers attest to the reliability of the PCL-R and they tend to agree with the scores subjects receive.
Psychopathy and Brain Activity
Hare also conducted innovative experiments to examine if psychopaths have different brain activity from non-psychopaths. In one such experiment, Hare hooked up study participants to an electroencephalogram (EEG) and presented them with neutral words such as “table,” emotional words such as “torture,” and scrambled words. The results of the study showed that non-psychopaths were able to differentiate between neutral words and emotional words as emotional words produced increased brain activity. However, psychopaths showed no significant difference in brain activity when presented with neutral words and emotional words.
Hare concluded that psychopaths may view language as “purely a linguistic intellectual thing without the emotional underpinnings that color everything we do.” He reasoned that “the emotional components of language were somehow lost to the psychopath.” When the research paper was submitted for publication, the publishers doubted the accuracy and validity of the study. However, the results of the experiment were replicated years later during the world’s first brain imaging study of psychopathy.
Application of Hare’s Theories and Tools
Hare’s research has influenced modern day interview methods and crime scene analysis. His most popular tool—the PCL-R—is currently the standard tool for measuring psychopathic traits worldwide. The PCL-R is also the most popular psychometric tool for assessing the risk of violence. It is often used in post-sentencing and parole hearings that involve the most dangerous criminals.
Hare has also developed derivative tools such as the Psychopathy Checklist” Screening Version (PCL:SV), the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV), the P-Scan, and the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD). The PCL-R and PCL:SV help to predict the likelihood that a criminal will reoffend, use violence, or respond well to therapy. The PCL:YV is used to assess children who show early signs of psychopathy. The P-Scan is used as a rough screen for psychopathic tendencies in a person of interest. The APSD is an instrument that detects antisocial tendencies in young children so that preventative measures can be put in place at an early age.
Hare believes that many people around the world have psychopathic traits but they are skilled at blending in with the general public. He also notes that certain psychopathic traits may be beneficial if they are focused in a positive direction. For example, he claims that as many as 4% of people who work in corporations may be psychopaths. As a result, Hare is currently developing a tool to be used by HR departments to screen current and prospective employees.
Criticisms of Hare’s Theories and Tools
Several researchers have criticized Hare’s theories and questioned the reliability and usefulness of the PCL-R. They argue that PCL-R scores are linked to conclusions on how treatable psychopaths are and these conclusions may be incorrect, harmful or unethical. Critics also claim that the PCL-R may be easily misused in psychiatric and legal settings.
In 2007, Hare threatened to file a defamation lawsuit against forensic psychologist Jennifer Skeem and psychologist David Cooke whose research paper was critical of the PCL-R. He also threatened legal action against the publisher of the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Assessment. As a result, the publication of Skeem and Cooke’s paper was delayed for three years. Hare received strong criticism from academia for using legal threats that impeded the progress of psychological science.
In their paper, Skeem and Cooke claim that many mental health professionals today have developed the incorrect view that the PCL-R provides a complete description of pathopathy. They argue that the PCL-R puts too much emphasis on criminality and does not include key traits of psychopathy such as low anxiety. Skeem and Cooke believe these factors may contribute to an “overdiagnosis of psychopathy.” Hare has also been criticized for sensationalizing his research findings in order to attract attention from the media.
Robert Hare's Books, Awards, and Accomplishments
Robert Hare wrote three groundbreaking books on psychopathy. They include:
- Psychopathy:Theory and Research, 1970
- Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, 1999
- Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, 2007
Hare also received a number of prestigious awards throughout his career. Some of these awards are listed below:
- The Silver Medal of the Queen Sophia Center from the Queen Sophia Center for the Study of Violence (1999)
- Award for Distinguished Contributions in the Application of Psychology from the Canadian Psychological Association (2000)
- Isaac Ray Award for Outstanding Contributions to Forensic Psychiatry and Psychiatric Jurisprudence from the The American Psychiatric Association and The American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (2001)
- Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology and the Law from The American Academy of Forensic Psychology (2001)
- The B. Jaye Anno Award of Excellence in Communication from The National Commission on Correctional Health Care (2003)
- The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy (2005)
- The CPA Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology from the Canadian Psychological Association (2009)
- The CPA Donald O. Hebb Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology as a Science from the Canadian Psychological Association (2010)
- The Paul Tappan Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Criminology from the Western Society of Criminology (2011)
- Special Award in “Recognition of a Distinguished Career and Enduring Contributions to Psychology” from the British Columbia Psychological Association (2011)
- The Order of Canada from the Governor General of Canada (2011)
- Recognition of Distinguished Lifetime Achievements as a Leader in Psychology and Law, and Outstanding Contributions to Forensic Psychology from the Center for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law, University of British Columbia (2012)
- The Don Andrews Career Contribution Award from the Canadian Psychological Association Section on Criminal Justice Psychology (2014)
- The 2015 CPA Gold Medal Award from the Canadian Psychological Association (2015)
- The Bruno Klopfer Award from the Society for Personality Assessment (2016)
Hare is currently a professor emeritus of the University of British Columbia. He is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on psychopathy as he has spent more than 30 years studying the condition. Hare now works closely with law enforcement and sits on several law enforcement committees and boards in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He has been nicknamed “Beagle Bob” by his close friends for his ability to follow a scent.
Hare describes his family as close, devoted, and supportive. He claims that he and his wife, Averil, like the same things and he still views her as his best friend. Hare and Averil have toured Europe twice in a Volkswagen camper.
On October 11, 2003, Hare’s daughter Cheryl passed away after a 12 year struggle with multiple sclerosis. Hare believes the loss of his daughter has helped to define the type of people he and his wife are. Although Cheryl’s death is still very painful, Hare’s memories of her are filled with affection, happiness, and pride. He and Averil plan to take another trip across Europe together.
Cheryl Hare. (2003, October 15). Retrieved from https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/vancouversun/obituary.aspx?n=cheryl-hare&pid=157262078
Egan, D. (2016, May 2). Into the mind of a psychopath. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/into-the-mind-of-a-psychopath
Martens, W. H. (2008). The problem with Robert Hare's psychopathy checklist: incorrect conclusions, high risk of misuse, and lack of reliability. Med Law, 27(2):449-62.
Minkel, J. R. (2010, June 17). Fear review: Critique of forensic psychology scale delayed 3 years by threat of lawsuit. Scientific American. Retieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/critique-of-forensic-psychopathy-scale-delayed-by-lawsuit/
The Great Canadian Psychology Website. (n.d.). Biography: Dr. Robert Hare. Retrieved from https://www.psych.ualberta.ca/GCPWS/Hare/Biography/Hare_bio1.html
Travis, J. (2010, June 10). Paper on psychopaths, delayed by legal threat, finally published. Science. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2010/06/paper-psychopaths-delayed-legal-threat-finally-published
Welcome to “Without Conscience” Robert Hare’s Web Site Devoted to the Study of Psychopathy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hare.org/welcome/