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Cohesion and coherence in the speech of psychopathic criminals Williamson, Sherrie


This study was designed to examine the hypothesis that the speech of criminal psychopaths is poorly integrated. Measures of cohesion (lexical, referential, conjunctive) and coherence (plot-units) were used to assess the degree to which independent clauses were linked together in the personal narratives of criminal psychopaths and criminal nonpsychopaths. General deviance in communication, as measured by the Scale for Thought, Language, and Communication Disorders (Andreasen, 1980), was also assessed. A significant number of psychopaths produced disordered communications. These communications failed on a number of levels: Psychopaths used relatively few cohesive links between sentences, failed to provide appropriate referents in discourse, failed to link action and resolution in stories, and showed significant clinical impairment in their ability to communicate. The results suggest that effective connections among speech units in psychopaths' discourse are not as numerous as those found in nonpsychopaths. In addition, psychopaths may suffer from a more general impairment in communication that is related to, among other things, discourse which has a tendancy to slip off track and a failure to directly answer a listener's questions.

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