Can psychopaths have normal family life?

Psychopaths at work: normal madness

Bonn - The matter seems to be clear: Psychopaths have no qualms, are manipulative, act only in their own interest and steal from any social responsibility. People with a psychopathic personality overestimate themselves and love the thrill. This makes them vulnerable to risky decisions that can jeopardize the company's success. At the same time, her charm often allows her to climb steeply up the career ladder.

"In the US, one in five CEOs is a psychopath," was the conclusion of a study by the Australian researcher Nathan Brooks of Bond University, which was published in the fall of 2016. This is not necessarily a problem, as a current study by scientists from the University of Bonn now suggests. In addition to the dark side of psychopathy, the researchers also identified a light side that leads to top professional performance - without harming colleagues or the company.

Antisocial impulsiveness vs. fearless dominance

The scientists invited 161 employees from Germany who worked in a wide variety of areas to take part in the study by email. First, the researchers asked about personal factors, level of education and the tendency to psychopathy. Then two colleagues were asked to provide information on the work performance and social behavior of the study participants. The result: some psychopaths can be very helpful and socially acceptable colleagues.

The researchers therefore speak of a "toxic" and a "benign" form of psychopathy: "The toxic form is characterized by antisocial impulsivity," says Gerhard Blickle from the Institute for Psychology. Such people cannot control themselves, take what they like, act without thinking beforehand and blame others. "The potentially benign form of psychopathy is called fearless dominance," adds co-author Nora Schütte. "It can turn out to be bad, but also very good." People with this quality are not afraid, have good self-confidence, good social skills and are extremely resistant to stress.

Education is what counts

According to the study, whether an employee with fearless dominance becomes a socially acceptable colleague depends primarily on education. While those with fearless dominance and low education display behaviors that can harm companies, such highly educated "psychopaths" are judged by their colleagues in the workplace to be competent and in no way antisocial.

In certain professions - such as crisis manager or emergency doctor - they can even achieve top performance, emphasize the scientists. "These findings confirm the previously neglected theory that although psychopathy can very often lead to antisocial behavior, it does not necessarily have to", summarizes Blickle. (red, 8.3.2017)