Er­do­gan: from forger to pres­i­dent Napoleon: from so­cial climber to war crim­i­nal Putin: from pro­fes­sional liar to states­man Pol Pot: from unas­sum­ing teacher to mass mur­derer Caligula: from em­peror to killer

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - Front Page -

Look around. On the street. On the train. In the place you work. One in ev­ery 100 peo­ple is a psy­chopath. They are charm­ing, charis­matic and in­spir­ing. But they’re also ruth­less. They can lie and cheat. They can hurt you and, in the worst case, kill. Sta­tis­ti­cally, this un­tapped po­ten­tial hides in one in 100 peo­ple. How­ever, two worlds con­tain a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of psy­chopaths.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the first is the crim­i­nal world: ev­ery fifth prison in­mate is a psy­chopath. The other world is much more shock­ing: ac­cord­ing to Ger­hard Roth of the Brain Re­search In­sti­tute one in ten peo­ple in po­si­tions of power ex­hibits psychopathic traits. The ba­sic char­ac­ter­is­tic of a psy­chopath is the urge to wield power by their own rules. That’s why they need en­vi­ron­ments that give them as much lee­way as pos­si­ble, so they sit on the boards of businesses or be­come man­agers and politi­cians. They use these po­si­tions for their own ben­e­fit and the dam­age they of­ten wreak is im­mense, some­thing the his­tory of mankind can at­test to. Although crim­i­nal psy­chol­o­gist Robert D. Hare only de­fined psy­chopatho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders 50 years ago, psy­chopaths have al­ways been a part of his­tory – in­deed, their twisted vi­sions have had a di­rect im­pact on its course.


One in 100 of us finds it en­joy­able to ma­nip­u­late, hu­mil­i­ate or kill peo­ple. But how do you recog­nise them? Hare spent 35 years try­ing to an­swer this ques­tion. With his team, he per­formed thou­sands of field stud­ies in psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals, scanned the brains of hun­dreds of rapists, mur­der­ers and se­rial killers, and an­a­lysed the be­hav­iour of count­less despots and peo­ple in po­si­tions of power. Then he com­pared them to nor­mal peo­ple. Us­ing his re­sults, the Cana­dian re­searcher de­vel­oped a tool to ac­cu­rately iden­tify psy­chopaths: the Psy­chopa­thy Check­list – re­vised (PCL-R). The test con­sists of 20 cat­e­gories, in which ei­ther zero, one or two points are awarded and added up to give an over­all score (see page 33).

The cri­te­ria of the PCL-R and, con­se­quently, the traits of a psy­chopath in­clude: su­per­fi­cial charm • ma­nip­u­la­tive be­hav­iour • patho­log­i­cal ly­ing • a lack of em­pa­thy • a no­tice­ably high im­pul­siv­ity. The more these char­ac­ter­is­tics are pro­nounced, the more dif­fi­cult they are to keep un­der con­trol – the per­son is ei­ther al­ready a psy­chopath or on the verge of be­com­ing one. And many his­tor­i­cal fig­ures have crossed the line. “Many of the charis­matic leaders in his­tory were psychopathic,” claims Jens Hoff­man, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Psy­chol­ogy and Threat Man­age­ment. “Sometimes the trait can ac­tu­ally be quite use­ful be­cause strong, fear­less per­son­al­i­ties are the sort to push through change. This leads to im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ments.” But things soon es­ca­late when a psychopathic leader can’t be con­trolled or re­moved…


If the one-in-100 rule holds true, back in 1939 there were ap­prox­i­mately 800,000 psy­chopaths in Ger­many from a pop­u­la­tion of 80 mil­lion. They used the turbulent time to se­cure po­si­tions of power. But the Nazi regime didn’t have to search for un­scrupu­lous crim­i­nals. No, 800,000 psy­chopaths were drawn to the to­tal­i­tar­ian sys­tem like moths to a flame, will­ing to com­mit ter­ri­ble crimes in the name of the Father­land.

What about Hitler him­self? Even as a boy he had un­usu­ally bad tem­per tantrums. And his ar­ro­gance was demon­strated early on: when he played the lot­tery as a teenager, he was con­vinced he’d win and made plans to build a fine house in Vi­enna. When he in­evitably lost, he’d fall into a fran­tic rage. He also wanted to be an artist. How­ever, af­ter being re­jected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vi­enna, he tried again and was turned down again. So the pain­ter be­came a war­mon­ger. He threw him­self into life as a sol­dier dur­ing the First World War. “Re­jec­tion and fail­ure are un­ac­cept­able to a psychopathic per­son­al­ity,” claims Robert Hare. Add it to a trait like nar­cis­sism, and it makes a highly com­bustible mix­ture: a type that Adrian Raine of the De­part­ment of Crim­i­nol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia calls “suc­cess­ful psy­chopaths”.

Suc­cess­ful psy­chopaths have risen to prom­i­nent po­si­tions through­out his­tory. In 1933, psy­chi­a­trist Ernst Kretschmer re­marked: “The psy­chopaths are al­ways around. In calm times we study them, but in times of up­heaval, they rule over us”. How­ever, it’s par­tic­u­larly tragic that two of the worst psy­chopaths to ever live hap­pened to face off against each other: Hitler and Stalin. Nei­ther could give in and, as a re­sult, 50 mil­lion peo­ple lost their lives. More­over, they both cre­ated so­ci­eties where psy­chopaths could flour­ish and had no trou­ble re­cruit­ing more and more of them to their cause – ev­ery hun­dredth per­son, in fact.

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