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Dr. Hervey Milton Cleckley (1903 - January 28, 1984) was an American psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of psychopathy. His book, The Mask of Sanity, originally published in 1941, provided the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in the 20th Century. The term "mask of sanity" derived from Cleckley's observations that, unlike people with major mental disorders, a "psychopath" can appear to be normal and even engaging, while typically not suffering overtly from hallucinations or delusions.[1] However, the "mask" covered a concealed psychosis.[2]


Cleckley was born in Augusta, Georgia and graduated from the Academy of Richmond County in 1921. He graduated in 1924 summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens where he was a member of the varsity football and track and field teams.[3] Cleckley won a Rhodes Scholarship and graduated from Oxford University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1926.

Cleckley then earned his M.D. from the University of Georgia Medical School (now known as the Medical College of Georgia) in Augusta in 1929 and was named professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Medical College of Georgia and the Chief of psychiatry/neurology at University Hospital in Augusta in 1937. In 1955, Cleckley was appointed clinical professor of psychiatry and neurology at the medical college. He was founding chairman of the Department of Psychiatry & Health Behavior at that college as well.

In 1941, Cleckley authored his magnum opus The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality. This became a landmark in psychiatric studies and was repeatedly reprinted in subsequent editions (the most recent in 2003). Dr Cleckley revised and expanded the work with each edition published in his lifetime. The second American edition of 1950 underwent the most substantial additions and improvements.

The Mask of Sanity is distinguished by its central thesis, that the psychopath exhibits normal function according to standard psychiatric criteria, yet privately engages in destructive behavior. The book was intended to assist with detection and diagnosis of the elusive psychopath for purposes of palliation and offered no cure for the condition itself. The idea of a master deceiver secretly possessed of no moral or ethical restraints, yet behaving in public with excellent function, electrified American society and led to heightened interest in both psychological introspection and the detection of hidden psychopaths in society at large, leading to a refinement of the word itself into what was perceived to be a less stigmatizing term, "sociopath."[4]

Robert Hare devised the "Psychopathy Checklist (PCL)" to assess the main characteristics of psychopathic behavior, based in part on Dr. Cleckley's work.

In 1956, Cleckley co-authored The Three Faces of Eve with Corbett H. Thigpen, the book serving as the basis for the 1957 film starring Joanne Woodward about Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).

Other notable professional distinctions of Cleckley include Fellow of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and psychiatrist in the trial of Ted Bundy. Cleckley also authored The Caricature of Love: A Discussion of Social, Psychiatric, and Literary Manifestations of Pathologic Sexuality.[5]


  1. ^ "Psychopathy - What Is Psychopathy?". Retrieved 2007-12-14.  
  2. ^ Meloy, J. Read (1988). The Psychopathic Mind: Origins, Dynamics, and Treatment. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.. p. 9. ISBN 0-87668-311-1.  
  3. ^ Stegeman, John F.; Willingham, Robert M. Jr.. Touchdown: A Pictorial History of the Georgia Bulldogs. Athens, Georgia: Agee Publishers, Inc.. pp. 29–31. LCCN 83-070625.  
  4. ^ Seabrook, John (Nov. 10, 2008). "Suffering Souls: the search for the roots of psychopathy.". The New Yorker Magazine: pp. 64–73.  
  5. ^ "Open". Retrieved 2008-11-19.  




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