Psychopaths and Serial Killers Are ‘Dummer’ Than Hollywood Tells Us

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In the movies and TV shows, psychopaths are portrayed as cold, callous and manipulative “bad guys”, who pose a particular challenge to police because of their high intelligence -think Hannibal Lecter or the Zodiac Killer-. Our favorite fictional villains aren’t that smart

But new research disagrees with this notion. Based on a meta-analysis of 187 previous studies, researchers have found that psychopaths actually have below-average intellect, which means our favorite fictional villains probably wouldn’t be quite as calculating in the real world.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that falls on a spectrum, which means that psychopaths are diagnosed by psychologists using a list of traits. That means you could have certain psychopathic traits, but without the right combination, you would not be considered clinically psychopathic.The Saint Louis University study

“Unlike most clinical disorders, which are characterized by a cluster of symptoms, psychopathy is commonly described as a relatively stable cluster of personality traits,” explains the team, led by Brian Boutwell of St. Louis University.

“The traits most often associated with psychopathy are callousness, lack of remorse, lack of empathy, grandiosity, impulsiveness, deceit and manipulation.”Hannibal Lecter, genius or vicious cannibal?

This lack of moral direction has made Hollywood become psychopathic to their villains, making them extremely cunning. One of the best examples of this is Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, who is a genius, but also, you know, a vicious cannibal.

This notion that psychopaths are all geniuses is so prevalent, psychologists themselves call it the “Hannibal Lecter myth”, and Boutwell found difficult to reconcile these “evil geniuses” with the facts.

“Psychopaths are impulsive, they run up against the law and often hurt themselves,” he told New Scientist. “That led me to think they’re not too smart.”187 cases studied

Boutwell and his team examined 187 previously published studies that addressed psychopathy and intelligence. These studies involved not only incarcerated psychopaths, but also successful ones.

When the meta-analysis was complete, the team found that psychopaths scored lower on intelligence tests compared to those without psychopathic traits, which means that the popular idea that psychopaths are inherently intelligent is probably the opposite of what happens in the real world. The world seen by a psychopath and the treatment for them

Boutwell thinks that these data will be useful in dispelling the public view of psychopaths and could help researchers develop better treatments for psychopathy in the future.

At this time, the personality disorder is considered intractable, which means that psychopaths do not respond to current psychotherapies like other conditions. Y understanding how disorder aligns with the intellect could change the way convicted psychopaths are treated in jail, and sentenced, in the future.

“If they are low in intelligence, it could be said that they are likely to offend again, or it could be said that if they have cognitive difficulties, a longer prison sentence is not going to help them,” Boutwell says.

Psychopaths and Serial Killers Are ‘Dummer’ Than Hollywood Tells Us