Common Traits of Psychopathy
- Asocial Behavior
- Shallow Emotions
- Lack of Impulse Control
- Risk Taking
- Grandiose Sense of Self-Worth
When navigating the social landscape, it’s vital that individuals be able to spot and protect oneself against psychopaths. They tend to hide in plain sight, often benefiting from social or cultural models that value a less emotional response. They make up between .4 and 6 percent of the total population and are present in every culture at any time. While the term has often been used interchangeably with sociopathic behaviors, there’s a significant distinction. Sociopaths are withdrawn, can experience negative emotions like guilt or anxiety, and are drawn to martyr tropes in their personal ideations.
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1. Shallow Emotions
Negative emotions such as guilt and anxiety work together with emotional empathy to help humans form cohesive and productive communal bodies. They act as a check on overtly selfish actions, keeping them from becoming the rule within a tightly knit society. This is why traditional ethos tends to punish overtly cruel or coldly self-interested behaviors. Most individuals in a community tacitly agree to abide by these ethics, even if they are only motivated by fear of negative repercussions.
Psychopaths don’t have this problem, and identifying them can often be difficult. It’s important to note that in most documented cases, psychopaths have fundamentally different brain physiology, with a smaller pre-frontal cortex and a malformed amygdala. They are capable of recognizing emotions and “learning” them, but they don’t feel them. Instead, they mimic them to promote their momentary self-interest, allowing them to manipulate individuals who experience them.
2. Asocial Behavior
It’s important to differentiate between anti-social and asocial behaviors. Psychopaths thrive on social interaction, according to Psychology Today, and so they steer clear of behaviors that isolate them. Asocial means that their actions do not promote a healthy social landscape. These can include chaotic, aggressive or unfeeling and manipulative behaviors, such as pot-stirring to incite conflict among group members or starting physical fights in crowded locations. However, it refers to any action overtly or subtly adverse to the lasting health of a community.
3. Lack of Impulse Control
While this is related to risk-taking, another feature of psychopathic behavior, it refers to a broader swath of behavioral traits. It can apply to callous speech that reaches beyond a lack of tact, a spur of the moment decision to just not show up for work or a tendency to have many sexual partners, even while in a purportedly committed relationship. Psychopaths do what they want in the moment, often without thought for the repercussions to themselves or others. If it negatively impacts their self-interest, they often use other behaviors, such as smooth charm, to mitigate it.
4. Grandiose Sense of Self
While modern, Western cultures often encourage casual egotism and even healthy self-image, psychopathy is different. These individuals genuinely believe they are the most awesome person in the world, and those who don’t agree are cast aside or used as tools to incite social discord. But this overblown conceit cannot survive in a vacuum. Therefore, one is more likely to find psychopaths in situations or professions that require interaction and socializing. That said, their lack of emotion, an absence of impulse control, and chaotic behaviors usually preclude any intense personal relationships.
5. Risk Taking
That ego and impulsive streak will get them into trouble, sooner or later. Because they are convinced of their own magnificence and invulnerability, they’re more likely to die violently. This may be due to accidents during activities, taking on an opponent to whom they are not truly equal, contracting a communicable disease through an unprotected sexual act or by ignoring warning signs of an underlying health condition. However, in the short term, this behavior can set them apart, excite admiration, and bring them lavish social rewards or accolades.
It’s important to note that psychopaths aren’t all serial killers, although, as Tom Chivers noted in an article for The Telegraph, that pastime is ideal for a human who lacks the typical checks and balances of their fellows. Instead, they mingle freely in society, masking their nature out of self-interest. In many cultural contexts not centered on communal spirit, their egotism, risk-taking, and lack of genuine emotion will place them in the highest ranks of society. That’s why it’s imperative that individuals be aware and have the ability to identify them in order to avoid becoming a pawn or a victim of their unchecked appetites.