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What personality type do psychopaths have?

The Pros to Being a Psychopath

Amy Crawford

When most of us hear the word “psychopath,” we imagine Hannibal Lecter. Kevin Dutton would prefer that we think of brain surgeons, CEOs and Buddhist monks. In his new book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, the Oxford research psychologist argues that psychopathic personality traits—charm, confidence, ruthlessness, coolness under pressure—can, in the right doses, be a good thing. Not all psychopaths are violent, he says, and some of them are just the sort of people society can count on in a crisis.

To further his psychopathic studies, Dutton is seeking participants for his Great American Psychopath Survey, which he says will reveal the most psychopathic states, cities and professions in the United States. Try it for yourself at

“Psychopath” is a term that gets thrown about a lot in our culture. Are psychopaths misunderstood?

It’s true, no sooner is the word “psychopath” out than images of your classic psychopathic killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and a whole kind of discreditable raft of senior politicians come kind of creeping across our minds. But actually, being a psychopath doesn’t mean that you’re a criminal. Not by default, anyway. It doesn’t mean that you’re a serial killer, either.

One of the reasons why I wrote the book in the first place was to debunk two deep-seated myths that the general public have about psychopaths. Firstly, that they’re either all “mad or bad.” And secondly, that psychopathy is an all-or-nothing thing, that you’re either a psychopath or you’re not.

What is a psychopath, anyway?

When psychologists talk about psychopaths, what we’re referring to are people who have a distinct set of personality characteristics, which include things like ruthlessness, fearlessness, mental toughness, charm, persuasiveness and a lack of conscience and empathy. Imagine that you tick the box for all of those characteristics. You also happen to be violent and stupid. It’s not going to be long before you smack a bottle over someone’s head in a bar and get locked up for a long time in prison. But if you tick the box for all of those characteristics, and you happen to be intelligent and not naturally violent, then it’s a different story altogether. Then you’re more likely to make a killing in the market rather than anywhere else.

How are these psychopathic traits particularly useful in modern society?

Psychopaths are assertive. Psychopaths don’t procrastinate. Psychopaths tend to focus on the positive. Psychopaths don’t take things personally; they don’t beat themselves up if things go wrong, even if they’re to blame. And they’re pretty cool under pressure. Those kinds of characteristics aren’t just important in the business arena, but also in everyday life.

The key here is keeping it in context. Let’s think of psychopathic traits—ruthlessness, toughness, charm, focus—as the dials on a [recording] studio deck. If you were to turn all of those dials up to max, then you’re going to overload the circuit. You’re going to wind up getting 30 years inside or the electric chair or something like that. But if you have some of them up high and some of them down low, depending on the context, in certain endeavors, certain professions, you are going to be predisposed to great success. The key is to be able to turn them back down again.

You’ve found that some professions rate higher than others when it comes to psychopathic traits. Which jobs attract psychopaths?

I ran a survey in 2011, “The Great British Psychopath Survey,” in which I got people to fill out a questionnaire online to find out how psychopathic they were. I also got people to enter their occupations, what they did for a living, and how much money they earned over the course of a year. We found a whole range of professions cropping up—no serial killers among them, although no one would admit to it. The results made very interesting reading, especially if you’re partial to a sermon or two on a Sunday, because the clergy cropped up there at number eight. You had the usual suspects at the top; you had your CEOs, lawyers, media—TV and radio. Journalists were a bit down the list. We also had civil servants. There were several police officers, actually, so as opposed to being criminals, some psychopaths are actually out there locking other people up. Any situation where you’ve a got a power structure, a hierarchy, the ability to manipulate or wield control over people, you get psychopaths doing very well.

What would be a bad career choice for a psychopath? Which professions scored low?

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No real surprises, actually. There were craftsmen, care workers. Nurses were in there. Accountants were pretty low on psychopathy. One of the interesting ones: doctors. Doctors were low on psychopathy, but surgeons were actually in the top ten, so there’s kind of a dividing line between surgeons and doctors.

Can psychopaths have a positive impact on society, as opposed to just using their advantages to get ahead?

