[Much of the focus of 13.7 Billion Years has been to highlight the bad decisions that humans make that have had detrimental effects such as species extinction, loss of biodiversity, animal abuse and the degradation of public health and the environment. For the month of June, the weekday series “Gray Matters ” will take a look at research that has shed light on the inner workings of the mysterious and frustratingly complex marvel that is the human brain. The future health of the planet depends largely on the actions that mankind collectively makes — actions that are ultimately the result of billions of individual decisions made every day, at every moment. But in order to start making better decisions, it’s important to figure out why bad decisions are so often made in the first place.]
“People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit, violence or other methods that allow them to get what they want. The symptoms of psychopathy include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of victimizing others.” — Robert Hare, Ph.D.
Robert Hare is a renowned criminal psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia. He is best known for creating the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL), a clinical rating scale that is the most common diagnostic tool to assess psychopathy and help predict the likelihood of violent behavior in an individual.
Hare explains that psychopaths have a dysfunctional amygdala, the part of the brain that provokes anxiety when an individual is experiences or witnesses violence. The amygdala of psychopaths provides no such response; hence they display a lack of empathy.
In his new book The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry , author Jon Ronson writes about meeting Hare, who told him that inmates at prisons and psychiatric institutions aren’t the only high-scorers on the PCL; many CEOs and corporate leaders also possess the qualities of psychopaths. Ronson wonders “if sometimes the difference between a psychopath in Broadmoor [high-security psychiatric hospital] and a psychopath on Wall Street was the luck of being born into a stable, rich family.”
Hare’s 21-item checklist for potential psychopathy is as follows:
1. Glibness/superficial charm
2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
3. Pathological lying
5. Lack of remorse or guilt
6. Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
7. Callous/lack of empathy
8. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
9. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
10. Parasitic lifestyle
11. Poor behavioral control
12. Lack of realistic long-term goals
15. Juvenile delinquency
16. Early behavior problems
17. Revocation of conditional release
18. Promiscuous sexual behavior
19. Many short-term marital relationships
20. Criminal versatility
21. Acquired behavioural sociopathy/sociological conditioning (a newly identified trait; i.e., a person relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive)
In his WOMM (105.9 FM, Burlington) radio broadcast “Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up,” Greg Guma considers Hare’s PCL and wonders, “Is Trump a psychopath? Well, he does score well on a 20 item checklist. And are there more psychopaths around us than we think? Not just serial killers and the violent type, but successful, powerful psychopaths who will do anything to win and affect our lives in profound ways?”
“Psychopaths could be the reason the world seems so screwed up,” says Guma. “If so, humanity’s tragic flaw may be that a few bad apples — people whose amygdalas don’t fire the right signals to their central nervous systems — really can spoil the whole barrel. Prime examples include the corporate psychopaths who trashed capitalism a few years back.
“So, the question is: Do psychopaths run the country and maybe the world? Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a strong candidate. Among recent presidents Nixon, Bush 2 and Clinton could qualify. The masters of the universe at places like Goldman Sachs are solid choices. And it only takes a few to destabilize a financial system, poison a community or destroy a business. Yet some studies suggest that, percentage-wise, there are more potential psychopaths among CEOs, directors and supervisors than in the general population, or even in prisons.
“Who hasn’t known a business type who was borderline, a mercurial tyrant subject to fits of rage and impulsive acts? Or followed a public figure who was charming but also irresponsible, manipulative and self-aggrandizing? The tell-tale signs of the psychopath are often ignored or excused.”
So, keep your eye out. It could be that the most dangerous psychopaths aren’t behind bars for breaking the rules — they’re behind desks making them.
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