1 in 100 people are psychopaths. Here’s how to tell if there’s one in your life.
When we think of the word “psychopath,” what usually comes to mind first are commonplace media portrayals of crazed killers. The kind you see in Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But these depictions are a far cry from what actual psychopaths are like. In fact, most psychopaths are not murderers. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that this fact makes psychopaths harder to spot in a crowd than you might think (Hint: He’s usually not the crazy-eyed guy in the black trench coat walking down the abandoned street). Research suggests that 1 percent of the population meets the criteria for psychopathy. That may not sound like a lot, but it means that 1 in every 100 people you know is a psychopath. They could be your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend, or maybe even your favorite blogger. Perhaps there’s one sitting next to you right now as you read this! And to make things worse, the percentage doubles or even quadruples if we are talking about people in high-power positions, like business leaders, lawyers, and surgeons.
With all these psychopaths running around, how do you spot one? After all, the quicker you can identify a psychopath in your midst, the less likely you are to become one of their victims. Fortunately, psychologists have been conducting research on psychopathic traits for years.
Although theories of psychopathy may vary, most researchers tend to agree that real-world psychopaths demonstrate a cluster of three personality characteristics. This cluster is referred to as the “Dark Triad” because people who possess these three traits often exhibit malevolent behaviors (e.g., crime, ethical violations, etc.).
People high in Machiavellianism are duplicitous, cunning, and manipulative. They place a higher priority than most on power, money, and winning. They easily disregard moral and social rules, and as a result, lie to others and manipulate them with little to no guilt. Think Gordon Gekko from Wall Street or Frank and Claire Underwood from House of Cards.
For people high in this trait, manipulating others is an impulse, much like an alcoholic has an impulse to drink. Sometimes this manipulation is done to achieve personal gain (e.g., to get a promotion), but other times it is just done for fun, or because they can’t stop themselves (e.g., internet trolling). Depending on type, these people’s tools of the trade are deception, guilt, bullying, feigned weakness, or flattery. But whichever they choose, they regularly wield these tools in an attempt to twist the emotions and behaviors of those around them.
– Melissa Burkley Ph.D.
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