Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why the Female Psychopath Laughs

Using laughter, among other things, as a tool of control.

Source: Lookstudio/Freepik

We all look forward to a good laugh. Health experts say, “simply laughing can give your immune system a boost.”1 The National Cancer Institute has even found that people who laugh on a regular basis decrease stress hormones.2 But what is our reaction to laughter provoked by a female psychopath?

Disarmingly witty and articulate

Hervey Cleckley, the pioneering psychopathy researcher from the mid-1900s, developed conclusions based on cases including both males and females. He observed generally that “psychopaths are often witty and sometimes give a superficial impression of that far different and very serious thing, humor. Humor, however, in what may be its full, true sense, they never have.”3

The female psychopath, like all psychopaths, can be disarmingly witty, full of jokes and exciting conversation. Noted psychopathy expert, Dr. Robert Hare, describes the psychopath’s ability to be “witty and articulate as well as amusing and entertaining conversationalists.”4 A female psychopath will often joke at situations, or even poke fun at herself. Her boisterous laughter ensures that she is the center of attention. This feeds into her grandiosity fueled by her histrionics.5 Her subtle innuendos are often overlooked in the spirit of entertainment and fun. But what lies behind the female psychopath’s laughter is not good humor at all.

Laughter calculated to mask real motives

Based on my observations, having lived with two female psychopaths – my mother and sister, I have seen how a female psychopath’s laughter is calculated to turn on her charm – a charm that is superficial, yet captivating. She can begin the manipulative process while performing like an actress. While you are laughing, she has a different agenda. Cunning, conniving, and clever, her glib tongue captures her prey while she may even manage to get others to feel sorry for her. Once her goals are achieved, she laughs at what she can get you to do for her or what she can get out of you.

Her laughter sets the stage while putting you in a “playful frame of mind.” She keeps laughing as she draws others closer to believe her stories and fall for her lies. You may even come away thinking, “What a nice person she is.”

Using laughter to manipulate and control

In a study of 143 women and 90 men with high levels of psychopathic traits, researchers at the University of Zurich found their laughter was not indicative of contributing to the well-being of other people. They concluded that essentially psychopaths do not laugh with us – but at us.6 "[T]hose high in {psychopathy} use laughter primarily in a callous and manipulative way.”7Laughter is a tool: to hide lies, to dominate and control, to outsmart – to transform the person into someone she is not. The laughter is deceptive.

The impact of the fake laughter

My personal observation has been if you feel too good about yourself – are feeling upbeat, or are having a great day, the psychopath’s envy flares into a knee-jerk reaction that is sure to be jarring and offensive. She can do it with the subtlety of a smile that has many deceptive facets. The smile can confuse because it turns on so effortlessly and there is no hint of anxiety or angst in her demeanor. If you look closely, her face forms a smile or even hints at laughter, but her eyes do not follow – they remain empty and vacant.

Often, we fail to see the machinations of the personality behind the smile – behind the laughter. This can give her contemptuous delight that will fill her moment until the next empty moment comes along.

Facebook image: Pond Saksit/Shutterstock


1. 2022. 14 Health Benefits of Laughter.

2. 2022. 14 Health Benefits of Laughter.

3. Cleckley, Hervey. (1988). The Mask of Sanity, 5th Edition. 369.

4. Hare, Robert D. (1990). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (New York: The Guilford Press). 34.

5. Smith, Jason M., Gacono, Carl B. & Cunliffe, Ted B. (2021). Understanding Female Offenders: Psychopathy, Criminal Behavior, Assessment, and Treatment. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press. 126.

6. Proyer, Rene T., Flisch, Rahel, Tschupp, Stefanie, Platt, Tracey, Ruch, Willibald. (2012). How does psychopathy relate to humor and laughter? Dispositions toward ridicule and being laughed at, the sense of humor, and psychopathic personality traits. University of Zurich Open Repository. 5.

7. Proyer, Rene T., et al. 15.

More from Psychology Today

More from Winifred Rule

More from Psychology Today