Background: Psychopathy, a severe disorder of personality, is well represented in the criminal and forensic psychiatric population and is significantly associated with increased risk of violence and crime. Fire-setting is a major source of property damage, injury, and death in many Western countries. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate psychopathic traits in a consecutive sample of Finnish male pretrial fire-setting offenders. Further, we wanted to investigate whether fire-setting recidivists show higher traits of psychopathy than one-time firesetters and whether exclusive firesetters show lower traits of psychopathy than those with criminal versatility.
Methods: The forensic psychiatric examination statements for male firesetters who underwent a pretrial forensic psychiatric evaluation during a 10-year period (1989 -1998) were reviewed. The sample comprised 129 firesetters with normal IQ, 41 of whom were fire-setting recidivists. Fifty men were exclusive firesetters. Assessment of psychopathy-like personality character was performed using the 20-item Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised.
Results: Two individuals (1.6%, 95% Cl: 0.0-3.7) scored ≥30 points and 19 (14.7%, 95% Cl: 8.6-20.8) ≥ 25 points on the PCL-R. The mean PCL-R total score was 16.1 (SD 6.88), the mean Factor 1 score 5.0 (SD 3.41), and the mean Factor 2 score 9.9 (SD 3.86). No significant differences emerged between the recidivists and the one-time firesetters. The versatile firesetters exhibited significantly higher mean total and factor scores than the exclusive ones.
Conclusion: Among firesetters, there is a subgroup of persons with significant psychopathic traits, which should be recognized in legal and health care organizations. Although psychopathy was associated with greater criminal versatility, it bore no relationship to fire-setting recidivism.