I’ve interviewed a lot of special forces troops, especially the British Special Air Service. They’re like Navy Seals. That’s a very good example of people who are pretty high on those psychopathic traits who are actually in a perfect occupation. Also, I interview in the book a top neurosurgeon—this was a surgeon who takes on operations that are especially risky—who said to me, “The most important thing when you’re conducting a dangerous operation, a risky operation, is you’ve got to be very cool under pressure, you’ve got to be focused. You can’t have too much empathy for the person that you’re operating on, because you wouldn’t be able to conduct that operation.” Surgeons do very nasty things to people when they’re on the operating table. If things do go wrong, the most important facet in a surgeon’s arsenal is decisiveness. You cannot freeze.

You noted in the book that you’re not a psychopath yourself. Despite my profession, I scored pretty low on your survey as well. Can “normals” like you and me learn to develop these psychopathic traits, even if we don’t have them naturally?

Absolutely. Normal people can work out their psychopath muscles. It’s kind of like going to the gym in a way, to develop these attributes. It’s just like training.

Psychopaths don’t think, should I do this or shouldn’t I do this? They just go ahead and do stuff. So next time you find yourself putting off that chore or filing that report or something, unchain your inner psychopath and ask yourself this: “Since when did I need to feel like something in order to do it?”

Another way you can take a leaf out of a psychopath’s book: Psychopaths are very reward-driven. If they see a benefit in something, they zone in on it and they go for it 100 percent. Let’s take an example of someone who is kind of scared of putting in for a raise at work. You might be scared about what the boss might think of you. You might think if you’d don’t get it you’re going to get fired. Forget it. Cut all that stuff off. “Psychopath up,” and overwhelm your negative feelings by concentrating on the benefits of getting it. The bottom line here is, a bit of localized psychopathy is good for all of us.

You just came back to England this week from the Himalayas. Did that trip have anything to do with your research into psychopaths?

I was running a rather odd study over there. Psychopaths and Buddhists, in terms of their performance in the lab, have certain characteristics in common. They’re good at living in the present. They’re mindful. Both are calm under pressure. They focus on the positive. But also, both are good at mind reading. They’re very good at picking up on micro-expressions, basically lightning-fast changes in facial scenery; our brain downloads onto the muscles of our face before it decides on the real picture that it wants to project to the world. These micro-expressions are invisible to most of our naked eyes. But it seems that expert Buddhist meditators are able to pick them up, probably because they are able to slow down their perception. There’s a recent study that seems to show that psychopaths are also good at picking up on micro-expressions. We don’t really know the reason for that, but it could be that psychopaths might spend more time just studying us.

What I did was I hot-footed it over the mountains of Northern India on the Tibet border with a laptop. On the laptop were 20 “pleader videos”—clips of press conferences organized by the police where you’ve got folks pleading with the general public for information as to loved ones who’ve gone missing. We know that 10 of these guys have actually done the deed themselves, and 10 people are genuine pleaders. I put them on a laptop, basically took them to the mountains, caves and remote cabins of these expert Buddhist meditator monks in the high Himalayas, and got them to tell me which of the 20 were false and which were true. I’ll be testing psychopaths very shortly, and I am going to see who gets more out of 20. Is it the Buddhist monks, or is it the psychopaths?

What part of a passport is scanned?

It was an epic journey. If you don’t like heights and you have a nervous disposition—we’re talking about foot-width edges, thousand-meter drops. Pretty dicey. I mean, you have to be a bit of a psychopath to get to these guys.

This interview series focuses on big thinkers. Without knowing whom we will interview next, only that he or she will be a big thinker in their field, what question do you have for our next interview subject?

Ask them to take my test and tell me what they score. How psychopathic do they think they are?

Our last interviewee, Alison Dagnes, a political scientist whose book, A Conservative Walks Into a Bar, looks at the liberal bias in political satire, asks: What is your work going to mean for the future?

There was a story in the news not too long ago in which there was a U.S. computer company that deliberately advertised for people who have Asperger’s-like traits, because they know these people are very, very good at focusing on data and seeing patterns. So perhaps one of the things that could happen in the future is that certain kinds of industries might actually deliberately screen for people whose psychopath dials are turned up more than normal.

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Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.

Here’s What To Do When You Encounter People With «Dark Personality Traits» At Work

Narcissists, psychopaths, and Machiavellians, oh my. These antagonistic personality types can make life hard for the people around them. Here are five tips for how to deal with them at work.

