Study Shows that a Large Percentage of CEO's and Executives have Psychopathic Tendencies

A study conducted by Australian psychologist, Nathan Brooks, suggests that your boss could easily be a psychopath.

The study, which analyzed 261 senior executives on their display of psychopathic personalities, concluded that one in five senior professionals had significant levels of psychopathic traits. In a competitive work environment, especially those that are both fast paced and intense, how would one tell if their boss is displaying psychopathic tendencies?

There are countless cases, reports and news articles of businessmen and high level executives caught conducting immoral practices. The world of Corporate America is a fast paced and cunning environment that requires one to above all, be efficient. While they may vary by crime or outcome, all of these cases have in common an individual (or individuals) who act cunningly and deviantly without regard to morality. 

Some psychopaths are able to live their life hiding in success.

Scientifically speaking, a person who displays extreme antisocial and sometimes violent behavior is labeled as a psychopath. There are four main traits that are studied at when assessing psychopathy:
  • A disregard for laws and social norms, 
  • A disregard for the rights of others, 
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt, and 
  • A tendency to display violent behavior 

In his study, Brooks labels these cases of psychopathic people who have high-level jobs as ‘successful psychopaths.’ This study focuses on prevalence of the “Patrick Batemen and Jordan Belfort-esque” psychopaths who not only live, but thrive  day-to-day in the upper tier of society and in positions of power and control. Was this common TV and movie trope conceived in the mind of a scriptwriter? Or was it modeled after reality.

There was a statistically significant percentage of senior professionals who had psychopathic traits. 

The levels of psychopathic tendencies can be measured through an inventory to determine one's empathy quotient. Figure 1 depicts an empathy bell curve, psychopathic tendencies occur on the left extreme closest to zero. Brooks studied over 1,000 individuals. However, his main focus was on 261 senior professionals in the United States. Brooks concluded that nearly 21% of the 261 senior professionals had significant levels of psychopathic traits. This compares to most of us mere mortals, where only 1% of us share similar traits. According to Brooks, a senior professional is statistically more likely to be similar to someone in prison than someone in the general population

Figure 1 

Is this a bad thing? Psychologists argue that psychopaths possess traits that make certain jobs more favorable and easier to them.

Just because a person exhibits psychopathic tendencies, it does not mean that they are serial killers. Psychologists Greg Stevens, Jacqueline Deuling and Achilles Armenakis published a research paper in the Journal of Business Ethics where they explored the reasoning why certain psychopaths can be successful. They explain that psychopaths often possess a combination of key traits such as charm and high intellectual abilities that allow one to effectively influence and persuade others. Charm, persuasiveness and intellect are all natural abilities that are crucial in the upper tier of corporate America. Thus, it makes sense that individuals with heightened abilities in these areas would flourish in the capitalistic pressure cooker. 
However, along with these useful traits comes their knack towards moral deviation. Stevens, Deuling and Armenakis theorize that psychopaths do have some sort of conceptual understanding of morals, however they are able to skew this and redefine their perceptions right and wrong. Further, successful psychopaths often strive to have a positive self-image as a successful individual, and will therefore maintain this image at all costs as a sort of defense mechanism.

 Brooks argues that psychopathy is unhealthy for the workplace and he is currently working on an elaborate screening test in order to test for psychopathic tendencies. Perhaps significant psychopathic tendencies is bad for a work environment, however, maybe individuals with controllable marginal psychopathic tendencies can do great things in a role of leadership. 

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