This is what happens when you have psychopaths in your office

Each group was tasked with playing a prisoner’s dilemma game, wherein members had to decide to work toward a shared goal or betray their teammates.

A study of undergrad students conducted by Victoria University of Wellington and The University of Southampton in the United Kingdom attempts to better understand the effect psychopathic traits has on work culture and employee interaction.


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Psychopaths and shared goals

The researchers began by administering personality tests to participants in order to determine the extent of psychopathy expressed by each individual. The test was based on traits like lack of empathy, tendency to blame others and desire for power. Respondents that scored in the top 25% were deemed to be “highly psychopathic.”

After analyzing the students’ results, they placed them into groups. Some groups had a disproportionate number of “psychopaths,” some groups were comprised of 20% “psychopaths,” some groups had an equal number of “non-psychopaths” and “psychopaths” and one had no “psychopaths” at all.

Each group was tasked with playing 50 rounds of a prisoner’s dilemma game, wherein members had to decide to work toward a shared goal or betray their teammates to help themselves.

Psychopaths aren’t the best collaborators

Not surprisingly the results proved groups with a higher concentration of psychopaths were less likely to effectively cooperate with each other although groups with no psychopaths and only a few psychopaths performed about the same. Associate professor of psychology at the University of Otago, Martin Sellbom said, “I think, in corporations, they might engage in teamwork to the extent it furthers their careers, but will be less likely to co-operate, and probably back-stab others when necessary to further themselves.”

A study published in Journal of Research in Personality back in 2010 proposed that psychopaths that succeed in the corporate world frequently exhibit qualities associated with dangerous psychopaths, callousness, dishonesty, arrogance, low remorse; traits that don’t exactly facilitate fruitful corporation.

To ensure productivity while cohabiting in an office with a workplace, Psychology Today advises to stay calm,  avoid acting intimated and avoid them to the best of your ability.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.