Skip to main content
No sympathy for the devil: attributing psychopathic traits to capital murderers also predicts support for executing them
University of Massachusetts Medical School Faculty Publications
  • John F. Edens, Texas A & M University - College Station
  • Karen M. Davis
  • Krissie Fernandez Smith
  • Laura Guy, University of Massachusetts Medical School
UMMS Affiliation
Department of Psychiatry
Publication Date
Document Type
Adult; Antisocial Personality Disorder; *Capital Punishment; Criminals; *Emotions; Female; Homicide; Humans; Male; Public Opinion; Stereotyping; United States

Mental health evidence concerning antisocial and psychopathic traits appears to be introduced frequently in capital murder trials in the United States to argue that defendants are a "continuing threat" to society and thus worthy of execution. Using a simulation design, the present research examined how layperson perceptions of the psychopathic traits exhibited by a capital defendant would impact their attitudes about whether he should receive a death sentence. Across three studies (total N = 362), ratings of a defendant's perceived level of psychopathy strongly predicted support for executing him. The vast majority of the predictive utility was attributable to interpersonal and affective traits historically associated with psychopathy rather than traits associated with a criminal and socially deviant lifestyle. A defendant's perceived lack of remorse in particular was influential, although perceptions of grandiose self-worth and a manipulative interpersonal style also contributed incrementally to support for a death sentence. These results highlight how attributions regarding socially undesirable personality traits can have a pronounced negative impact on layperson attitudes toward persons who are perceived to exhibit these characteristics.

DOI of Published Version
Personal Disord. 2013 Apr;4(2):175-81. doi: 10.1037/a0026442. Epub 2012 Jan 23. Link to article on publisher's site
Related Resources
Link to Article in PubMed
PubMed ID
Citation Information
John F. Edens, Karen M. Davis, Krissie Fernandez Smith and Laura Guy. "No sympathy for the devil: attributing psychopathic traits to capital murderers also predicts support for executing them" Vol. 4 Iss. 2 (2013) ISSN: 1949-2723 (Electronic)
Available at: