The term psychopath sends a chill down the average person’s spine, but what if the term turns out to describe a large portion of the population? Some of the newest psychological studies explore the idea that psychopaths are more common than people realize. This thought then invites an interesting and unsettling question: do you work for a psychopath?
Why Psychopaths Are Common
Common traits of psychopaths include an over-active sense of self-worth and a lack of remorse. Many leaders, such as CEOs and politicians, possess exactly these traits, prompting claims that our society may actually reward psychopaths or psychopathic behavior. If certain personality traits are common in those with similar job descriptions, then perhaps some individuals are best suited for certain career paths. The career path of psychopaths often placates the inflated ego and frequently leads to wealth.
The Psychopath Test
Journalist Jon Ronson defines the nature of a psychopath in his 1970s research, creating the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. He continually travels to some of the most notorious mental institutions to interview criminals, CEOs, and other well-known individuals, and his recent book “The Psychopath Test” reveals that most such people possess similar personality traits.
The Hare Psychopathy Test to which Ronson refers consists of a twenty-item checklist, with each item rated on a scale of 0-3. The U.K. claims that a score equal to or higher than twenty-five qualifies a psychopath, while the U.S. advocates a score of thirty and above as the qualification. The checklist provided below offers insight into some of the traits commonly possessed by psychopaths, but please keep in mind that it was designed for use by certified psychologists and psychiatrists.
Item 1: Glibness/superficial charm
Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth
Item 3: Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Item 4: Pathological lying
Item 5: Conning/manipulative
Item 6: Lack of remorse/guilt
Item 7: Shallow affect
Item 8: Callous/lack of empathy
Item 9: Parasitic lifestyle
Item 10: Poor behavioral controls
Item 11: Promiscuous sexual behavior
Item 12: Early behavior problems
Item 13: Lack of realistic long-term goals
Item 14: Impulsivity
Item 15: Irresponsibility
Item 16: Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Item 17: Many short-term marital relationships
Item 18: Juvenile delinquency
Item 19: Revocation of conditional release
Item 20: Criminal versatility
So, if your boss utilizes Post-it notes more than you’d prefer, this sort of quirk would not likely suggest psychopathy on the Hare Checklist.
Psychopaths in Popular Culture
Does the name Frank Abagnale, Jr. ring a bell? Abagnale was the infamous checkbook-loving con-artist who became an FBI asset in the 1960s. Abagnale was able to convince people that he was a substitute teacher, a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, all before age 21. American culture became fascinated with him—his life was celebrated in a Broadway musical, and Steven Spielberg’s movie “Catch Me If You Can” (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks) was based on Abagnale’s story. The question remains: would his personality traits qualify him as a psychopath? He now runs an extremely successful financial fraud consultant firm. Does this signify redemption through remorse, or was the firm created just because he could get away with it?
The notorious serial killer Ted Bundy is a more obvious example of psychopathy. Dr. Kevin Dutton of the University of Oxford explores the complexity of the condition through Bundy, who displayed the obvious traits of manipulation and poor behavioral controls.
However, Dutton’s interview with Special Agent James Beasley III of the FBI describes how psychopaths are able to use perceivably good traits to enact some of their most malicious intentions. For example, Bundy pretended to be disabled in order to gain the trust of his victims, suggesting someone like him may understand the concept of empathy in spite of lacking the corresponding feelings. Beasley states, “So the bottom line, strange though it may seem, is this. Sadistic serial killers feel their victims’ pain in exactly the same way that you or I might feel it. They feel it cognitively or objectively. […] But the difference between them and us is that they commute that pain to their own subjective pleasure.”
Dealing with Your Boss
After reading this article, chances are that your difficult boss looks a lot better than he did last week! Unless your boss clearly possesses certain key personality traits, you might just be dealing with an irritating person rather than an actual psychopath. Then again, if your boss shoots you a huge smile while telling you to work over the entire weekend, you might want to reread this article!”