Psychopaths All Around Us

In his new book, The Wisdom Of Psychopaths, Kevin Dutton describes the misconceptions of psychopathy and why it's far more prevalent than most people realize. Last year he ran a survey in the UK:

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. 

Buddhist monks also rank high:

Like psychopaths, monks are often calm and decisive in the face of stress; free of anxiety, even in the face of death; and able to read others’ expressions accurately. The big difference, Dutton said, is that monks are motivated by compassion for others, whereas psychopaths seek only their own pleasure.

Though not a psychopath himself, Dutton recently underwent an experiment to temporarily make his brain activity resemble a psychopath's:

The effects aren't entirely dissimilar [to getting "a buzz out of a beer"]. An easy, airy confidence. A transcendental loosening of inhibition. The inchoate stirrings of a subjective moral swagger: the encroaching, and somehow strangely spiritual, realization that hell, who gives a s—, anyway?

There is, however, one notable exception. One glaring, unmistakable difference between this and the effects of alcohol. That's the lack of attendant sluggishness. The enhancement of attentional acuity and sharpness. An insuperable feeling of heightened, polished awareness. Sure, my conscience certainly feels like it's on ice, and my anxieties drowned with a half-dozen shots of transcranial magnetic Jack Daniel's. But, at the same time, my whole way of being feels as if it's been sumptuously spring-cleaned with light. My soul, or whatever you want to call it, immersed in a spiritual dishwasher.

So this, I think to myself, is how it feels to be a psychopath. To cruise through life knowing that no matter what you say or do, guilt, remorse, shame, pity, fear—all those familiar, everyday warning signals that might normally light up on your psychological dashboard—no longer trouble you.

Are you a psychopath? Take a short quiz here.