Jerry Sandusky Trial: What is Histrionic Personality Disorder?

As proceedings resume from the Centre County Courthouse this morning in the Jerry Sandusky trial, the prosecution is expected to rest and give way to Joe Amendola and his defense team. There is rampant speculation that part of that defense will revolve around expert testimony claiming that Sandusky suffers from Histrionic Personality Disorder in an attempt to justify Sandusky’s behavior.

Histrionic Personality Disorder is likely a foreign term to many. Here’s a brief explanation:

Official Definition:

A mental illness that is part of a class of conditions called dramatic personality disorders marked by unstable emotions and distorted self-images.


  • Use social skills to manipulate others into making one the center of attention
  • Uncomfortable unless one is the center of attention
  • Act dramatically while lacking sincerity
  • Constantly seek reassurance or approval
  • Rash decision making with rapidly shifting emotions
  • Dress provocatively and/or exhibit inappropriately seductive or flirtatious behavior
  • Speech style that lacks detail
  • Believe that relationships are more intimate than they actually are


The causes are not exactly known although the general consensus is that it is a mix of genetics and early childhood development including how people cope with stress as children.

Process of Diagnosing

This can be done by a doctor running a medical examination or several laboratory tests on a patient. It is also possible — and more likely in Sandusky’s case — that an expert psychologist will make the claim after having done a lengthy interview with Sandusky.

Possible Treatment

A few treatment options are possible including psychotherapy where the goal is to help the patient uncover motivations and fears relating to behavior. Medication can also be used if the individual becomes depressed.

Possible Prevention

The disorder is generally not directly preventable, but treatment can help a person to function well in both work and social situations.

Additional Notes:

  • The disorder is more common in women than men
  • It is usually evident in a person around early adulthood
  • The disorder occurs within 2-3 percent of the general population
  • People who suffer from it are at a higher risk for depression
  • There is typically an inverse relationship when it comes to age with many people experiencing few of the most extreme symptoms once they hit their 40s and 50s

Sandusky may very well suffer from the disorder. The more daunting task will be convincing jurors that Histronic Personality Disorder is a legitimate defense regarding his behavior toward the alleged victims including the several love letters sent.

Most legal analysts believe this to be a gamble — a shot in the dark. Today, or sometime this week, the defense will almost certainly take that shot.

Information for this article was aggregated from several medical websites, here, here, here, and here.

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About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.

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