I have been friends with a couple people with clear sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies, and this is absolutely true. Most have been trained to seek social inclusion like the rest of us. They just suck at it. The lack of empathy is a strength while running a con or worse, but a serious handicap when trying to build long-term social relationships. It's downright pathetic to watch them attempt their social cons on people who are intelligent and self-aware. If you know your own weaknesses you know when someone is trying to attack them. When it's malicious the psychopath gets the boot fast. When it's a harmless attempt to fit in, it just puts the psychopath in the awkwardly manipulative category. The lack of empathy means they often don't know why they've been ostracized.
FWIW, I have the opposite problem; a little too much empathy and guilt, but it gives me the same talent of seeing the weakness in people. Which is why I'm friends with them. They use my empathy for friendship, and I let them because it's absolutely fascinating watching them work.
When one owns a snake, there is a temptation to think he's "my" snake--he would never bite me. But he's a snake--he just may not have felt like it so far.
I also note it probably wouldn't be correct for me to use psychopathy as the name of a disorder but it should be fine for casual discussion.
That is true. I only met one person who seemed to act sociopathic (as well as admitting lacking the capacity to feel empathy) and she seemed to be shut off from society. It's rather sad. Falling in love with her was a rather bad idea too :)
"Joseph Newman, the head of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates that up to 1 percent of the general population in the United States can be described as psychopathic(1). This means that there are among us, roughly 3 million psychopaths."
If this is true, psychopaths should be concentrated heavily in certain careers such as sales.
I don't expect you to believe me on this one, so I am furiously trying to find a reference... Hopefully I'll be back to edit with a link.
EDIT: There is of course this book, written by the aforementioned Dr Hare, but still can't seem to find a paper. I remember seeing it in a recent BBC documentary on the subject, which interviewed him directly, which isn't exactly helpful.
EDIT: AHA! Here it is: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bsl.925/pdf
"In this study, we had a unique opportunity to examine psychopathy and its correlates in a sample of 203 corporate professionals selected by their companies to participate in management development programs. The correlates included demographic and status variables, as well as in-house 360° assessments and performance ratings. The prevalence of psychopathic traits—as measured by the Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (PCL-R) and a Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL: SV) “equivalent”—was higher than that found in community samples. The results of confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and structural equation modeling (SEM) indicated that the underlying latent structure of psychopathy in our corporate sample was consistent with that model found in community and offender studies. Psychopathy was positively associated with in-house ratings of charisma/presentation style (creativity, good strategic thinking and communication skills) but negatively associated with ratings of responsibility/performance (being a team player, management skills, and overall accomplishments)"
Looks like I misremembered the bit about a higher rate than in prisons, instead it is rather a significantly higher rate than in society at large.
The original commenter amended his post to say that he mis-remembered about it being higher than in prisons, anyway.
Physiological concerns aside, observed psychopathy is more or less a variation of behavior that allows the individual to apply more cerebral perceptions to social / emotional contexts.
Would the world be a better place if we had more people acting like this? or the opposite case of applying social / emotional perceptions to a more cerebral context? I would argue (for many reasons) that the answer to this question is the former, whereas it has been the latter through most of human history.
The capacity to act as a 'psychopath' may very well be a necessary evolution of our culture, and in fact may become a desired genetic trait in future years. More important that trying assimilate people with characteristics of psychopathy may be to foster this ability of the mind - keep children away from violence, keep young adults away from their egos.
 From my favorite new TV psychopath personality, Robert California of the Office: "I'll tell you some thing I find unproductive. Constantly worrying about where you stand based on inscrutable social cues, and then inevitably reframing it all in a reassuring way so that you can get to sleep at night. No, I do not believe in that at all. If I invited you to lunch, I think you're a winner. If I didn't I don't. But I just met you all. Life is long, opinons change. Winners, prove me right. Losers, prove me wrong."
Recent genetic evidence suggests that, among the various traits that distinguish modern humans from the hominids we outcompeted (such as Neanderthals), one of them is improved empathic capability. We are better able to read and respond to social cues than our less-adapted cousins were. Our ability to work cooperatively was a major competitive advantage, and quite possibly the most critical competitive advantage.
