Bioethics Blogs

Hiring the right psychopath

There could be increased numbers of psychopaths in senior managerial positions, high levels of business: a paper in Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology has demonstrated that smart psychopaths are hard to detect as psychopaths. The authors tested participants for psychopathic tendencies using a psychological scale, and then tested their arousal levels through galvanic skin response while showing normal or upsetting images. The interesting finding was that only lower IQ participants showed the expected responses (lowered startle when viewing aversive images in psychopaths): smarter participants seemed to be able to control their emotions.

The lead author, Carolyn Bate, said:

“Perhaps businesses do need people who have the same characteristics as psychopaths, such as ruthlessness.  But I suspect that some form of screening does need to take place, mainly so businesses are aware of what sort of people they are hiring.”

Should we screen people at hiring for psychopathy?

There is no question that psychopaths can be destructive. They tend to be deceitful and manipulative, lack empathy and remorse, and behave in irresponsible or impulsive ways. There is an association with criminal behaviour, and they can hurt corporate culture through bullying, stress, conflict and indirect effects on staff turnover, absenteeism and productivity. There is also some evidence that psychopaths are more common than average at higher levels: the combination of boldness, manipulation and ruthlessness can further the career of a smart psychopath.

Lack of empathy is not always bad: somebody needs to do the downsizing, and surgeons famously tend to score higher on psychopathy inventories. In fact, there seem to be a clear selection for (and against) certain professions (although the methodology can be discussed).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.