“The wisdom of psychopaths” or the power of troubled minds

This year, psychopaths are probably popular. As Zac Efron prepares to take on the role of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, Penn Badgley continues to unleash passions in the role of Joe Goldberg with the You series. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past two months, these characters are the worthy heirs of the charismatic and bloodthirsty Dexter, eForensic xpert by day and serial killer by night that kept viewers hooked for 9 seasons. Very recently, Netflix also participated in this trend by devoting a four-episode documentary series to Ted Bundy*, him again. Vibe.

Psychopaths, these magnetic personalities have been widely exploited by pop culture. Sometimes they fascinate, sometimes they terrify and always they question. Diabolical geniuses, cold-blooded killers, prodigies of persuasion, manipulators, lone wolves or charismatic leaders, this term has passed into everyday language and is still often overused. To see more clearly, we consulted the Bible of psychopaths, written by Kevin Dutton, professor and researcher specialized in the study of psychopathy at the University of Oxford and therefore author of the best-selling “The Wisdom of the Psychopath”. Everything is in the title. According to him, we really have lessons to learn from the behavior of psychopaths.

Domination, Machiavellianism: the characteristics of a psychopath

But by the way, what is a psychopath? Specialists define psychopathy as a behavioral disorder characterized by a strongly antisocial nature over the long term. American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, one of the pioneers of research on this personality disorder, associates it with superficial charm, profound dishonesty, great emotional poverty, lack of empathy, absence of guilt and anxiety. , a disregard for laws and social conventions, as well as unpredictability, instability, irresponsibility and uncontrollable impulses of violence. According to estimates, this pathology affects 2 to 3% of the world’s population (mainly men, between 20 and 30 years old). Like Joe Goldberg, then. Coincidence?

“The fate of a psychopath depends on a whole set of factors, including genes, family history, level of education, intelligence and contexts”, specifies Kevin Dutton in his book, citing the research of the forensic psychiatrist Helen Morrison. Inevitably, this plurality of destinies explains why there is a varied range of more or less developed psychopathic profiles. More globally, the personality of a psychopath is a mix between narcissism (self-promotion, display and amplification of one’s successes), Machiavellianism (manipulation) and psychopathy (absence of neuroses and anxiety, feeling of domination). An explosive cocktail that brings together characteristics found in toxic personalities.

A terrifying profile that nevertheless has qualities

But as always, it’s hard to fully categorize psychopathic personalities as either malevolent or toxic. Recently, scientists and sociologists have been drawing attention to the potential virtues of the psychic apparatus of psychopaths. This is also the starting point of Kevin Dutton’s work which tends to demonstrate that psychopathy could even be a kind of “modern day remedy”. Their proven detachment from the diktats of society also contributes to strengthening their magnetism.

In some situations, it would be good to know how to use psychopathy

According to research by sociologist John Ray, the important thing is to pay attention to psychopathic markers. “People with a moderate level of markers do better than those with a low level or a high level”. Too few markers lead to paralyzing anxiety and conversely when they are too many, people degenerate and “take action”. For example, a neurosurgeon positive for the p testsychopathy and interviewed by Kevin Dutton, compares his preoperative state to “a state of intoxication which would sharpen his senses, instead of numbing them.” According to him, it would be more accurate to associate psychopathy with “an altered state of consciousness that thrives on precision and clarity rather than vagueness and inconsistency”. A state of mind from which he would therefore benefit. This is why psychopaths are formidable poker players, thanks to a strong ability to concentrate and good stress management. Are you starting to change your outlook on Patrick Bruel? Because we do.

These supposed qualities of psychopaths, Kevin Dutton baptizes them the seven heady sins**: implacability, charm, concentration, mental strength, fearlessness, mindfulness (living in the moment) and action.

Serial killers or functional psychopaths

Without falling into neurosis and being wary of your neighbors or your colleagues, Kevin Dutton explains that psychopaths are everywhere and numerous. Aside from serial killers, there are therefore “functional psychopaths”, in other words adaptable to society, perfectly capable of integrating into many areas of professional life. IThey show neither egocentric impulsiveness nor Machiavellianism and know how to conform to the rules when necessary.

In business, for example, so-called “deep” psychopathic traits sometimes take the form of qualities essential to an influential leader. Otherwise, their “social indifference” and the composure they show predispose them to invest in niche professions in politics, the business world, the secret services, the police, the emergency services, the justice or even medicine. So many professions that require a certain emotional detachment. Baba Shiv, American teacher of neuroeconomics, thus stated that “it is not wrong to think that many great barristers and CEOs possess psychopathic character traits.”

Furthermore, According to numerous studies compiled in Kevin Dutton’s book, psychopathic traits encourage speed and quality of decision-making. Not to mention a hyperempathetic predisposition that helps them to identify the feelings of others, which would explain their gift for manipulation or persuasion.

What is your degree of psychopathy?

But after all these explanations, how to recognize a psychopath? And by the way, are you a potential psychopath yourself? While there are intriguing (and even sometimes amusing) tests that abound on social networks, none of them actually allow to detect a psychopathic personality or not. If the question really bothers you, only specialists will be able to answer you. For this purpose, some specific tests have been developed, such as the PPI (Psychopathic Personality Inventory), the Business Scan (developed mainly for the professional setting) or even personality polarization works such as the dark triad which includes narcissistic, psychopathic and Machiavellian personality traits or the Big Five test.

Finally, it is important to remember that this diagnosis is not to be taken lightly and that one must be wary of tests straight out of counter psychology. True psychopaths are often very difficult to diagnose and treat. And it is rather rare that they seek to be diagnosed.

*”Ted Bundy: Self-Portrait of a Killer” available on Netflix since January 24, 2019

** intoxicating, which seduced by his charm.

“The wisdom of psychopaths” or the power of troubled minds