Could There Be Benefits to Psychopathy?

March 2nd 2017

The terms "psychopathy" and "everyday hero" might not seem like they belong together, but research has found the qualities one finds in a psychopath can, in fact, be used for good. Indeed, a new study, by Gerhard Blickle and Nora Schütte of the University of Bonn, found that elements of psychopathy can even be beneficial in the workplace. 

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The study, to be clear, is about psychopathy, not psychopaths. As Blickle explained to ATTN:, psychopathy is comprised of unrelated dimensions, or character traits. A psychopath expresses high levels of all these dimensions at the same time. Those traits, however, aren't always bad.

What are these qualities?

The study focused on fearless dominance (a lack of concern about the consequences of actions) and antisocial impulsivity (a lack of self control or consideration for others). According to the study, while antisocial impulsivity is toxic in a work environment, fearless dominance is not necessarily bad. If it is coupled with social skills (as measured by higher education) it can actually be adaptive to a work environment. 

Study participants with a high level of fearless dominance and higher levels of education were more likely to be described as cooperative, helpful and pleasant. They also contributed to the goals of the organization.

According to the authors' press release, people with fearless dominance are extremely self-confident, have great social skills, and are extremely resistant to stress. Because of this, Blickle said in the press release, people with high levels of fearless dominance and high education "could also become selfless heroes in everyday life, such as crisis managers or emergency doctors." 

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Other studies have found relationships between fearless dominance and positive outcomes.  Dr. Stephen Benningwhose work on psychopathy was cited in the study told ATTN: that fearless dominance tends to be associated with a higher income and higher education. 

According to James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, fearless dominance can help people in careers where they have to take chances, get others do something, and act as leaders. "It's kind of a charisma trait," Fallon told ATTN:, "it's like born leadership." 

The most beloved presidents, such as Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, had high levels of fearless dominance

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According to Benning, studies have found that, in business, managers with higher levels of psychopathic traits have longer tenures.

Fearless dominance is also good for gambling. Fallon says that while most people use names or hunches when they gamble, people with fearless dominance are cold, unemotional, and "take chances in a very cognitive way." 

It's not all good, however.

"In essence, individuals with psychopathic traits might be good at rising through the ranks in business, but they are difficult to work with and don't necessarily nurture their supervisees," Benning told ATTN:.

Studies have show that managers with psychopathic traits are associated with increased work-family conflict and stress, as well as reduced job satisfaction. 

Furthermore, the study out of Bonn University found people with antisocial impulsivity disorder (a dimension of psychopathy unrelated to fearless dominance) are counterproductive in the workplace. According to Benning, this trait is associated with actions like dragging out work, leaving early without permission, coming in late, and complaining about the office. 

Even if a person's traits are adaptive to the work environment, they might be maladaptive at home. According to Fallon, "It's not good or bad genes, it's good or bad behaviors in any one context."

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