Cinthia Beccacece Satornino


Office worker

Have you ever suffered through tales of greatness from a self-absorbed “friend” who reminds you of Michael Scott from “The Office” – and not in a good way? Have you been betrayed by a colleague out of the blue, undermined on a project by the office mean girl, or had a work friendship dropped altogether without explanation?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you may have been dealing with someone who has what psychologists term a “dark personality.” These people score higher on three socially undesirable traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.


As an organizational scholar, I’ve spent years studying personality traits in the context of the sales profession. In recent work, my colleagues and I focused on the ways people with these dark personalities succeed in sales organizations and the social factors that allow them to extend their successful tenures. Based on our research, here’s a primer on these antagonistic personality types – and how you can unmask examples you encounter in your everyday life.

Business meeting

Narcissists are always first in line to compliment themselves. Image credit: Jacob Lund/

Defining the dark personalities

Narcissists have the most familiar type of dark personality. They aren’t shy about letting you know exactly how highly they think of themselves. At work, you might find the narcissist bragging about their superior sales skills, even though their performance isn’t much better than the average salesperson. Conservative estimates of narcissism in the general population fall around 6.2%.

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While narcissistic behavior can be annoying, it’s usually more tolerable than what the other two dark traits tend to serve up.

Functional – meaning noncriminal – psychopaths are particularly disturbing. Psychologists estimate they comprise up to 4% of the general population. Psychopaths have no qualms about exploiting others for their own benefit. Stubbornly antisocial, functional psychopaths generally have little empathy for others. They’re more concerned about “getting theirs” by any means necessary. Psychopaths are quick to deflect blame and throw others under the bus, even if it means telling lies.


With their impulsive tendencies, psychopaths are prone to telling lies for no particular reason at all. If you find yourself in a group water-cooler conversation and hear someone telling lies that don’t seem to serve any purpose, you might have stumbled on a functional psychopath.

In the workplace, at first a psychopath may seem charming. But eventually you’ll likely find yourself either questioning their motivations, or becoming a victim of their destructive behavior. Though they can be harder to identify than narcissists with their nonstop bragging, psychopaths’ egregious behavior tends to unmask them in the end.

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Machiavellians are the most prevalent of the dark personalities, estimated to be about 16% of the population. They get their name from Italian Renaissance statesman Nicolo Macchiavelli, who believed the ends could justify immoral means. Less annoying than narcissists, less abrasive than functional psychopaths, Machiavellians are more subtle in the pursuit of their agendas. They forge ahead regardless of ethical considerations. Like lions, Machiavellians seem benevolent, watching their prey from afar – until they strike. They’re adept at playing the long game – it’s their stealth, patience and subtle manipulation that make them a particularly dangerous dark personality.

Compared with a psychopath’s unnecessary lies, you’re more likely to overhear the Machiavellian in the group telling little white lies that are strategically designed to further a future agenda. For example, you might hear them flattering the colleague you happen to know will be getting a big bonus in the near future – the Machiavellian may be strategically laying the groundwork for being invited to help them spend it.

Warehouse workers

Someone with a dark personality may be happy to take sole credit for work to which you contributed. Image credit: Ground Picture/

In short, targets of dark personalities likely find narcissists to be conspicuously and irritatingly self-centered, but generally innocuous. Psychopaths are less obvious in their bad behavior, but their transgressions can be quite severe. Machiavellians are less in-your-face than narcissists, and their nefarious actions are likely to be less severe than those of psychopaths. In the long run, though, a Machiavellian can leave you reeling from an unexpected betrayal to benefit their personal agenda.

As you consider these dark traits and how they show up in interpersonal relationships, you might sense a spark of recognition. Here are five tips for avoiding dark personalities in your own life or minimizing the harm they cause.

1. Don’t fall for first impressions

Dark personalities are experts at making great first impressions, drawing you in with humor and charisma. So, when you meet someone new, be wary of superficial appeal. Narcissists, with their tendency to talk themselves up, are the easiest to spot.

To identify the others, ask questions about past relationships and listen carefully for clues about who this person really is. Because dark personalities are almost always unmasked in the end, they’re less likely to have long-standing friendships – an absence they may explain away by faulting others.