It may be true that psychopathic traits enable certain individuals to game the system, as it were, and succeed wildly in modern society. The stereotype of the Psychopath CEO is grounded in some reality, after all. But if everyone behaved psychopathically, then society would possibly cease to function as we know it -- probably for the worse.
Where was I during this earth shattering breakthough? (Actually understand DNA by looking at the sequence?)
This is probably just someones conjecture based on living conditions and such, there is no way it's based on genetic evidence.
Not sure where you were during the sequencing, but yes, it's happening.
If I can ferret out the paper, I'll post a link.
1. Communication capacity is the reason empathic capability is important. Human-human communication relies on perspective-taking and evolves over time as our brains get more exposure to people. Emotional empathic capacity is just the bootstrap for perspective-taking. If human cultural norms evolve for communication capacity, then there is a case that empathic capacity will simply use too much cognitive capacity to fit within these cultural norms.
2. We communicate more and more with non-human devices than humans. I can't even imagine what this looks like 100 yrs from now or 1000, but there is a chance that natural selection will favor brains optimized for communicating with devices and machines where emotional empathy is not present.
Do you see people who have a more natural ability to work and understand computers as having more kids than the rest of the population? If anything, it's the opposite.
Arguably, the need to pick up on emotions through text- or audio-only communication might make empathy more important.
if you knew for a fact that you wouldn't experience any negative effects (like going to jail, having people label you as an outcast, etc.), would you kill a complete stranger for $100? if you had no empathy, you would.
it has been annoying me lately that there are three distinct usages of "empathy" that are frequently conflated.
1) "Empathy" as the emotional interest in others, could also be called "moral sense", the kind of empathy that sociopaths are said to lack.
2) "Empathy" as the ability to identify emotionally with others, the set of instincts or "firmware" that make interpersonal communications and interactions go smoothly, the kind of empathy that autistics are said to lack.
3) "Empathy" or "imaginative identification with others", a more intellectual version, part of the definition of an intelligent being which is associated with metalaw. The ability to intellectually and purposely imagine yourself in the place of another, even a very different other, such as an extra-terrestrial alien, hence its association with metalaw.
Also it showed that they demonstrate no emotional response to words such as 'rape'. If you could monitor everyone's brain who just read that word in an MRI, you would be able to see mental activity that is associated with negative emotions. Everyone except psychopaths.
Not really. Many psychopathic behaviours are irrational. I.e. their long-term goals do not correspond to their actions.
The way I look at it, there's a spectrum of selfishness+impulsivity with psychopathy at the extreme end.
I.e. the psychopath's need to do what he wants to do outweighs any other concerns, including possibly your right to not be harmed / live. This may not always be true, but the impulsivity makes it true at the critical moment.
Sure, if you analyze with less emotional involvement, it's easier to control that "social game", but as the letter describes, they still validates themselves for their ability to do so.
Seems to me like the disregard for the whole thing -which is what that character seems to be saying- is more common in the stereotypical "nerd," which either is either oblivious to it or simply uninterested, and that doesn't necessarily indicate less empathy.
This entire thread here shows a deep misunderstanding by you of what sociopathy is and what its consequences are for an individual. You seem to be under the impression it turns a person into a sort of overman. You are very mistaken.
Sociopaths may be overrepresented in some niche you find desirable, but that says little about their success as a whole. If 1.3% of sociopaths are highly successful corporate officers - and the evidence for this is not conclusive - where the figure for the entire population is 0.9% (totally made-up numbers by the way), we still know little about a sociopath's fitness in society. Most evidence suggests they are worse off.
Reading the message, I felt like this person felt stereotyped and misunderstood - but very in tune with himself. I wonder how he would succeed in an cultural environment with less emphasis on emotional empathy and guilt? Is it us or them that is actually best suited for the greater good?
