Coherence in the narratives of psychopathic and nonpsychopathic criminal offenders

Chad A. Brinkley, Amit Bernstein, Joseph P. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has demonstrated that the speech of psychopaths is more disorganized than that of nonpsychopaths [. Cohesion and coherence in the speech of psychopathic criminals. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of British Colombia]. This paper attempts to explain Williamson's findings and examines the specific hypotheses that (a) psychopaths are poor at resolving action in spoken narratives and (b) psychopaths' narratives can be improved by giving them tangible story guides. Prison inmates were asked to produce stories based on the content of two Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) cards, using specified story ideas. These narratives were coded using coherence/plot unit analysis. For Caucasians, psychopaths resolved fewer plot units than controls, but they were hindered by the story guides. For African-Americans, there were no significant group differences in the number of plot units resolved. Psychopaths do seem to have more poorly organized speech, but this effect appears to be limited to Caucasians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-530
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1999
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to JPN. The authors would like to thank the Department of Corrections and the staff of Oakhill Correctional Institution for their assistance with this research. We wish to thank William Schmitt for his help interviewing subjects and Jennifer Cohn for her help coding the data.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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