(SNN) Most of us think of the psychopath as a serial killer — But most psychopaths are not physically violent criminals.
They live among us, undetected. Experts believe between one and two percent of the general adult male population are psychopaths, which means there could be 300,000 of them in Canada alone. The ‘successful’ psychopath could be your neighbor, your boss, your spouse, or your friend.
“Psychopaths are every bit as rational as any human being, if not more so because they don’t have the noise of human emotion,’’ says Dr. Stephen Porter, Professor of Forensic Psychology at the University of British Columbia. “Psychopaths do know right from wrong in the ‘cognitive’ or rational sense, and even do as well on moral-reasoning tasks in the lab setting as the rest of us.” Many psychopaths are highly skilled at mimicking normal human emotion, using charisma, manipulation, and intimidation to satisfy their own needs. No wonder the psychopath is so hard to detect.
Dr. Robert Hare, professor emeritus at UBC and the FBI’s top consulting psychologist on psychopaths, devised the Psychopathy Checklist, used by psychologists around the world to determine the degree of psychopathy in subjects. “They want many of the same basic things that the rest of us but in addition have an inordinate need for power, prestige, wealth, and so forth,” says Hare. “They differ from most of us in terms of how much they ‘need’, their sense of entitlement to whatever they want, and the means with which they are willing to achieve their ends.”
Ironically, the ruthless winner-take-all ethos of North American culture nurtures and rewards psychopathy. Charming, manipulative, and ruthless, these are the “snakes in suits” who don’t rob the bank but instead become a director of it. These “successful psychopaths” — those who attain prominent positions in society — may be overrepresented in certain occupations, such as politics, entertainment, and business.
Psychopaths love chaos and hate rules, so they tend to thrive in the fast-moving world of business, says Dr. Paul Babiak, a psychologist from New York City. “They have traits similar to ideal leaders. You would expect an ideal leader to be narcissistic, self-centered, dominant, very assertive, maybe to the point of being aggressive.” They are verbally abusive, subject to rages, and totally lacking in empathy or remorse, all of which make them natural predators.
The Psychopath Next Door provides a chilling and provocative examination of those in our midst who act without conscience. And we’ll hear from those whose hope is to one day discover a treatment for the psychopath — a term coined in the 1880s whose literal meaning is “suffering soul”.