So, the purpose of the thread was to elicit feedback on the idea that our world is changing fast, and this particular genre of behavior may be better suited. You can't deny that that 'overrepresentation' in some niches has grown, and is likely growing.
Incidentally, I've never seen my karma on comments on a single thread fluctuate so much. Its been very interesting to watch.
I think there are still more great sci-fi stories to be extrapolated from Asimov's laws.
Personally I think we're more likely to see emotional robots before we see truly human level AI. There is still reason for caution of course because emotion does not rule out psychopathy. There is certainly a danger that malevolent or even merely competitive AIs could play the emotion game better than humans, and gain the upper hand (meaning: wealth, control, power, etc.) Consider how much emotion affects the entertainment industry, and the sheer amount of money involved (from TV and films to music to books to comics to games and even to restaurants and food, not to mention pornography and prostitution). Consider how much emotion plays into politics.
Overall I think Blade Runner and A.I. had it more right than Star Trek or Star Wars. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out of course.
If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming. Johann Wolfgang vonGoethe [1749 - 1832]
"In the end, psychopaths need to be given that very thing everyone believes they lack for others, empathy."
Any feeling you give will be used against you in their treacherous games - you won't get true feeling back. Don't be their stepping stone.
My glass is raised this person.
And here is the ironic part. While the author of the letter chooses to place emotional stability over strategic ploys, most of our MBA schools, finance majors, corporate lawyers and hopeful business students want nothing more than to become what the author is coming away from.
A slightly more benign (but still highly inaccurate) definition is that a psychopath is someone who feels little guilt or empathy for others. "
That's not accurate at all. He wants to claim he's still a psychopath because he thinks it's made him special, but he's -not- still a psychopath. He was cured of that.
He's also not the only non-psychopath with those abilities. The condition may have honed those abilities for him, but it's not the only way to obtain them.
There are some that are amazingly smooth and seem completely normal. You don't even notice until the tip of the knife is penetrating your back.
It's so-called human nature for individuals and groups to compete over resources - water, food, shelter, even sex, and latterly, money and power. I've been wondering whether this urge to control is in fact what is behind the behaviour of sociopaths. If we always had to have remorse whenever we obtained a resource, then would we survive as a species?
Of course sociopathy is a scale, not a division between 'good' and 'bad' people, but it's pretty clear from what's been going on at Wall Street (workplace of perhaps the most sociopathic group of people around) that there is a struggle going on - right now - between those in control and those who have lost power.
It's interesting that as history has progressed, communication tools have continued to bring people together -- but also extend the reach of influence and control. Wars have become larger and larger as communication has sped up and reached across broader distances. What we have now seems to me, perhaps extravagantly, to be a large scale confrontation between those in power and those outside.
We'll be witness to information wars - PR publications and spin, disinformation tactics, appeals to the heart - and perhaps some extreme exertion of control (note that the Occupy Boston protests have recently been suppressed by the police there -- and the Federal interpretation of the Patriot act is not standing up to scrutiny by legal questioners)
This might be a form of evolutionary conflict at a grand scale and fueled by social media (the thing that is really about to bring about a social singularity, well before any technological singularity) -- and because of this, we maybe have to question the people who are in control of the social media we use.
How does this relate to the original post? Note that the author is essentially arguing that psychopaths are part of humanity too and to be kept. I am not arguing that they should be controlled or destroyed; I think treatment is possible -- as does C.
Anyone else see the commonalities?
He also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, if you've read that or seen the movie.
Aren't most people just failed social actors who are rather poor at picking the signs in which to display their emotional communication? Psychopathy actually makes me think far more of vulcans than ted bundy.
Wow. I can't think of a way to rebut this without diving into personal accusations... but it seems that you've missed out on a lot in life.
You may also want to consider the evolutionary pressure to love certain people in your family.
Do you think it's mere coincidence that massive amounts of oxytocin are necessarily for lactation, giving birth, released after birth, released after orgasm, and that this drug also just happens to create loving emotional bonds?
