While it's likely that you know or have encountered a psychopath, there's a good chance you didn't realise it. Psychopaths are adept at not revealing themselves and are often the most charming people, at least superficially.
Professional psychologists dislike simplistic labels so it's better to think of this as a smudge more than a box. Psychopathy is a cluster of traits, rather than a single dimension and, like other classifications, there's a spectrum from mild to extreme.
The US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual does not recognise the term psychopathy, or its synonym 'sociopathy'. Instead, they call it the Antisocial Personality Disorder.
About 29 per cent of people exhibit one or more of the defined traits, which is not sufficient to be classified as psychopathic. Indeed, only 0.6 per cent of the population is likely to fit the definition of a psychopath.
One of the key attributes is narcissism and a lack of empathy. The inflated sense of self is related to an inability to distinguish between right and wrong, being manipulative and a tendency to lie.
These are among an inventory of 20 items on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised used by criminal justice systems in some countries.
Contrary to popular culture, few psychopaths are of the murdering variety and studies have found that most criminals are not psychopaths.
They tend to avoid incarceration and instead are drawn to positions of power.
From there, they can inflict considerable damage to an organisation. They are personable when they need to be and dangerous when they see an advantage.
Perhaps the best strategy for dealing with a psychopath is a kind of avoidance, being the so-called Gray Rock. This involves being as dull and uninteresting as possible in the hope that you will be ignored by them.
This begs the question, is there a cure? Yale university offers a clear reply:
"To the best of our knowledge, there is no cure for psychopathy.''
One of the foremost experts in the field found that psychopaths have reduced grey matter in the associated area of the brain called the paralimbic system. It means they have ''fundamentally different brains than the rest of us''.
However, therapy called the Decompression Model, which relies on positive reinforcement, was found to reduce recidivism by 34 per cent among troubled youth criminals in Wisconsin.
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