2nd September 2011
e'd like to think that if we met someone who was completely without conscience — someone who was capable of doing anything at all if it served his or her purposes — we would recognize it. In popular culture, the image of the psychopath is of someone like Hannibal Lecter or the BTK Killer. But in reality, many psychopaths just want money, or power, or fame, or simply a nice car. Where do these psychopaths go? Often, it's to the corporate world.
Researchers Paul Babiak and Robert Hare have long studied psychopaths. Hare, the author of Without Conscience, is a world-renowned expert on psychopathy, and Babiak is an industrial-organizational psychologist. Recently the two came together to study how psychopaths operate in corporations, and the results were surprising. They found that it's exactly t
That's the findings of one study
One out of every 25 business leaders could be psychopathic, a study claims.
The study, conducted by the New York psychologist Paul Babiak, suggests that they disguise the condition by hiding behind their high status, playing up their charm and by manipulating others.
Favourable environmental factors such as a happy childhood mean they can function in a workplace rather than channelling their energies in more violent or destructive ways. Revealing the results in a BBC Horizon documentary, Babiak said: "Psychopaths really aren't the kind of person you think they are.
"In fact, you could be living with or married to one for 20 years or more and not know that person is a psychopath.
"We have identified individuals that might be labelled 'the successful psychopath'.
"Part of the problem is that the very things we're looking for in our leaders, the psychopath can easily mimic.
"Their natural tendency is to be charming. Take that charm and couch it in the right business language and it sounds like charismatic leadership."
Babiak designed a 111-point questionnaire with Professor Bob Hare, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, a renowned expert in psychopathy. Hare believes about 1% of Americans can be described as psychopaths.
The survey suggests psychopaths are actually poor managerial performers but are adept at climbing the corporate ladder because they can cover up their weaknesses by subtly charming superiors and subordinates.
This makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a genuinely talented team leader and a psychopath, Babiak said. Hare told Horizon: "The higher the psychopathy, the better they looked – lots of charisma and they talk a good line.
"But if you look at their actual performance and ratings as a team player and productively, it's dismal. Looked good, performed badly.
"You have to think of psychopaths as having at their disposal a very large repertoire of behaviours. So they can use charm, manipulation, intimidation, whatever is required.
"A psychopath can actually put themselves in your skin, intellectually not emotionally.
"They can tell what you're thinking, they can look at your body language, they can listen to what you're saying, but what they don't really do is feel what you feel.
"What this allows them to do is use words to manipulate and con and to interact with you without the baggage of feeling your pain."
• Horizon: Are You Good Or Evil? is on BBC2 at 9pm on Wednesday 7 September