Seems that evolution is also manipulating our romances and the loves of our lives. On the other hand it's probably good for society that we're chemically manipulated in this fashion. My point is not that 99% of these feelings aren't "real" my point is more of a skeptical nature in that it becomes impossible to figure out how much is "real" and how much is chemical or other mechanisms of signalling.
I don't see the need to make the distinction at all. So what if consciousness is just a bunch of electrical impulses, or that love is a giant dose of oxytocin - I'm not sure what would lead you think that these things are not "real" simply because they have some evolutionary/chemical basis.
I can have a delicious lunch today - but does the food actually taste good? Or is it adulterated by mental conditioning? Maybe I only like broccoli because of childhood mental conditioning. Or maybe it brings back a fond memory. Or perhaps it only tastes good because of the presence of certain chemicals?
... Does it matter?
In both cases you will know the difference, just not immediately.
Certainly it would not justify something as cynical as this:
> "Aren't most people just failed social actors who are rather poor at picking the signs in which to display their emotional communication?"
which was the part that really rubbed me the wrong way.
But, aren't they?
Not actor in the sense of a script/a lie, but in the sense of trying, ultimately imperfectly, to convey how we feel to the world around us?
How often do you think you nail the perfect smile, the perfect handshake, the perfect snuggle, to demonstrate happiness, but not too much, familiarity and strength without being overbearing, and tenderness without clinging?
Combine that with the imperfect feedback you get from others and we have really have no idea about the finer details of anyone but yourself.
Not just that you can't detect lies but that we have no way of telling if our perceptions of red are the same, let alone a hug or a complex thought.
It seems to me (perhaps this is a misreading of the post) would have us dismiss emotional expression as inherently untrustworthy, or somehow unreal. I disagree vehemently.
Sure, our expressions, and the way they're perceived, is colored by brain chemistry, social conditioning, and a myriad of other factors... but I maintain that it simply makes them more complex, not less real.
There is a broad range between trying imperfectly and being a failed social actor.
@potatolicious is comparing the experience of a tasty meal to the experience of love/happiness/whatever, and saying that it doesn't matter what the underlying cause of it is, it's the experience that matters. I think it's a reasonable point.
You're saying that the experience could be 'fake' because it's based on a fake stimulus. Just in the same way that a loving experience is could be based on a fake interaction by someone else (say a psychopath).
But from /your/ perspective, is there a difference in the experience between the fake and the real? If the inputs are the same, the experience is the same, whether they are triggered by chemicals or some kind of higher-level mental state that we can't adequately explain via chemistry or biology.
The OP seems to be denigrating the human experience based on the chemical 'fakery'/self-deception involved. But that's a different kind of fake--that's your body 'faking' it. [And I totally disagree with that by the way; I agree completely with @potatolicious].
If you want to call it a fairy tale and say the emperor has no clothes... the logical conclusion would have society be unable to have real examples of trusting love, and it would subsequently break down into a series of make-believe emotional transactions.
The societal and circumstantial evidence does not seem to corroborate your premises, even though there may be no scientifically tested objective data.
He can correct me if I'm wrong.
I think in fact it is you that have missed out on a lot in life if you do not understand that when he says there is no way to "know" whether someone "loves" you, he is referring to the fact that he chooses to believe so anyway.
A psychopath would pretend to care about the group, if that's what helped them out the most personally. They would also kill the group if that's what helped them out the most personally. I mean nuke the world if it sets me up for life, cuz hey, why should I care?
That's the last person you want as a leader.
If someone loves me, I can safely predict that they won't betray me and will treat my well being as a priority. If they are merely faking it, they might throw me to the wolves (steal from me, kill me, use me, scapegoat me, etc.) whenever it becomes expedient.
The TV notion that psychopaths don't feel any emotion is off the mark. They certainly feel annoyance and anger.
They appear not to feel remorse because they're very good at rationalizing their impulsive/selfish actions.
How is such a thing logically possible?
What would make you think so?
I am fairly comfortable labeling "doesn't mind killing people" as sufficiently abnormal to be called "ill".
You're not correctly quoting the parent comment (I'm not sure you're quoting anyone, it looks like you're erecting a strawman), he said "willing to kill".
