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“Odd Mental Kinks:” A 1935 Perspective on Psychopathy

Another forensic psychology blog featured an article written by Arthur Grahame in 1935. The article was published in the May 1935 edition of Popular Science magazine and discusses psychopathy. It’s an interesting read, and while some of the information has been disproved, a good portion of the article describes psychopathy within similar constructs of today’s standards.

Interestingly, the article also discusses the dilemma of housing mentally ill persons in prison settings while occasionally treating psychopathic individuals in mental institutions. This is still a common occurrence today; as state psychiatric hospitals continue to close down, the mentally ill are redirected into the correctional system. As a result, there are more mentally ill people in the correctional system than in hospitals.

The article by Grahame addresses other concerns that are still relevant to the field of forensic psychology.

Grahame quotes a Dr. Lind as saying, “no one sent to prison for committing a crime should be sentenced for a term of definite length. I know a man who served fourteen years for second-degree murder when it would have been perfectly safe to release him within a few months; and I know a man who was sent to prison for a short term for a minor theft, who should have been kept under restraint for the rest of his life for the protection of society.”

This is a similar to the debate I posted about a few weeks ago regarding the indefinite imprisonment of sex offenders. There are criminals in all genres of crime that will perpetually re-offend, in the same way that there are criminals within the highest re-offending crimes that will only offend once.

The part of this article that I found most salient is when Grahame states:

“The scientific criminologist’s most puzzling problem is what should be done with and for the psychopath – the border-line criminal who is too sane to be kept in an asylum, but not sane enough to be left at large.”

Working with people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, I have been surprised by the significant presence of Axis II pathology (personality disorders). While most of these individuals also had a serious mental illness (Axis I) at the time of their crime to qualify for the plea, this illness is often controlled by the medication, therapy, and structure of the hospital routine. However, the personality disorders are not often managed by medicine and remain present throughout the course of the hospitalization.

The difficulty that the treating clinician runs into at the time of this person’s discharge is exactly the dilemma that Grahame discussed in 1935. What do we do about a person who is “sane” by legal standards (as in, their Axis I illness is under control) but is still a potential danger to society because of their Axis II pathology? Clearly, in the last 75 years we have yet to come up with a good answer to this question.

As I’ve discussed in previous articles, the issue of psychopathy is one of which we still have little understanding. While we can pinpoint the traits of psychopathy, the underlying causes, and more importantly, the treatment issues remain unclear. I can only hope that if someone unearths this post 75 years from now that it will be to compare how much more is known about psychopathy and mental illness in 2085 than was known in 2010 and 1935.

“Odd Mental Kinks:” A 1935 Perspective on Psychopathy

Kelly McAleer, Psy.D.

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APA Reference
McAleer, K. (2010). “Odd Mental Kinks:” A 1935 Perspective on Psychopathy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Sep 2010
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