Is Your Boss A Psychopath?

So you think that psychopaths are murderous, axe-wielding maniacs, as depicted in films such as American Psycho and Silence of the Lambs? Think again. According to personality psychology research, psychopathy can be considered as a trait that varies in a continuum. In a similar way as other personality traits (such as introversion-extraversion), we all vary between high and low in how psychopathic we are. You can test where you fall in the continuum here.

Most of us are average in psychopathy. Some people are extremely low in the trait, and can be characterised as empathetic and caring. People who fall in the high end of the continuum are callous, manipulative, and cold-hearted. A bit like a boss you used to have, you may think?

In fact, you may not be so wrong thinking that the nasty boss you have in work is a psychopath. There has been much interests in investigating “successful psychopaths” or “industrial psychopaths”, people who get into a high position of power because of their ruthless manipulation and use of other people.  You can read more about the topic, and rate your boss for psychopathy by following this link.

P.S. A note- not ALL bosses are psychopaths. Some might just be high in the trait psychopathy…

There are also certain occupations that high psycopathy individuals might find appealing. Forbes listed the Top Five jobs as CEO, Lawyer, Media and Sales, and Surgeons. All of these are potentially high-earning, high-status jobs that would certainly attract an individual who is greedy for power. You can see a more comprehensive list here.

People who are entrepreneurs could also have characteristics of a high psychopath, as high degree of ruthlessness could be a great asset in the world of business. See this article by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic  for some of their research on the topic.

Some of our research has found that so-called primary psychopathy (callous and unemotional predisposition) may relate to superior lie detection abilities, but only in men. We think that this may be due to evolutionary pressures on personality- perhaps some aspects of psychopathy are quite useful in competition for status and resources, which may be more useful for men as a tool for increasing their mating success.  You can read the abstract for the lie detection study here.

If you have interest in psychopathy, you may want to read more here.

Minna Lyons is a new lecturer in the School of Psychology, specialising in evolutionary explanations of behaviour. Some of her research interests include personality (especially the Dark Triad; narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy), lie detection, and the psychology of mate choice. Minna is a research junkie, and always looking for student volunteers to help out as research assistants. Please get in touch if you want to learn more about how to do research.


Contribution by Minna Lyons, UoL, for PsychLiverpool.

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