We’ve written about the signs you should look for if you suspect your coworker or boss is a psychopath. No empathy, out of this world confidence, thrill seekers, emotion mimickers, to name a few. But a new study has found a different way to spot a psychopath.
This is a more physical sign. It is all in the eyes and it may be an easier way to help you identify a psychopath if you can’t get your coworker to sit down and take the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (a standard scale used to measure potential psychopathy in adults) as that can be super awkward to bring up in the office kitchen.
The study, published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, looked at 82 male mentally disordered offenders and analyzed how their pupils reacted to different visual stimuli including images of real-world scenes (some were pleasant images but others were quite graphic), auditory sound clips, and videos of dynamic facial expressions.
The researchers found that the pupils of non-psychopaths dilated if the video or photo was disturbing, but this didn’t occur in the psychopath’s eyes.
It’s all in the eyes
Why does this matter? The size of your pupil says a lot about how you are feeling and what kind of person you are. Our eyes dilate when we see something upsetting, shocking, difficult to process or exciting. It is part of our fight, flight or freeze response. That is why we see so many scary movie posters with wide-eyed scared faces (think Blair Witch Project, Scream.) Some experts believe that our eyes dilate when we are scared or worried so we can take in more visual information.
Pupil dilation directly corresponds to arousal which is why pupillometry is very important in the study of psychopathy. So because the psychopaths in the experiment didn’t experience dilation this means they didn’t have a reaction to upsetting imagery and sounds which once again indicates that they don’t have the same emotions as the rest of us. Psychopaths tend to have no empathy.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Dan Burley, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said:
“Our findings provide physical evidence of an emotional deficit common to psychopathic offenders. Card sharks have learned to look carefully at the eyes of their opponents to gauge if they have a great hand, and many an astute salesperson knows to up their price if your eyes reveal your excitement at their product.
“Likewise, the pupil usually dilates when an image shocks or scares us. The fact that this normal physiological response to a threat is reduced in psychopathic offenders provides us with an obvious physical marker for this condition.”