Just be mindful not to overcorrect and ditch a potential new work friend based only on first impressions, either.

2. Share your own (bad) experiences

When you encounter a dark personality and the outcome is unpleasant, you might feel embarrassed for allowing yourself to be fooled or manipulated, or you might feel guilt or shame when you observe someone treating someone else badly. As a result, you might not want to talk about it. Dark personalities exploit that reluctance because your silence helps keep hidden their “core of darkness” – the antagonistic traits that define them.

So to help unmask the dark personality and keep others from meeting the same fate, sharing your experience, with discretion, is critical.

3. Manage up to clue bosses in

Those with dark personalities are good at carefully managing the impressions they make on people in positions of power. So, at work, you can practice managing up to help your boss see the dark personality more clearly.


Share your experiences in a nongossipy way, such as expressing concern about incidents of incivility that you witnessed or requesting advice or guidance in dealing with a very boastful colleague who may be alienating prospects or customers. It may help your boss see through the facade and help you deal with the issue.

4. Plug into your networks

On the flip side, remember to also listen to others. To avoid falling into a manipulator’s web, tap into the network of those around you who share a link to the person in question. See if you can gather references regarding their behavior over the long term. Ideally, you can benefit from others’ knowledge, without having to learn the hard way.

5. Be aware of your own biases

Don’t underestimate the strength of a dark personality’s machinations. When someone shares a personal story of betrayal, be wary of thinking, “that would never happen to me!” Dark personalities are experts in manipulating situations to serve their interests, and you may never notice you’re ensnared until it’s too late. Considering yourself too smart or savvy to ever find yourself in the same predicament is misguided.

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Professional discussion

Keep discussions professional and focused on what’s making it hard for you to do your job. Image credit: GaudiLab/

As you apply these tips in your life, you want to be wary of becoming an armchair pscyhologist. Anyone can have a bad day – and everyone has. Instead of diagnosing friends, partners and colleagues based on what you think might be their underlying personality traits, focus on any bad behaviors you personally witness, and respond to the actions – not what you think underlies them. Best leave that to the professionals.


If you are in charge of organizations or teams, consider having clear guidance and pathways of communication for individuals to report any concerning behavior they witness. By working together and sharing collective experiences, the rest of us can shine light on the workplace misdeeds of those with antagonistic personalities.

Cinthia Beccacece Satornino, Research Director at the UNH Sales Center and Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of New Hampshire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

20 Ways to Spot the Psychopath in Your Life


The condition of psychopathy may be one of the most misunderstood disorders, although it is frequently represented in movies, books, and other media. Psychopathy is a complex issue. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, psychopathy is a subset of antisocial personality disorder. Others have argued that psychopathy is a completely separate condition. In either case, it is estimated that between .2 percent and 2 percent of the population fit the criteria for a psychopath, and it is well-documented that men are much more likely to have psychopathic characteristics than women. This means that out of 100 people you know, one is fairly likely to be a psychopath.

Psychopaths tend to be much more criminally active throughout their life than other types of offenders, and are more violent, overall, than non-psychopaths. Interestingly, according to Business Insider, studies conducted by Canadian forensic psychologist Robert Hare indicate that while somewhere around 1 percent of the overall population may be categorized as a psychopath, among the financial services industry, that number jumps to 10 percent. Typically, these “financial psychopaths” work on Wall Street, and may lack empathy or interest in the feelings or thoughts of others, although, on the surface, they can display an abundance of intelligence, credentials, charisma, and charm.

