Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where the Psychopaths Are

If you watch TV shows like "Criminal Minds," "Hannibal," and "Law and Order: SVU," you could be forgiven for thinking that every other person you see on the street is a sadistic serial killer. The psychopath is the new villain of choice ... the crazy person who haunts the dark corners of our fears.

A psychopath is not necessarily a killer, though. In psychological terms, a psychopath is generally understood to be a person characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear) and lacking in empathy and guilt. A psychopath tends to be superficial, coldhearted, egocentric, manipulative, irresponsible, impulsive and antisocial, and usually lives a parasitic lifestyle and engages in various criminal activities.

In other words, a psychopath can be a thoroughly unpleasant person, although not necessarily your neighborhood Hannibal Lecter.

Time Magazine recently pondered whether certain professions tend to attract more (or fewer) psychopaths. You can read the full article here, but in case you'd rather have the short version, here are the top ten professions that attract psychopaths (with my comments, of course):

1. CEO. Plenty of room to do all sorts of evil stuff in that corner office;

2. Lawyer. Don't tell me you were surprised about that one;

3. Media (TV/Radio). Rush Limbaugh. Anne Coulter. Glenn Beck. Oy;

4. Salesperson. Think used cars, subprime mortgages, and hedge funds;

5. Surgeon. Now that's scary;

6. Journalist. Faux News. 'Nuff said;

7. Police Officer. Now that's scary, too ...;

8. Clergyperson. Now that's really scary;

9. Chef. Hmmm ... I'm not a professional chef, but I really like to cook. Hmmm ... ;

10. Civil Servant. Ever been to the DMV? Or watched C-SPAN? Yep ... this one's nailed down.

These professions place people in positions of power relative to everyone else, often able to impose their will or opinions on others. People in these professions must be able to make objective decisions without regard for personal feelings and empathy ... appealing jobs for psychopaths.

And these are the occupations least likely to attract psychopaths ... most of them seem pretty obvious to me, as they're all professions that involve empathy and caring. They wouldn't appeal to a psychopath as much as the professions we discussed above:

1. Care Aide;

2. Nurse;

3. Therapist;

4. Craftsperson. This one sort of surprised me. I guess a true craftsperson is a creative artist, putting himself (or herself) into the art;

5. Beautician/Stylist;

6. Charity Worker;

7. Teacher;

8. Creative Artist. See what I said above about craftspersons;

9. Doctor. I could see this one going either way. While a doctor should have a reasonably good bedside manner, he or she also needs to make life-or-death decisions, often dispassionately. The "mad doctor" is a staple of horror movies for a reason;

10. Accountant. This one surprises me ... I think there are a lot of CPAs who had a hand in the murder of the economy.

So, Dear Readers, what do you think? Any other professions you think might attract psychopaths? Leave a comment so we can try to avoid them.

Have a good day. Try not to go Norman Bates on anyone without genuine provocation.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Grand Crapaud said...

How about college administrators?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Unfortunately, some of the more notorious psychopaths go into politics.

Some of the traits associated with psychopathy can be channeled into prosocial behaviors. Sometimes being emotionally distant may be necessary, as in the case of surgeons.

Intelligence plays a role too. A combination of low intelligence, low empathy, and no morals is a bad mix.

Duckbutt said...

I think that there are situational determinants to psychopathic behavior. For example, those whose pay is indexed by amount or number of sales, or other criteria.

We had the sad example of the widespread cheating or data manipulation by teachers and school administrators who were under pressure to improve standardized test scores. And they did. By falsifying data.

Maybe we should think of psychopathic-type behavior, rather thaan psychopaths, per se.

Mike said...

Where are the politicians on the first list?

allenwoodhaven said...

I think that one reason that psychopaths are so popular on tv is that it's a writer's easy explanation. A person can do anything, no matter how strange and the only reason needed is that they're a psychopath. Make the killing as bizarre as can be imagined for ratings and no logic need be involved.

Many of the qualities you mentioned are the hallmarks of a sociopath, rather than a psychopath. Sociopaths blend into society much more easily because their lack of empathy, egocentricity, and manipulations are generally more controlled. They can be much more social though they don't care about people. Psychopaths tend to be more impulsive and antisocial.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Psychopaths continue to amaze us because they don't play by the rules. It is true that they may gravitate more to certain occupations, less so to others.I

Engineers did not make either list. Maybe having to study certain subjects tends to weed out people who have low impulse control. I think psychopaths prefer immediate gratification and are not good with the long haul.