Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Dexter Morgan in Dexter, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. They are all psychopaths.
Psychopaths are usually depicted as serial killers or villains in the entertainment industry. They are antisocial yet powerful, often display threats and put others at peril. How much of this impression is true under the definition of a psychopath?
Here are six characteristics of a psychopath:
- Lack of empathy: Psychopaths are callous and coldhearted. They lack the ability to understand and identify other’s emotions.
- Egocentric: They are extremely selfish. They live a “parasitic lifestyle”, meaning they habitually rely and exploit on others to maximize their own benefits.
- Shallow emotional investment: Without the ability to form emotional relationships, psychopaths only build artificial relationships to manipulate people to benefit themselves.
- Superficially charming: Despite an emotional deficiency, psychopaths are great actors. They can bring out the charm and trustworthiness to be likeable, to gain more relationships for further manipulation.
- Lack of morals and social consciences: Psychopaths rarely feel any guilt or remorse regarding their behaviors.
- Highly calculated: Their actions are well-planned, especially those with huge consequences, like a criminal activity. They tend to act in a way to minimize the risk they will encounter and ensure to not get caught, with multiple contingency plans in mind.
In short, “psychopath” is defined as an amoral person who is amoral with impaired remorse and empathy, and egotistical traits.
Wait, so how often would I bump into a psychopath?
A research on psychopathic traits results in a surprising yet daunting finding — 5 percent of the general population may possess psychopathic tendencies. Maybe your heart is pounding right now and you want to double check if someone’s lurking around with a machete or chainsaw.
Calm down, let me finish.
Contrary to popular beliefs, psychopaths aren’t always violent.
Yes, there are psychopaths who are criminals, killers, and madmen, like Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. A psychopathic behavior doesn’t revolve around violence, but focuses on how psychopaths use their apathetic, manipulative, and selfish nature to get what they want.
It’s time to debunk other myths and misconceptions of psychopaths.
I’m sure some of you are linking people you know while reading the traits of a psychopath earlier in the article. And you are probably eager to learn how to clearly spot a psychopath.
Psychopaths do not occur on a binary level. As much as everyone wants a rubric to separate psychopaths from the population, there are no concrete parameters to measure psychopathy, different than some antisocial behavorial personality like autism. The spectrum of psychopathic tendencies ranges from minor to severe.
There are no any brain imaging or biological test to diagnose a person as a psychopath. The most common device to identify psychopathic tendencies is the psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R). The test provides a 20-item list to evaluate the test subject, and will generate a maximum of 40 points with a cutoff at 30 (in the United States) to determine whether a person is psychopathic or not.
Psychopaths and sociopaths are different.
Sherlock Holmes once said, “I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research!” Both disorders are defined as antisocial and often amoral, but what are the differences between them?
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic causes. Researchers believe psychopathy is a genetic predisposition, as psychopaths lack parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. On the other hand, sociopaths tend to be stemmed and made by their environment, like childhood trauma, physical or mental abuse.
Well-planned vs. impulsive actions. As mentioned above, psychopaths plan their criminal actions cautiously to avoid bearing the consequences; but sociopaths often act upon their impulse and pay little attention to the risk or impacts of their actions.
Charming vs. erratic. Psychopaths have the ability to mold themselves to gain trust and relationships. They are able to obtain a long-term job or even a family life, because these are all pieces and pawns for them to move around in the giant chess game. For sociopaths, they lack what their psychopathic counterparts have because of their impulsive and unpredictable actions.
Socially unconscious vs. conscious. As cruel as it sounds, psychopaths are not guilty of what they do. For example, their emotionless selves allow them to intentionally harm someone without holding any remorse. But for sociopaths, they are familiar with societal norms and they are just relatively less socially conscious than the general public. They know they shouldn’t harm someone but it’s not enough to stop their deviant behaviors.
There are female psychopaths too, but they express their psychopathic tendencies differently.
Most of the psychopathic characters you see on TV or movies are male. In reality, the ratio of psychopathic men and women is 20:1. So where are all the female psychopaths?
After numerous studies and experiments, researchers have found female psychopaths are just as dangerous as sociopaths. The main reason behind such discrepancy in gender ratio is because female psychopaths are harder to identify.
A research suggests men and women with this disorder do not differ in the existence of psychopathic characteristics and traits, but the expression of these personality traits. Female psychopaths display manipulative, deceitful, impulsive characteristics in a way which is typically associated with other mental illnesses. For example, a woman with explosive outbursts, or constantly wants to be the center of attention, you may not immediately associate her actions as psychopathic.
|||^||Neumann and Hare: Psychopathic Traits in a Large Community Sample: Links to Violence, Alcohol Use, and Intelligence|
|||^||American Psychological Association: Borderline personality disorder as a female phenotypic expression of psychopathy?|