- Published: November 19, 2012
According to Ronald Schouten (author of Almost a Psychopath), a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, about 1% of the population are psychopaths in the clinical sense, while 10-15% are very close to being so and experience psychopathic characteristics to a slightly lower degree . Thus, psychopathic traits (such as ruthlessness, persuasiveness, and lack of empathy for others) are really quite prevalent in our society. The recent book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success suggests that some of these traits of psychopaths can actually be beneficial. Author Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at Oxford, wrote the book to “debunk deep-seated myths the public has about psychopaths – that they are all bad or mad”. For example, not all psychopaths are necessarily violent or murderous serial killers like Ted Bundy, though criminals such as Bundy and their colorful activities tend to figure most prominently in the public perception of psychopaths and imagination of what psychopathy actually is. But some traits of psychopaths, including being action-oriented and reward-driven, are useful for boosting job performance and career performance, Dutton argues . Speaking of jobs, the professions that are most suited to psychopaths (also presented in Dutton’s book) include jobs that “offer power” and require “cutthroat decision making” and the capacity to make clear-headed decisions that are uninfluenced by emotional aspects of a situation. These kinds of jobs include: CEO, lawyer, TV/radio, salesperson, surgeons, journalists, police officer, and clergyperson. On the flip side, jobs that are unsuited to psychopaths include those in which long-term human interaction and emotional aspects take center stage (nursing, therapists, teachers) .
Clearly, psychopaths or at least the people known as ‘almost psychopaths’ that display a large majority of psychopathic characteristics are indispensable to society. It would be ridiculous to suggest that psychopaths be identified and taken out of society just because extreme cases of these individuals turn into serial killers. Indeed, all of us are capable of displaying psychopathic behavior to some degree and do so when certain situations arise, including the ‘almost psychopaths’ identified by Schouten. Indeed, a more sensible and practical view is to develop a scheme of rehabilitating psychopaths who exhibit the traits to an extreme degree in conjunction with particularly antisocial or violent tendencies. Unfortunately, such a scheme is not yet developed or approved for use. I have suggested that we explore Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in a previous blog post. In any case, public perception of psychopathy must be adjusted from an ‘evil, crazy, violent’ view to one that is more accomodating of these kinds of people into society and that accurately takes into account their contributions in such fields as business, law and medicine. Jurors in the courtroom need to especially be aware of what psychopathy, now known clinically as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) truly is and what it accurately entails so that their decisions are properly guided. Further, one can also learn to appreciate certain characteristics of psychopaths (goal-oriented behavior and a stubborn, determined attitude) that lead to success – though in the case of the psychopath, it might just be short-term success due to their difficulty sustaining long-term relationships with people.