  • Change Allegiances Quickly – The psychopath can change allegiances on a dime, with no second thoughts involved. When you met the psychopath you likely felt an instant connection and trust in the person, however the longer you know the psychopath, the more you will realize everyone who meets the person feels that same instant connection and trust—until they don’t. There is no loyalty, no love, no attachment possible in the true psychopath who will leave a trail of destruction behind, always blaming the victim.
  • Winning and Money is Everything – Psychopaths place a high premium on “winning,” money and power, and may have little regard for social or moral rules as they manipulate and lie to others. While the manipulation of a psychopath may be to achieve personal gain, often it is simply an impulse that the psychopath is unable to control, or simply for fun, just because they can. If you have seen or read Gone Girl, then look at the traits exhibited by the main character, Amy Dunne, who goes to great lengths to victimize the men in her life, manipulating all those around her.
  • Lacks Empathy or Conscience – If you feel a person in your life lacks empathy or seems to have no conscience, you may have met a psychopath. While most of us have that little voice inside which tells us we are doing something we shouldn’t, the psychopath does not hear that voice, and because of this, he or she can easily engage in behaviors most of us will not. As an example, if someone angers or hurts us, most of us may think for a moment, “Oh, I could just strangle him!” While we may think this, the vast majority of us will never act on such a thought. The psychopath, on the other hand, will have little compunction about acting on such thoughts, so long as he believes he won’t get caught. In other words, there is no conscience, only a fear of getting caught, and there is no empathy for the other person.
  • Low Impulse Control – Because of low impulse control, the psychopath may be quick to exhibit aggression or even violence. The psychopath is more likely to have a number of casual sex partners and more likely to engage in risky behaviors than the “average” person.
  • Narcissists – People who are psychopaths also tend to be narcissists, with an over-inflated sense of their own achievements and personal qualities. The psychopath is unlikely to see any of his or her own flaws, rather tends to project those flaws on those around them. As an example, a narcissist who believes, deep down, that he is not smart enough, may constantly belittle those around him, calling them “stupid,” and making fun of their lack of intellect. The narcissist—and the psychopath—will go out of his way to seek out compliments. On the flip side of this, when faced with any type of criticism, the response is likely to be rage and revenge. What others may perceive as constructive criticism, the psychopath will see as a declaration of war.
  • Unable to Get Along – The psychopath has a long history of being unable to get along with others—although they will always insist it is the other person’s fault, not their own. Because of this, psychopaths tend to place themselves in positions of authority where they can “boss” others, working over them rather than beside them.
  • Never Feel Guilty – The psychopath is unlikely to feel guilt over anything—even when their bad behavior seriously impacts others. This lack of empathy prevents the psychopath from putting themselves in another’s shoes or seeing things from another perspective.
  • Manipulates Your Emotions – Once the psychopath has gained your trust, he will begin to manipulate your emotions with a goal of making you feel guilty or simply to get you to do what he wants you to do. The psychopath is a master at getting you to tell him things in confidence—then using those confessions against you down the line.
  • Early Behavioral Problems – It is highly likely the psychopath had early behavioral problems in childhood, even to the point where they had no compunction about hurting animals or lying to avoid getting into trouble. The International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology published a study which found those with high psychopathic traits began engaging in criminal activities early in life.
  • Rules Don’t Apply to Them – The psychopath believes rules apply to everyone but them. In short, the psychopath believes they are above any rules and are so “special,” they are not held to the same standards as everyone else.
  • Walking Contradiction – The psychopath tends to be a walking contradiction—a tough bravado, “been-there-done-that (better than anyone else) attitude with a false innocence that is calculated to draw the psychopath’s victims into the web.
  • Users and Takers – While many people may be users and takers without being a psychopath, the psychopath is definitely a user and a taker.
  • Feigns Emotions – Although a psychopath is a master at feigning emotion, in reality, the psychopath has very shallow emotions or virtually no emotions at all. Most psychopaths learned at an early age that others expected them to exhibit certain emotions at certain times, therefore they learned to fake these emotions. In reality, other than rage, the psychopath tends to feel few true emotions. This elevated level of anger can manifest in rage-induced aggression and even adult temper tantrums. Those living with a psychopath may feel they constantly “walk on eggshells,” never knowing what statement or behavior will set off rage in the psychopath.
  • Easily Bored – The psychopath is easily bored, therefore needs almost constant stimulation and excitement in their life. If no such excitement is present, the psychopath can easily create his own drama.
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If you have been romantically involved with a psychopath, you were likely left feeling emotionally battered and bruised, unsure of yourself, and unsure of your own self-worth. The psychopath tends to leave romantic partners in a constant tailspin, even to the point where they start wondering if they are the crazy one. It can be extremely difficult to disengage from a psychopath—until they themselves want to disengage, then they will dismiss you from their lives without a second thought.

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