Everyone is nice

New study: why psychopaths can be nice too

When you hear the word "psychopath" you think of a cold-hearted, impulsive, fearless person who likes to manipulate, knows no compassion and never regrets. To someone with a lot of criminal energy. That is also true, all of these characteristics are hallmarks of psychopathy, and whoever has particularly pronounced them can become very noticeable - many felons, for example, are psychopaths in the clinical sense.

But first and foremost, psychopathy is a personality trait that can be measured in every person. Most then have low values, but some have higher values. Researchers estimate that around one percent of the population have strong psychopathic traits.

Not everyone was destructive

Psychologists at the University of Bonn have now taken a look at whether people with stronger psychopathic traits always attract attention in their surroundings, at work, for example. It was known from earlier studies that these people are often less productive than others, like to bully and in general can disturb the climate in companies due to their anti-social nature.

The psychologist Nora Schütte had 161 people answer numerous questions for her study, which has now been published in the "Journal of Management". About their personality, for example, but also about their social skills and their job performance. In addition, two colleagues of the respondent were asked to assess their behavior and also their performance on the job.

The result amazed the scientists: not everyone with strong psychopathic traits was also a destructive type. Some have even been described as cooperative and helpful. How can that be?

"Egocentric Impulsiveness"

Schütte and her colleagues found the answer: Psychopathy consists of not just one, but two personality facets. These two can or do not have to occur together. Only those who have both become a typical destructive psychopath. The others sometimes even become everyday heroes, such as emergency doctors or firefighters.

Psychologists called the first facet "fearless dominance". Those who achieve a high score on this scale can withstand stress well, are assertive and are not afraid of the consequences. The second facet was named "egocentric impulsivity". Those who achieve high values ​​here find it difficult to control themselves and show no consideration for others. Those test participants who only had high scores on the “fearless-dominant” scale were completely unremarkable socially, according to the researchers.

If they also had very good social skills, then this was the group of cooperative and helpful psychopaths. However, those who achieved a high score on the second scale were described by their colleagues as destructive to deal with, unhelpful and underperforming - just as most psychopaths like to imagine.