Honors College Theses

Publication Date



Psychology (B.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Amy Hackney


Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by interpersonal manipulation, callous affect, erratic lifestyle, and criminal tendencies. Past research has shown that individuals high in psychopathy feel less empathy than those lower in psychopathy, and that individuals higher in psychopathy sometimes show impaired morality on moral decision making tasks. This study examined the relationships between psychopathy, empathy, and everyday moral decision making; it was hypothesized that individuals higher in total psychopathy, interpersonal manipulation, and callous affect would score lower on empathic concern and feelings of wrongness and guilt when completing a moral dilemma task. To test this hypothesis, 190 undergraduate participants completed a measure of psychopathy, empathy, and an everyday moral decision making task. Consistent with past research, results indicated that individuals higher in psychopathy scored lower on measures of empathy, wrongness, and guilt compared to those lower in psychopathy. Further analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between psychopathy and moral decision making once controlling for empathy; results indicated that the strength of correlations between psychopathy and moral decision making decreased when controlling for empathy. These findings increase our understanding of the relationship between psychopathy and moral decision making and imply that empathy plays an important role in this relationship. This study holds implications for future therapeutic practices for individuals high in psychopathy and for future research.