CAN YOU SPOT A PSYCHOPATH LIKE STALIN? TAKE OUR QUIZ!
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
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.
PSYCHOPATHS ARE TICKING TIME BOMBS
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…
HOW PSYCHOPATHS CHANGED THE WORLD
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.