Very often people use the word “psychopath” only in negative meaning. It can be explained by the fact that between 15% - 25% of the offenders in state and federal prisons are psychopaths (Schneider & Honeyman, 2006, p. 338). The main feature that characterizes such people is persistent violation of social norms and expectations. Nevertheless, recently, the researchers have focused their attention on the concept of “successful psychopaths”. They define them as those individuals, who have patterns of psychopathic behavior, but who do not have the characteristic arrest and incarceration histories that are found among psychopaths in the prison population (Schneider & Honeyman, 2006, p. 338). One may wonder what the secret of their success is and how they can use the illness in their favor. To my mind, as psychopaths do not accept the traditional norms of the society, they have only two ways to deprive of them: violence or power, and the choice of which path to take is up to them. Nevertheless, it is difficult to determine, which way is a better one.
Analysis of Psychopathy
Firstly, in order to define why psychopaths can become either cruel criminals or great leaders, it is necessary to regard the main peculiarities of psychopathy. Psychopathy is “a personality disorder that includes a cluster of interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and antisocial traits and behaviors” such as manipulation, violence, deception, stimulation seeking, irresponsibility, shallow affect, impulsivity, sexual promiscuity, lack of empathy, violation of norms, desire to rule, and antisocial behaviors (Babiak et al., 2012, p. 3). As these features are more characteristic of adults, it seems that this disorder has nothing to do with children. Nevertheless, these traits of character begin to show themselves in the early childhood. It can be proved by the results of many researches.
Findings in the field of genetics have revealed that individuals may be genetically predisposed to violence. They state that “L” variant of the X – linked monoamine oxidase A (MAO –A) gene has been associated with impulsive aggression in humans. It means that development of psychopathy can be supported by variations in some genes, and becomes clear from the childhood (Seifert et al., 2012, p. 54). Robbins found that persons diagnosed with adult antisocial personality disorder frequently had a diagnosis of conduct disorder in their youth. Loeber supported this theory and found that the children, who exhibited severe behavior problems between the ages of 7 and 11, went on to continue their offending behavior into the adulthood (Seifert et al., 2012, p.54). In addition, the scientists point out that early childhood trauma of the brain can negatively affect neurotransmitter regulation, brain structures, and brain development, and that these effects can greatly influence a child’s behavior – including violent and psychopathic behavior – later in life (Seifert et al., 2012, p. 53). That is why the lifelong expression of psychopathy is a result of complex interactions between biological and social forces (Babiak et al., 2012, p. 4). According to it, the main causes of psychopathy are genes, physical and sexual abuse, and brain damage (for example, from alcohol/drug abuse during pregnancy or birth complications) (Blair, 2006, p. 263).
Why Do Psychopaths Become Criminals?
As causes of psychopathy are based on violence and childhood trauma, individuals with psychopathic personality styles are more likely to engage into general criminal and violent behaviors than their non-psychopathic counterparts. Douglas and Webster have indicated, “psychopaths, in comparison with non psychopaths, are at an increased risk for acting violently and for doing so more quickly and in more diverse ways and across various settings, whether they are mentally disordered, sex offenders, young offenders, or just “regular” nonmentally ill offenders” (Roesch et al., 2009, p. 48).
For example, Ed Kemper, who killed at least 10 people between 1964 and 1973, often decapitating them, is an example of a serial killer, who grew up with psychopathy. His disorder was a result of a cruel attitude of Ed’s mother towards him. As Ed was a giant at the age of 8, she kept him locked in the basement in order not to frighten visitors (Raine & Sanmartin, 2001, p. 96).
The story of Ed is not an exception. Even nowadays, there are many psychopathic killers. The great example of them is Luka Magnotta. He is suspected of killing and dismembering an international student in Montreal. The main Magnotta’s reason for committing crime was the desire of fame (Abshire, 2012). In general, it is estimated that approximately 25% of prison inmates and 40% of convicted criminals are psychopaths (Schneider & Honeyman, 2006, p. 338). The question is what the the main motives of psychopathic criminals are. It is proved that the psychopath engages into antisocial behavior to increase his or her self-esteem. He/she is not generally selective in the types of crimes he/she commits, and his/her criminal behavior is impulsive and habitual. It means that the psychopath steals money not to become rich, but to gain pure excitement. In doing so, he or she demonstrates his/her the superiority over the victim. Many of the attitudes of psychopaths are characterized by a distinct predatory quality. They treat other people as either competitive predators or prey (Babiak et al., 2012, p. 4). That is why, in many cases, psychopaths treat crime as a method of achieving a desired goal.
Why Do Psychopaths Become Successful Leaders?
