Life long?

Logo from the radio program This American Life
Logo from the radio program This American Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday morning I re-posted from an article on the positive finding publication bias in psychology journals and how these findings live on in spite of the fact that they are never replicated and rely on shakey analysis.


Then, I’m driving to work and listen to last week’s episode of This American Life discussing psychopaths. It explored the case of a man in prison for 24 years who was presumably assessed to have antisocial personality disorder. (I say, “presumably” because they use the word psychopath throughout.)  It discussed the implication that this is assumed to be a life-long condition and that this diagnosis greatly diminished his likelihood of ever being paroled even though the man appears to have changed in very important and fundamental ways over the las 12 years.

It got me wondering about personality disorders. Where did this assumption that they are life-long, permanent conditions come from? In my experience, they are certainly long-term conditions. But, life-long? Over several decades? I don’t know. Is this assumption empirically based? Has anyone looked at these people over the course of 2, 3, 4 or 5 decades? If not, maybe we should speak with a little less certainty about these matters.