Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Recent theorizing has postulated that there exists for every individual an optimal level of arousal. Deviations from this optimal state produce discomfort which motivates behaviors aimed at remediation. Potential causes of underarousal include the attenuation of perceptual input and excessively rapid habituation to sensory input. Both of these processes have been linked dynamically to the psychopathic condition. Presumably, in the context of restricted opportunities for involvement in highly stimulating activities, the psychopathic individual attempts to alleviate the stress caused by chronic sensory deprivation through participation in illegal behaviors. The present investigation has attempted to clarify the dynamic picture with regards to psychopathy and the attenuation of sensation. It has further attempted to evaluate a therapeutic regimen designed to enhance the psychopath's perceptual sensitivity and thereby reduce his excessive reliance on stimulation-seeking activities.

Experimental psychopathic and non-psychopathic subjects from the Minnesota State Reformatory were exposed to a three-week sensory imagery conditioning program which employed both self-hypnosis and heterohypnosis in order to facilitate the relaxation response and conditioning effect. Subsequent evaluation was made of changes in repressive perceptual tendencies, stimulation-seeking behavior, internal- external locus of control, and psychopathic orientation. The results indicate that, among incarcerated subjects, repression does not appear to be a consistent distinguishing characteristic of psychopaths. The results further indicate that the experimental procedure is capable of fostering a less repressive perceptual style and a consequent diminution of stimulation-seeking activity, with these changes being generally more pronounced for the non-psychopathic subjects. The changes, however, tended to be either not enduring or did not generalize in a way which affected global measures of psychopathic orientation. An additional finding was that the extent of practice in autohypnosis tended to be unrelated in any consistent fashion to the changes observed.

The results are discussed in terms of their implications for a psycho-dynamic theory of psychopathy, the appropriateness of the measures employed, possible modifications in the experimental procedure which might enhance change and facilitate accurate assessment, and recommendations for relevant future research.