Nevertheless, not all psychopaths are habitual criminals. Some psychopaths are successful politicians, salesmen, and businessmen. One may wonder what the secret of their success is. Firstly, business is a very good arena, where one can exercise psychopathic tendencies, such as the desire to fulfill own selfish needs regardless of the consequences to others. In addition, American stockholders prefer top managers who are charismatic, visionary, and tough – characteristics that often accompany more overt psychopathic traits (Griffin, 2012, p. 415). Secondly, psychopaths driven by the need for power, control, dominance, and prestige choose industrial and corporate spheres to fulfill themselves. Babiak conducted a series of case studies, where he found the individuals, who meet diagnostic criteria for psychopathy, working within various organizations in the positions of leadership. Babiak also revealed that periods of organization instability and change created a favorable environment for the “corporate psychopath”. The chaotic environment provided the psychopaths with stimulation, while affording them an opportunity to engage into manipulation (Schneider & Honeyman, 2006, p. 338).
The question is how many successful “corporate psychopaths” there are in the business world. It is difficult to determine the exact number, as not a single leader or manager wants to be known as psychopath. Nevertheless, it is possible to estimate that there is a great amount of them. It can be proved by the results of the survey, where of the 118 APA members, 31 attorneys, and 58 psychology professors , the majority (81, 25, and 41, respectively) said they had known a successful psychopath (Schouten & Silver, 2013, p. 154). That is why David Hare states that there are certainly more psychopaths in the business world “than in the general population” (Griffin, 2012, p. 414).
Who are better: psychopath – criminals or “corporate” psychopaths?
On the one hand, it seems that “corporate” psychopaths are better than psychopathic criminals, as they are regarded as those people, who have changed their drawbacks into benefits. They use their personal qualities in the sphere of business, where they can bring many advantages to the society. From this point of view, the main difference between the psychopathic criminals and “corporate” psychopaths is approval or disapproval to use violence in order to achieve goals. A potential moderator of the relationship and violence is intelligence. It means that “corporate” psychopaths may be less inclined to use aggression than psychopathic criminals, because they can use their cognitive resources to devise nonviolent means. Psychopathic criminals resort to violence in order to compensate for their inferior abilities to manipulate others through language (Patrick, 2005, p. 490). On the other hand, it becomes clear that it is impossible to compare these two groups of people, as “corporate” psychopaths as well as psychopathic criminals use people to achieve personal benefits. Moreover, in some aspects, “corporate” psychopaths bring more harmful consequences than psychopathic criminals do. It can be proved by the fact that it is more difficult to isolate them from the society, as they present themselves as normal and extremely charming people, while causing great distress to their co-workers and organizations. The scope of the tragedy can be understood taking into consideration the whole number of psychopaths in the society. Hare and others estimated that between 1% and 5% of the general population meets the clinical criteria for psychopathy (Schneider & Honeyman, 2006, p. 338). While psychopathic criminals, who are in prisons (1%), can be isolated from the society and get the necessary assistance, “corporate” psychopaths (4%) are disguised like chameleons among us.
To sum up, psychopathy is “a personality disorder that includes a cluster of interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and antisocial traits and behaviors” such as manipulation, violence, deception, stimulation seeking, irresponsibility, shallow affect, impulsivity, sexual promiscuity, lack of empathy, violation of norms, desire to rule, and antisocial behaviors. This disorder has its roots in the early childhood. That is why the main causes of it are genes, physical and sexual abuse, and brain damage (for example, from alcohol/drug abuse during pregnancy or birth complications). As causes of psychopathy are based on violence, psychopaths are more likely to engage themselves into general criminal and violent behaviors than their non-psychopathic counterparts. It is estimated that approximately 25% of prison inmates and 40% of convicted criminals suffer from this disease. The main motif that prompts them to move criminal is the desire to increase self-esteem. Nevertheless, there is even another group of psychopaths with the same desire, who choose legal, non-criminal way of existence. They are known as “corporate” psychopaths. These successful politicians, salesmen, and businessmen are characterized by such traits of character, which are necessary to rule the corporate world, and by such objectives, which are possible to achieve there. On the one hand, it seems that “corporate” psychopaths have chosen the right way in comparison with criminal-psychopaths, as the main difference between them is use of intelligence instead of violence. Nevertheless, on the other hand, it becomes clear that “corporate” psychopaths only present themselves as normal and extremely charming while, in fact, they are causing great distress to their co-workers and organizations. They are like chameleons, which achieve their goals in a disguised form.
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Abshire, J. (2012). Magnotta shows signs of psychopathy: expert. News 1130. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from: http://www.news1130.com/2012/06/05/magnotta-shows-signs-of-psychopathy-expert/
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Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.March 15, 2019, 8:43 a.m. 0 Report Embed 120
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