Why Your Boss Might Be a Psychopath (Literally)

A new study in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology supports your fervent belief that your boss is a psycho. Past research has estimated that while the normal prevalence of psychopathy in the populace is a lean 1 percent, among business professionals in management positions, it’s more like 3 or 4 percent. And this study, out of the University of Huddersfield in the UK, offers up an explanation: Psychopathy plus intelligence equals success in the business world.The experiment appraised IQ and tested where participants fell between two classifications of psychopathy (a term that’s been largely phased out in clinical circles in favor of “antisocial personality disorder”). Factor Two describes your typical—or stereotypical—psycho: different from a young age, a slave to impulse, unable to accept responsibility for his or her own actions, criminal behavior. Factor One is more subtle, and apparently an asset in the marketplace: charming, self-assured, Type A, manipulative, lacking empathy.

 

Being cunning, charming, manipulative, confident and smart enough to cover up that you’re no-good is a recipe for managerial advancement.The researcher then showed the participants images that would make any normal person wince—crying children, natural disasters, people being physically threatened—and measured their reactions with electrodes on their skin. The results showed that those with psychopathic tendencies and low IQ showed the expected response; they were excited by the disturbing images. People with psychopathic tendencies and high intelligence, however, did not display the same reactions. They barely seemed to react at all, in fact, which the author, Carolyn Bate, attributes to their keen ability to fake a “normal” emotional response.”Perhaps businesses do need people who have the same characteristics as psychopaths, such as ruthlessness,” says Bate. But, she continues, companies should probably be more careful about screening new hires to weed out corporate psychopaths, which some experts suggest are the scourge of Wall Street and our national economy—not to mention our 9-to-5.There’s not a whole lot you can do if you happen to work for a crazy person, but you can employ some FBI profiling tricks and try to use the results to your advantage. Mary Ellen O’Toole, Ph.D., a retired Bureau profiler says, “Extracting info and reading people is a process. You want to know if their response to criticism is going to be disproportionate. Is this the kind of person that’s just going to go ballistic?” If the answer is yes, be careful about pushing buttons. And keep your HR rep on speed dial.MORE: How to Spot Psychopaths

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