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ABSTRACT

Relatively few studies have investigated how laypersons perceive psychopathy, what factors they believe to be commonly associated with this disorder, or what rater personality characteristics might predict perceived psychopathic traits of the target person. An ethnically diverse sample of 285 US community members attending jury duty reviewed a case vignette regarding a capital murder trial and then rated (1) their perceptions of the defendant's psychopathic characteristics loosely based on trait indicators from the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised; (2) other characteristics of the defendant that might be associated with psychopathy (e.g. intelligence, violence potential); and (3) their own personality, using a very brief measure of Five Factor traits. Multivariate regression analyses indicated that participant ratings of psychopathy pertaining to the defendant were strongly associated with ratings on measures of his perceived boldness (i.e. social dominance and fearlessness), intelligence, violence potential, and perceptions that he was ‘evil’. Big Five personality characteristics of the layperson raters, however, were only modestly associated with their ratings of psychopathy for the defendant. We review these results in terms of the potential stigmatization of individuals labelled as ‘psychopaths’ in forensic settings. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.