There is a lot of ground between being willing to kill, for example to save the lives of others, and not minding killing.
Well, once you've thrown away morals, it's true that all you have left is the hope that others will refrain from killing others due to not feeling like it.
Morality is just the portion of goals that humans in a given culture share, but I'm not sure you should be so quick to dismiss it as a positive force.
I would wager both probably heavily involve genetic material having a leg up on others thanks to hundreds of thousands of years of genocide and rape.
None of this will factor into a reasonable definition of "sane".
Consider a normal guy from my home country a few hundreds of years ago. He believed that he will only go to Heaven if he dies well in battle and is hence really scared of dying from disease. He wasn't a psychopath; he loved people and would die for his friends etc. He is normal for a clan society.
The same genes sit in me, which sincerely hopes never to have to maim or kill anyone in my life. Those human genes program us to be very programmable with the present culture. A powerful tool can often be misused.
The trick is to make the culture stay "nice". And to not have neighbours from clan cultures.
What's new-ish (5-10k years) and completely against individual success, is a large and largely unwilling army driven to kill for reasons they don't understand or are lied to about.
It's slavery, or at best a cult, pure and simple.
My problem with armies is that we have these essentially slave-cults for protection and we call ourselves free. Better off, sure. But not really free because we've got this slave system (Military justice/prisons) to enforce discipline in our enslaved warriors (they might have chosen to serve, but you can't reasonably give consent for personality breaking) without whom we're unsafe - or so goes the theory.
I simply feel that each and every one of us needs to tote a gun through mud, and know why we're willing to do it, to live in a society that practices war. Not only so that we choose wisely, but so that we're really safe - not just under guard.
Think of what they do. They actively recruit young and impressionable children, by promising them huge rewards (toys) in the immediate future and no consequences. They use us-vs-them jingoistic propaganda and compliance tricks such as forced sleep deprivation to break the very critical thinking and will to question unreasonable authority that makes us what we regard as truly human. Ultimately they turn a once peaceful person into an executioner - willing to instantly utilize lethal force on command.
As long as we feel the need to legitimize lethal force we need to take a multi-pronged approach to it to ensure good soldier-to-society feedback, educate everyone in the reality of war, and train everyone to function alone (while still serving societal needs). But not just at the convenient war machine level, these people would also by necessity of training intelligent people, have self-driven goals at all levels from picking up trash to spotting crime, entrapping corrupt officials, and when needed, wielding lethal weapons in defense of the innocent, at home or abroad.
A society where war is called for and legitimized by those who haven't fought and aren't currently willing to, is a sick one. After all, the draft is only the polite grandfathered-in name for slave armies.
But consider Mr. X, who has several characteristics of schizoid personality, was described as alexithymic by a clinical psychologist, scored an 8 Simon Baron-Cohen's Empathy quotient (whereas most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 20), scored equally low on the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS). If Mr. X shows any kind of aggression, he might very well be considered to have ASP. Without the aggression, he seems to fall somewhere in the Autism spectrum.
Then there are also conduct and dissocial disorders, which have a lot in common (lying, stealing, violent behavior) with ASD. As far as I know, only the ICD-10 definition of ASD attempts to rule out conduct disorder.
To me it seems like most of the terms in the antisocial realm are pretty much generic labels that aren't very useful. The "psychopath" kind of touched on that implicitly in his letter a few times. It's at least some food for thought.
1 - http://glennrowe.net/BaronCohen/EmpathyQuotient/EmpathyQuoti...
(this is not a test used in clinical settings)
Separate to that, having had a background in neurology and mental health and a degree in psychology, in my opinion you will never understand mental health disorders unless you have one, live with or are very close to someone who has one, or study it specifically.
But I guess what I'm getting at is that to someone with no knowledge of mental health issues, things aren't going to make sense ("Why would they do that?") because, well, mental illness is frequently highly irrational to begin with. The love affair the public media has with the 'psychopath' label does not help in the slightest. It just contributes to the 'us vs them' mentality.