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Personality Disorders as Emergent Interpersonal Syndromes: Psychopathic Personality as a Case Example

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.2019.33.5.577

Personality disorders have long been bedeviled by a host of conceptual and methodological quandaries. Starting from the assumption that personality disorders are inherently interpersonal conditions that reflect folk concepts of social impairment, the authors contend that a subset of personality disorders, rather than traditional syndromes, are emergent interpersonal syndromes (EISs): interpersonally malignant configurations (statistical interactions) of distinct personality dimensions that may be only modestly, weakly, or even negatively correlated. Preliminary support for this perspective derives from a surprising source, namely, largely forgotten research on the intercorrelations among the subscales of select MMPI/MMPI-2 clinical scales. Using psychopathic personality as a case example, the authors offer provisional evidence for the EIS hypothesis from four lines of research and delineate its implications for personality disorder theory, research, and classification. Conceptualizing some personality disorders as EISs elucidates long-standing quandaries and controversies in the psychopathology literature and affords fruitful avenues for future investigation.

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