While you’re probably not going to bump into a Patrick Bateman or Joker in your lifetime, it’s still highly likely that everyone knows at least one psychopath.
No, really – it’s estimated that between 1 and 4 per cent of the world’s population falls somewhere on the psychopathic scale. These people tend to be overly confident, manipulative, and lack empathy or remorse.
However, although some may be violent, the majority aren’t and are able to integrate and live quite easily within modern society. Even so, psychologists are increasingly viewing psychopathy as less of a way of being, and more as a mental illness.
Although people often associate the term ‘psychopath’ with criminals, murderers and serial killers (Anders Breivik, Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper, etc) many people display some of the criteria that would put them on the scale. Traits such as a tendency toward boredom, pathological lying, superficial charm, and impulsiveness are all criteria which could point to someone being a psychopath.
The complete 20 points on the PCL-R test / psychopathy checklist are:
– Glibness/superficial charm
– Grandiose sense of self-worth
– Pathological lying
– Lack of remorse or guilt
– Emotionally shallow
– Callous/lack of empathy
– Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
– Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
– Parasitic lifestyle
– Lack of realistic, long-term goals
– Poor behavioural controls
– Early behavioural problems
– Juvenile delinquency
– Revocation of conditional release
– Criminal versatility
– Many short-term marital relationships
– Promiscuous sexual behaviour
Of course, as with any scale, there is no definitive answer here and the lines of what’s considered normal and what classes as psychopathic are pretty blurred. So, basically, don’t be getting worried if you’re a bit promiscuous or tell a fib once in a while!
Other ways of spotting a potential psychopath, according to Xanthe Mallett, a forensic anthropologist and criminologist at the University of New England, is to look and see if a person’s verbal and physical cues match up when they speak.
Those with psychopathic traits also tend to dislike the invasion of their personal space, with one study apparently showing that “individuals with high levels of ‘cold-heartedness’ preferred shorter interpersonal distances”. Makes sense.
Still, despite all of this, even if you can recognise an extreme psychopath, it’s unlikely that they can be treated because they won’t seek help themselves, and a biological lack of empathy isn’t something which can be altered through treatment. But, hey, at least you’ll know.