Study: These psychopathic traits help people make better financial decisions

Most would shy away from calling psychopathic traits desirable, yet a new study joins many others conducted in the past, that identifies how certain maniacal behaviors actually fund success in a lot of industries.

Professors at Florida International University, Curtin University of Technology, Dalton State College, and North Carolina Central University authored a new report that explores the psychopathic tendencies most-frequently adopted by college students currently taking finance or economics courses. Further analysis showed that the very same characteristics that made the study pool particularly apt for these majors, dually made them efficient financial decision makers. The authors, locate the reasoning more directly, writing:

“We find that financial risk and time preferences have statistically significant associations with overall (global) psychopathy and its primary and secondary traits. We also find that higher levels of psychopathy, self-centered impulsivity and rebellious nonconformity are associated with more rational risk preferences in the form of more linear utility functions and lower levels of risk aversion.”

A knack for risk-taking, coupled with the ability to make measured decisions under pressure, equal a prudent and well-reasoned capitalist.

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After answering a series of questions, aimed to locate abnormal social traits, the students’ results were compared to the population at large. Here are the traits observed in the recent study:

  1. Self-centered impulsivity: The kind of actions committed exclusively on behalf of self-interest, with very little forethought applied.
  2. Fearless dominance: A penchant for controlling others, that is beholden to self-perception.
  3. Machiavellian egocentricity:  This refers to a determined lack of empathy designed to complete objectives
  4. Rebellious nonconformity: Actively going against established social norms
  5. Blame Externalization: The refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions
  6. Carefree non-planfulness: Allowing impulses to govern your decisions and actions
  7. Fearlessness:  A consistent and irrational lack of fear
  8. Stress Immunity: When one is unperturbed by urgent pressures or “resilience to chaos.
  9. Cold Heartedness: Lack of empathy

All of these traits can be defined as psychopathic, though finance students did not express all of them consistently across the board. For example, generally speaking, finance and economics students, were more likely to plan for the future, in addition to taking responsibility for their actions more times than not, given these subjects tended to score low in non-planfulness, and blame externalization.

Conversely, the majority of participants scored significantly higher in Machiavellian egocentricity, fearless dominance and social influence, stress immunity, and cold-heartedness, compared to the rest of the population.  The study’s authors reported the study pool  to be “more narcissistic and ruthless but have higher anticipatory anxiety concerning harm and willingness to participate in risky activities.”

As mention previously, these findings have been established many times in the last few years. Although true psychopaths only make up about 1% of the population, they are particularly prevalent in the corporate world.

On the wealth of psychopaths in the job market, Lindsay Dodgson of Business Insider reports, “You’re likely to find a lot of them in leadership positions because of their ruthlessness, charisma, and fearlessness. They’re very good at making snap decisions, but not so good at the empathetic professions like nursing or therapy.”


Medical literature published over many years has observed actual functional and structural neurological differences in clinically diagnosed psychopaths.

Specifically, differences in the parts of the brain the govern emotional regulation, fear, stress resilience, and financial decision making, have all been documented in a wide range of participants. The study reports, “Furthermore, amygdala hypoactivity results in a reduction of loss aversion during financial tasks Overall, these studies provide a biological explanation for the unique decisions made by psychopaths. Additionally, these studies explain why psychopathic traits are related to financial decision making.” 

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