“Always treat everyone with respect. You never know who is secretly a psychopath.”
– Alex Wayne, Diagnosis
How does one go about identifying a psychopath? It’s not easy, but researchers have made a lot of headway in answering this very question.
It is common knowledge that men are more likely to have psychopathic tendencies than women. For example, one study on a prison population found 31% of men met the criteria, compared to only 11% of women.
Psychopathy has a number of higher-order dimensions, including Self-centered Impulsivity, Heartlessness, and Fearless Dominance. The first dimension, Self-centered Impulsivity, is associated with impetuosity, belligerence, and narcissism.
Heartlessness is related to an inability to experience important social emotions like love or remorse.
Psychopaths, who clearly lack empathy, are at a disadvantage — or so the thinking goes. However, empathy requires taking other people’s feelings into consideration, walking in their shoes, so to speak. Walking requires energy. Luckily for psychopaths, no “walking” is required, unless it involves walking over other people to get what they want.
Empathy is built on a foundation of emotions. Although vital for binding and meaningful relationships, emotions often clouds judgment. In the extreme, emotions can actually impede one’s ability to think in a critical manner. Remember folks, this is 2019, the year of the oversensitive masses, where emotions constantly cloud rational thought.
The psychopath, freed from his emotional shackles, is well equipped to act in an unrestrained, ruthless manner. This is bad news for society… but not for a psychopath, especially one consumed by thoughts of power and prestige.
Fearless Dominance, the third dimension of psychopathy, is associated with impudence and a desire for social influence. Contrary to popular belief, Fearless Dominance comes with a number of socially adaptive behaviors. Equipped with a sense of interpersonal poise and potency, physical fearlessness, and emotional resilience, some psychopaths go on to do great things. Some even become heroes.
A 2015 paper, titled Successful Psychopathy, introduces readers to a man by the name of Forest “Tommy” Yeo-Thomas, a real-life daredevil. By employing a number of disguises and fake documents, the World War II British spy regularly evaded capture by the Nazis. According to the authors, Yeo-Thomas once pretended to be a corpse while traveling in a coffin.
Known as “White Rabbit” to his enemies, Yeo-Thomas once leapt from a moving train. In a move straight out of Liam Neeson movie, our hero (anti-hero?) once strangled a prison guard with his bare hands. When Yeo-Thomas wasn’t busy strangling Nazis, he was busy seducing beautiful women.
Most people, I assume, are unfamiliar with the life and times of Yeo-Thomas. However, most are familiar with James Bond, his fictional incarnation. Yes, Yeo-Thomas was the inspiration for novelist Ian Fleming’s ostentatious, sex crazed, martini gulping hero. The WW2 spy is typical of what we in the profession call a “successful psychopath.” Unlike malignant psychopathy, which often involves criminal acts and imprisonment, the “successful psychopath” embraces the darkness to achieve real-life success.
Do “successful psychopaths” avoid breaking the law because it’s “right”? No, they avoid breaking the law because it makes sense. By reigning in their impulses, or at least channeling them in a more lucrative direction, “successful psychopaths” often go on to occupy positions of real significance.
So, what sort of professions attract psychopaths? Research already shows that psychopaths are more prevalent in certain occupations. It will come as no surprise that they tend to gravitate towards positions of power — think CEOs, surgeons, lawyers, celebrities, and politicians.
The link between politics and psychopathy is an especially interesting one. In 2004, scientists asked 121 presidential biographers to rate 42 U.S. presidents, up to and including George W. Bush, on their pre-office traits of fearless dominance, one of the three dimensions of psychopathy. The findings made for interesting reading. According to the report, fearless dominance was strongly correlated with overall presidential performance, guidance, public perception, persuasiveness, and, rather predictably, a willingness to take risks.
OK, we know a lot about who is likely to be a psychopath, but what about where? Are there certain places in the United States where psychopaths are more likely to gather and pollute the social environment?
Luckily for us, a recent study published in the scientific journal Heliyon provides us with an unambiguous answer. According to the authors, who estimated psychopathy prevalence based on Big Five personality patterns (Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism), Washington D.C. has the highest prevalence of psychopaths. Master swindlers, Svengalis of the highest nature, it makes sense that psychopaths flock to an area of the United States synonymous with political power and influence.
As the inimitable Jon Ronson once wrote, “Psychopaths make the world go around… society is an expression of that particular sort of madness… I’ve always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it isn’t? What if it is built on insanity?”
The old adage has it that we’re never more than six feet away from a rat. Maybe the same thing can be said for psychopaths.