Are there good psychopaths and bad psychopaths?

Researchers in Germany suggest yes, with a new study in Personality and Individual Differences that describes a link between work behavior and two psychopathic personality traits: “self-centered impulsivity and fearless dominance.” The former trait, which also encompasses ignoring responsibilities, was a negative one to have in an office setting, while the latter was associated with good work performance — but only when the psychopath was highly educated.

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Workers were questioned over email, with the researchers probing their personalities, education levels, work performance and social behavior, the University of Bonn said in a statement. The self-centered and impulsive workers “cannot control themselves, they take what they like, act without thinking beforehand and pass the blame to others,” while the fearless and dominant types “have pronounced self-confidence, good social skills and are extremely resistant to stress.”

Although previous research has shown that psychopathic tendencies can help people achieve professional success, often those successful subjects had a negative impact on their colleagues. Psychopaths are known for being charming, manipulative, self-centered and volatile; and lacking a conscience or empathy. The criminal psychologist who invented the clinical test for the condition, Robert Hare, once concluded that some corporate professionals showed psychopathic traits, and those traits, such as the willingness to take risks, may have served them well in business. But they can create a hostile work environment — recent research suggests people with a psychopathic boss are more likely to become depressed and to begin displaying similar antisocial behavior.

The Bonn scientists found that a highly educated person displaying fearless dominance can do well in the workplace without harming their coworkers.

“Although psychopathy can often lead to antisocial behavior, it does not necessarily have to,” psychology professor Gerhard Blickle said in the Bonn statement.

The university added that the group of people “could also become selfless heroes in everyday life, such as crisis managers or emergency doctors.”

Source: Blickle G and Schütte N. Trait psychopathy, task performance, and counterproductive work behavior directed toward the organization. Personality and Individual Differences. 2017.

See also:

The Psychology of Alien Abductions

4 Signs of a Sociopath