Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, aka the Milwaukee Cannibal, is an American serial killer and sex offender, who committed the rape, murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991, with many of his later murders also involving necrophilia, cannibalism and the permanent preservation of body parts, typically all or part of the skeletal structure. Dahmer was sentenced to 15 terms of life imprisonment on February 15, 1992. (Photo by Curt Borgwardt/Sygma via Getty Images)

Is there a cure for ‘evil’?

Could there possibly be any evidence-based therapy or rehabilitation for someone said to be 'evil', such as a serial killer?

Asked by: Gavin Ansell, Staffordshire

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Serial killers and other offenders dubbed ‘evil’ by the public and media usually meet the criteria for what forensic psychologists call ‘psychopathy’. Cool and calculating, these individuals combine superficial charm with callousness and a lack of empathy.

Traditionally, this group was seen as being nigh-on impossible to treat. However, this pessimistic perspective was recently labelled an ‘urban myth’ by psychologists in New Zealand, and there is limited evidence that intensive group and individual therapy programmes, based around the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help reduce violent offending by psychopaths, if not change their personalities per se.

Another promising, but preliminary, line of research suggests that computer-based cognitive training can help psychopaths experience empathy and regret.

What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? © iStock

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