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Is Psychopathy a Mental Disorder or an Adaptation? Evidence From a Meta-Analysis of the Association Between Psychopathy and Handedness
Evolutionary Psychology  (IF1.506),  Pub Date : 2021-10-04, DOI: 10.1177/14747049211040447
Lesleigh E. Pullman, Nabhan Refaie, Martin L. Lalumière, DB Krupp

Psychopathy has historically been conceptualized as a mental disorder, but there is growing evidence that it may instead be an alternative, adaptive life history strategy designed by natural selection. Although the etiology of mental disorders is not fully understood, one likely contributor is perturbations affecting neurodevelopment. Nonright-handedness is a sign of such perturbations, and therefore can be used to test these competing models. If psychopathy is a mental disorder, psychopaths should show elevated rates of nonright-handedness. However, an adaptive strategy perspective expects psychopaths to be neurologically healthy and therefore predicts typical rates of nonright-handedness. We meta-analyzed 16 studies that investigated the association between psychopathy and handedness in various populations. There was no difference in the rates of nonright-handedness between community participants high and low in psychopathy. Furthermore, there was no difference between psychopathic and nonpsychopathic offenders in rates of nonright-handedness, though there was a tendency for offenders scoring higher on the Interpersonal/Affective dimension of psychopathy to have lower rates of nonright-handedness, and for offenders scoring higher on the Behavioral dimension of psychopathy to have higher rates of nonright-handedness. Lastly, there was no difference in rates of nonright-handedness between psychopathic and nonpsychopathic mental health patients. Thus, our results fail to support the mental disorder model and partly support the adaptive strategy model. We discuss limitations of the meta-analysis and implications for theories of the origins of psychopathy.