Although psychopathy is linked to business acumen almost as often as it’s linked to criminal pathology, the traits that separate the two outcomes are not widely understood.
In a new study published in the journal, Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University determined that successful psychopaths (those who achieve wealth) and unsuccessful psychopaths (those who get incarcerated) are distinguished by their ability to disguise their self-serving tactics as charm and stability. Those belonging to the former are uniquely positioned to curb destructive impulses compared to the rest of the population.
Unsuccessful psychopaths, on the other hand, more frequently give in to their impulses compared to successful psychopaths and the general population.
“There is good reason to expect that the most robust trait dimension underlying the development of ‘successful’ psychopathy is conscientiousness. Conscientiousness refers to a collection of psychological traits that are organized around the themes of planning for the future, being goal-directed, following rules, being self-disciplined, and delaying gratification,” the authors wrote in the new paper.
“A core feature of conscientiousness is inhibitory control, through which individuals are able to stifle their prepotent impulses. This ability can assist in the inhibition of antisocial impulses that are prevalent among individuals high in psychopathy.”
Further research has even singled out certain traits as being conducive to success independent of their relationship with degrees of psychopathy.
Boldness, which is defined as physical risk-taking and emotional resilience, is often cited as a predictor of social disorder. The very same trait is associated with careers deemed desirable in society. Careers like politics, business, law enforcement, firefighting, military services, and high-risk sports.
“Perhaps their social poise, charisma, audacity, adventurousness, and emotional resilience lends them a performance edge over the rest of us when it comes to high-stakes settings,” researchers from Emory University write in a recent paper.
For instance, in studies on college students and people in the general community, we have found that boldness is modestly tied to impulsive heroic behaviors, such as intervening in emergencies. It’s also linked to a higher likelihood of assuming leadership and management positions, and to certain professions, such as law enforcement, firefighting, and dangerous sports.”
Psychopathic individuals may be more inclined to engage in anti-social behaviors but they may also be more likely to utilize them to achieve occupational success.
In some true psychopaths, an aversion to interpersonal dynamics encourages them to develop a gregarious persona in the pursuit of their desires. As a result, they pick up on social cues that most of us wouldn’t.
In other cases, it seems an unbalanced perception of failure and success causes them to take on risks that others would not.
According to Kevin Dutton, a British psychologist who specializes in the study of psychopathy, the top five jobs adored by psychopaths are sales reps, media personalities, lawyers, CEO, surgeon followed by journalist, police officer, clergy person, chef, and civil servant.
A study recently published by the association for psychological science found that three out of four clinal psychology professors described either a current or past colleague as a psychopath.
“In a study of the 42 American presidents up to and including George W. Bush, we asked biographers and other experts to complete a detailed set of personality items – including items assessing boldness – about the president of their expertise. Then, we connected these data with independent surveys of presidential performance by prominent historians,” the Emory researchers concluded.
“We found that boldness was positively, although modestly, associated with better overall presidential performance. And several specific facets of such performance, such as crisis management, agenda setting, and public persuasiveness, were associated with boldness too. This may be something to keep in mind the next time you see presidential candidates talk about how bold they’ll be in the White House.”