Television's "crazy lady" trope: female psychopathic traits, teaching, and influence of popular culture

Acad Psychiatry. 2014 Apr;38(2):233-41. doi: 10.1007/s40596-014-0035-9. Epub 2014 Feb 27.


Objective: This article describes notable illustrations of female psychopathy on modern television to review various characters that will have utility in teaching students about female psychopathy in distinction to male psychopathy and to encourage consideration of the potential effects that viewing these countless examples may have on a generation of young women.

Methods: The authors use examples from soap operas, crime procedurals, reality television, fantasy, comedies, and young adult programs to illustrate gender differences in psychopathy and make specific teaching points. They also review the research literature related to popular culture's impact on behavior and gender roles.

Results: Gender differences in real-world psychopathy are mirrored in television portrayals. For example, female psychopaths, on TV and in reality, use sexual manipulation, demonstrate unstable emotions, and employ social aggression to achieve their ambitions. The examples of female psychopathic traits are prevalent on TV and easily accessible for teaching purposes. Research does give some support for a popular culture impact on behavior and gender roles.

Conclusions: As compared to male psychopathy, female psychopathy is less recognized, and there are some notable differences in how the psychopathic traits manifest. Television provides myriad teaching examples that can highlight the gender distinctions such as use of sexual manipulation, emotional instability, and social aggression. Research suggests that the prevalence of "crazy ladies" on television may be negatively impacting gender stereotypes and normalizing bad behavior in young women.

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Motion Pictures
  • Psychiatry / education*
  • Sex Factors
  • Television*