Psychopath is a term that gets thrown around in general conversation to mean someone who is crazy, mean and violent. As one doctor looks into the mind of psychopaths, there's more to it than is commonly believed.
Psychopathy is an actual personality disorder that has been skewed by television and movie portrayals of psychopaths as well as how the term 'psychopath' is used in everyday conversation. Not all psychopaths are crazed killers and some psychopathic traits could be vital to success.
Jennifer Skeem, PhD, is a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California Irvine and has been looking into the minds of psychopaths to separate fact from fiction. For starters, no one is born a psychopath; it's a combination of genes and the environment. There are some ideas about what factors into a person becoming a psychopath, such as antisocial behavior and childhood abuse, researchers are still trying to figure out the environment and genetic factors.
With psychopaths, forget serial killers, as many psychopaths have no history of criminal activity or being violent. According to Dr. Skeem, nearly one percent of the population would be considered psychopaths.
Psychopaths, in many ways, tend to have no regard for the feelings of others. With this disregard of others, psychopaths are selfish and never feel guilty for their actions. Psychopaths are also wired to get what they want and are ruthless in their pursuit of rewards.
Dr. Skeem points to real life figures such as Bernie Madoff and former Enron executive Andrew Fastow as examples of psychopaths. These individuals did not care about others, that they were lying and manipulating just so they could get what they want and showed little remorse or guilt for their actions. Ultimately their greed and psychopathic behavior led to demise.
Believe it or not, some of these psychopathic qualities could be a good thing. Being a leader requires some impulsive behavior as well as the ability to be bold and take risks with a drive to succeed. Those tendencies could be considered psychopathic according to Dr. Skeem.
There are psychopaths that are violent and commit crimes, but they are not doomed to be psychopaths. Early treatment, such as intensive mental health counseling and drug rehabilitation, has been shown to help reduce violent behavior and criminal activity in those labeled as psychopaths.
Dr. Skeem hopes her research can be used to illuminate the public and legal system on this often misunderstood disorder. Not all psychopaths are violent but all psychopaths do need help and getting treatment is something important to consider in legal decisions.