|Posted on February 18, 2015 at 7:20 PM|
Psychopaths are some of the most complicated figures in society, boasting an atmosphere of secrecy and a negative stigma. It is true that these individuals are dangerous, unpredictable and have committed some of the worst crimes in recent history, but what if I told you that psychopaths are everywhere and are a prevalent force in modern society. Over the past 40 years psychologists have been trying to create the perfect psychopath test, a means of identifying these dangerous individuals and dealing with them. But it might not be quite as simple as it seems.
Firstly, we have to define what psychopathy actually is in order to understand it from a scientific perspective. Psychopathy is defined as a mental disorder in which an individual manifests in amoral and antisocial behavior, often associated with criminal acts. Research into identifying psychopaths began in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, but took center stage after Hollywood took off through the forties and fifties when stereotypes of criminals and psychopaths began to be linked together. This led to psychologists wanting to develop ways of measuring a person on how psychopathic they might be. Early psychologists developed very primitive tests in order to try and identify psychopaths. One early test focused on 15 aspects of a person and a scoring system out of 2 was developed for each aspect. 0 meant that the person didn’t display the trait, 1 meant some areas were displayed and 2 meant this aspect was prevalent in every part of this person’s life. This test went on to revolutionise western psychology and was being used everywhere, especially the American justice system. In fact, it was used so much that every criminal who was caught under the American legal system was seen as a psychopath. This led to the test being questioned as a valid test of psychopathy and eventually this test was discontinued because high security prisons in the USA were being filled up far too quickly. This led to psychologists doing further research over the next few years before another test was developed. This test increased the number of aspects to 20, but kept the original scoring system of 2 from the previous test. This test was seen as far more reliable and accurate because it incorporated the person’s background more in the test, therefore seeing if they have displayed psychopathic traits for the majority of their life. This test was seen as the most accurate indicator of psychopaths and is still used today for identifying these dangerous individuals.
The test has become so refined over recent years, that it can even be applied to historical figures who lived over 150 years ago. Charles J. Guiteau was the infamous figure behind the death of President Garfield in 1881 and the test has even been applied to him. Anyone who scores over 24 out of 40 is considered a psychopath and Guiteau scored a staggering 37 out of 40, which makes him a psychopath in every sense of the word! Other previous historical figures such as John Wilkes Booth, who murdered President Lincoln in 1865, have also had the test applied to them. Booth was found to only score 7 out of 40, which throws off the idea that all psychopaths must be murderers.
This misconception is a very common error in society. It is true that many criminals, especially those in high or maximum security prisons, are psychopaths. However, a book called “The psychopath whisperer” by Kent Kiehl explored the realms of psychopathy throughout his career as a forensic psychologist. He was keen to emphasise the fact that while of course some psychopaths are deemed far too dangerous for society, not all psychopaths can actually be described as criminals even if the common conception is that all psychopaths must be criminals. He goes on to say how some psychopaths are actually some of the most successful businessmen and women in recent history and this went on to be supported by a survey done by the “Guardian Newspaper” in 2011, where they found 1 in 25 successful business leaders are classed as psychopaths. This is because they possess many traits of psychopaths such as “false” charm, the ability to argue points effectively in a business context and manipulating fellow employees to increase their own power within the firm. This example firstly highlights how psychopaths might not actually be as dangerous as we think and could potentially have a successful role in society. However, what is scary is that psychopaths are far more common than we think. 1 in 25 businessmen and women is a very small ratio and chances are that you will also know a psychopath or meet one at some point in your life. This survey shows how research into this field is still developing even today, with the field of psychopathy and forensic science being a crucial part of psychology as a whole.
What I have found out about psychopaths has truly been fascinating. My thoughts about these mysterious individuals has changed dramatically, from being your stereotypical murder to someone who can help to create a new and innovative society. At the same time, it’s also very scary to think that psychopaths live all around us and are hard to spot. Someone might not even know they are a psychopath and those that do might be very good at hiding it. But hopefully this article will ease some of the stereotypical fears you have about psychopaths, so even if you do meet one you won’t be too alarmed because chances are that they are completely harmless. Well, most of them anyway...
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