There’s a certain charisma attached to mania. It often takes many forms, but I think the most frequently depicted characterization has to do with dominance. A quick review of the psychopaths that had America entranced in the past, outs self-assuredness as a consistent feature.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, is an upcoming dramatization of the life of the famous psychotic serial killer, Ted Bundy. Much like the lore that defined his narrative in real life, the marketing survives on the magnetic charm that captivated many of his victims. Footage of interviews with Bundy while on death row, intimate an articulate, measured speaker, who is both confident and frenetic.
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A new study published in the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research dissects everyday communitive habits of disturbed individuals. Their data sample comprised of nearly 2,900 people, distinguishes the key factors that motivate psychopaths to engage in conversation: dominion, and exploitation. The report motions that for psychopaths, communication is often authored by self-interest. In the abstract, the mere satisfaction of dominating a conversation is rewarding, but in some instances, the objective is much more sinister.
Teri Sakshaug at Norwegian University of Technology and Science and Aina Sundt Gullhaugen are the authors of the recent study; two experts with the shared goal of re-establishing psychotherapy as an effective method for treating psychosis in convicted criminals.
Many professionals warn against this approach because charming and potentially dangerous psychopaths with a knack for manipulation often convince their therapist into believing they have been rehabilitated, only to continue to commit crimes when they get released. By identifying the commonalities in the parlance adopted by these individuals, professionals can stand a better chance at determining legitimate wellness.
One of the finds uncovered by Sakshaug and Gullhaugen is the gift psychopaths possess of crafting incredibly elaborate lies. The details are often so intimate and considered, they become believable. This is further helped by the way many, will monopolize a conversation, creating little room for their stories to be unraveled by too many questions. Psychopaths were also observed to jump from subject to subject when they felt vulnerable, a factor decorated with frequent hand gestures and stuttering.
Generally speaking, the psychopaths reviewed showed very little emotion while speaking, and the times they did were not congruent with the respective topic of conversation ( laughing when discussing grim or unpleasant things). All of these broad findings were linked with strangely specific ones. For instance, a sizeable portion of psychopaths often used nouns and pronouns disproportionately, this was also true of using the past tense. Many also leaned inward while speaking.
To belie the impression of invulnerability, a psychopath will abstain from mentioning emotional needs, and avoid topics that showcase their weaknesses altogether. Typically their worldview is a binary one-one that is not immune to adamant opinions formed from limited information. Observing these cues can enable us to act with caution around unstable subjects, even if the consequences of ignoring these determinants aren’t always fatal.
Some of the other language and speech patterns psychopaths tend to use include:
- Trying to dominate the conversation
- Stuttering when the topics of conversation made the person feel vulnerable
- Using mainly non-emotional words
- Using the past tense frequently
- Frequent use of nouns and pronouns
- Leaving out essential details
- Changing the subject suddenly because it feels out of their control
The authors conclude, “We recommend that therapists do not withdraw from psychopathic offenders but rather study their communication more carefully.”
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