Mobsters Have Fewer "Psychopathic Traits" Than Other Crooks

The researchers never heard of Tommy Karate Pitera, no doubt. asked: Are The Mafia Psychopaths?

And the survey says: Mafiosi showed lower psychopathic traits than other criminals.

(They obviously never heard of Tommy Karate Pitera, or even this guy, both of whom kept souvenirs, I might add... (I know, but we could spend hours listing every psycho in the American Mafia...))

However, this reporter notes that the non-Mafia criminal committed far more evil acts than Mafiosi, such as sexual rape and children molestation. (The mob does earn from prostitution, but one cannot even compare pimping with the aforementioned sex crimes.)

The bottom line: the study refers to Sicilian Cosa Nostra members in prison in Palermo. Thirty members were interviewed and their answers were applied to some kind of Psychopathy Checklist. Then, a group of non-Mafia prisoners were put through the same deal and the two groups were compared.

Now, the word "interview" makes this sound somewhat suspect. Everything can be a racket, not just a robbery. How do we know these guys weren't playing games with psyche researchers, if for nothing more than a way to pass the time of day.

This charmer dissolved bodies in acid
and poured the mess down the sewer.
He kept souvenirs, too, in his junkyard.

Also, they were all only low-level soldiers (probably from the same clan). Apparently, the bosses don't get arrested. Just kidding; I believe the accommodations are different for them.

Other problems exist, the researchers admitted. As per the article: "These non-Mafia criminals are not a representative sample of all Italian criminals because most criminals don’t go to jail. Jail is reserved for serious and persistent cases. The problem is that we don’t know if the threshold for going to jail is the same for Mafia and non-Mafia offenders. It’s quite possible that Italian courts are harsher on Mafia members, jailing them (or sending them to a high security jail) even though their offenses might not otherwise warrant such a sentence. The Mafia’s own code of conduct might land them harsher sentences because it forbids them from making plea bargains etc."

Specifically, Italian researchers Schimmenti and colleagues, who, appropriately enough, are based in Sicily, the Mafia’s birthplace, provided these date points about the 30 convicted Mafia members:

  • Seven of the Mafia members (23%) had been convicted of murder, 
  • 17 (57%) for other violent offenses, 
  • and the remainder for crimes including trafficking in narcotics, extortion, fraud, sexual exploitation and kidnapping…
They compared them to a comparison group of 39 prisoners from the same jail, whose crimes were not gang-related. Their offenses included murder, rape, child sexual abuse and armed robbery

To measure psychopathic traits, the researchers administered the Italian version of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R). This is an interview in which the assessor rates whether the subject displays each of 20 specific features characteristic of psychopathy, such as pathological lying; impulsivity; and callous lack of empathy. The scores are added up to give a total, with 30+ being the conventional cutoff for being ‘a psychopath’.

It turned that none of the Mafia scored above cutoff on the PCL-R, while 10% of the comparison group did. Overall, scores were significantly lower among mob members than in the ‘other’ criminals. The difference was quite pronounced.

Also interesting are Schimmenti et al’s descriptions of the Mafia personality:
"...they were less ‘manipulative’, ‘Machiavellian’, ‘narcissistic’, ‘unemotional’, ‘parasitic’ and/or ‘impulsive’ than the other participants. Further, during the interviews, they often expressed concerns for their children and their families, and they had never ceased to write and call them. Such expressions of attachment were less apparent among the comparison men.
"Even criminal actions for most of the Mafia members were led by loyalty to their families or adherence to the family’s ‘mission’ rather than personal interest… It is possible that these individuals compartmentalized their lives and behaviors –on the one side, the Mafia affairs, on the other side, their positive feelings and affects towards relatives and friends.
The Mafia members were also less likely than the controls to have a substance abuse problem:
"Mafia members are required to appear reliable, maintain power and adhere to the internal representations and principles of their organization, and such skills tend to be impaired by substance use. It may be that substance misusers would be less likely to be selected for Mafia membership (as they would be viewed as liabilities), and if selected by chance, their involvement would be short lived."


  1. I remember reading about this a while back. Interesting stuff. Dr. Schimmenti is a professor at Kore University in Enna, Italy (Sicily). Hare's Pcl-R is also mentioned in the "Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime" along with a few (named) New York mob case files, which I find rather interesting. Moving along - I came across a piece a few years ago on an FBI bulletin, written by Robert D. Hare, the Canadian Psychologist that developed that psychological assessment tool. It was written in collaboration with a former FBI Agent and another forensic behavioral consultant for the FBI Academy. I think it was called, "The Predator".

    Don't get me wrong, although the mafia article and the original Italian study sheds a rather favorable light on mobsters, they’re still nothing short of especially ruthless psychopaths. Thomas Pitera and Charles Cargnelia are just a couple of samples. Good reading, Scarpo!

  2. This was very interesting. It definately fuels thought.


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