Media Representations of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Authors: Cronin, A.
Start date: 12 January 2016
Although only 4 – 11% of the UK population is affected, over 60% of the UK prison population display recognised traits of antisocial personality disorder. That there is a strong link between the disorder and criminality cannot be overstated, indeed the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence both observe that criminality is not a likely result of having the disorder but is an ontological characteristic of it. Accordingly, the public perceptions of criminality and antisocial personality disorder are interlinked such that both are shaped by media representations. As the basic principles of criminal liability have evolved over the past 300 years, so too has the media representation of antisocial personality disorder in the context of reporting crime. This reflects the changing significance of the mental disorder in the criminal law institution where the basis of criminal fault has shifted from the assessment of manifest liability, considering the defendant’s character as viewed over the longer term, to the subjective assessment of fault, focusing solely on the individual’s state of mind at the moment of the offence itself. On either basis of liability the existence of antisocial personality disorder is troubling in that it is recognised to be the consequence of external influences, usually dating to the defendant’s childhood. This not only undermines the fundamental doctrine of liability based on ‘freewill’, but also creates an irreconcilable ambiguity at the heart of the criminal institution. While some characteristics of the disorder underpin and aggravate the finding of criminality, others serve conversely to mitigate its gravity. Although a diagnosis of the disorder should not exculpate the actor, the changing media representations of it in crime reporting reveal that it is more usually presented as an aggravating factor and in this way the very notion of criminality itself is shaped.