When it comes to psychopaths, if you ask anyone about them, their likelihood to succeed in life and more. The general public will always tell you how people in the top positions are almost always psychopaths because psychopaths are naturally inclined to be more successful, popular (because of their manipulative charm) and better leadership candidates. Mainly this belief is all down to a psychopath’s “impressive” ability to manipulate others so perfectly. However, what is the truth? That’s the focus of today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
Today’s psychology podcast episode has been sponsored by Personality Psychology And Individual Difference Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Are Psychopaths Really More Likely To Succeed?
It turned out that a brand new study from February 2022 (full reference is below) might be able to help us cast some doubt this belief about psychopaths. Since this study has different results that contradict the very widely held belief that in the professional world cold and unsympathetic individuals might be more successful. Due to their data suggests the complete opposite.
In addition, I should also note here that this successful belief about psychopaths isn’t just to do with CEO and other business types, because this applies to politicians too. Therefore, the whole belief about psychopaths being more successful does have very large implications and that is why it is critical to look at.
In addition, as Hedwig Eisenbarth, a psychologist working at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand explains people often that because psychopaths are so cold-blooded, fearless and have low empathy. This fits the description of most people in positions of power so people characterised and connect the two types of people. Leading them to want to study this in an empirical manner.
Eisenbarth et al. (2022) Methodology
Therefore, to test this belief, the researchers got data from over 2,300 New Zealand adults and they examined the following three questions areas for the study.
Firstly, the researchers measured three aspects of the psychopathic personality from a series of questions supplied in the survey. These aspects were fearless dominance, cold-heartedness and self-centred impulsivity.
Secondly, the researchers measured the participants’ opinions regarding their professional success by combining the participants’ answers to these two questions. How secure do you feel in your current job? And How satisfied are you with your current job? Then both of these questions were assessed using a 10 point Likert scale.
Finally, the researchers measured a construct known as occupational prestige by calculating the participant’s socioeconomic status and combined it with their employment type. For example, a legal professional and teacher are more prestigious than a food preparation assistant.
And I know I certainly missed it at first, but I want to point out that the second measure is about the participant’s own subjective answer and opinion about their own job. But the final measure is a bit more objective and standardised as it’s much easier to be objective talking about socioeconomic status and how prestigious a job generally is compared a participant’s personal thoughts on it.
I just wanted to point this out to show that the study isn’t relying too heavily on subjective data.
Eisenbarth et al. (2022) Results
Thankfully because of the measurements taken the researchers were able to test their core hypothesis about the belief. Yet because psychology is a science they decided to flip the belief on its head slightly, because their core hypothesis was that people with psychopathic personality tendencies would be less likely to achieve high levels of professional success.
Again because of the general belief around psychopaths, when I first read this I was a little surprised that they were testing it in this way. As well as I was rather sure that this would be disproven.
However, they found this to be the case most of the time. Due to individuals higher on the fearless-dominance aspect reported higher subjective professional success, whilst people higher on the self-centred impulsivity reported lower subjective professional success. As well as for those people higher on the cold-heartedness aspect, they showed lower occupational prestige.
Additionally, these results and associations still held true even when the researchers account for other variables that could have influenced their predictions. For example, age, gender, education and duration of job tenure.
Leading the researchers to conclude that psychopathic personality traits do indeed have a negative effect on a person’s subjective professional success. As well as the fearless-dominance aspect of psychopathy seems to contribute to higher subjective success.
However, in terms of the general belief about psychopaths, it seems that this is a lot more fiction than reality.
And I want to end today’s episode with an excellent point that Eisenbarth made about all this. He mentioned that if we think that having lower empathy and being less distractable by our emotional reactions could be helpful to us in making hard economic decisions. Then that is somewhat reasonable (that’s what he’s implying anyway), but when this is combined with a psychopath’s impulsivity and anti-sociality. Then this leads to negative effects that probably outweigh these benefits, resulting in the, well, results that he saw in this study.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Personality Psychology And Individual Difference Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day!
Personality Psychology and Psychopathy References:
Eisenbarth, H. (Interview) Do people with psychopathic tendencies achieve more career success? Therapytips.org, December 7, 2021.
Eisenbarth, H., Hart, C. M., Zubielevitch, E., Keilor, T., Wilson, M., Bulbulia, J., ... & Sedikides, C. (2022). Aspects of psychopathic personality relate to lower subjective and objective professional success. Personality and Individual Differences, 186, 111340.
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