(HealthNewsDigest.com) – BINGHAMTON, N.Y.. — Some psychopathic individuals are antisocial and engage in criminal behavior. On the other hand, some people with psychopathic tendencies have been found to achieve success. Psychopathic individuals can be occupationally or criminally successful, but how?
Emma-Clementine O. Welsh, a PhD student in clinical psychology at Binghamton University, conducted research to answer that very question under the direction of Distinguished Professor of Psychology Mark F. Lenzenweger. Welsh and Lenzenweger co-wrote “Psychopathy, charisma, and success: A moderation modeling approach to successful psychopathy” based on their findings. The paper was recently published in the Journal of Research in Personality.
Welsh found that an important factor for psychopathic people to achieve success was possessing charismatic traits. Psychopathy is a neuropsychiatric disorder defined by a lack of emotional responses, empathy and misconduct. Charisma is defined by magnetism, social appeal, charm and popularity. These traits are not ordinarily paired with apathy and antisocial behavior, but Welsh researched the association between charisma, psychopathy and their roles in success, a topic with no prior research.
“The study of successful psychopathy is somewhat controversial,” said Welsh. “To some, it is paradoxical to consider an individual who is self-centered, manipulative and engages in unethical or criminal behaviors to be successful; however, this perspective is entirely dependent upon how one defines ‘success.’ We wanted to better understand how psychopathic individuals achieve successful outcomes in the form of success in the workplace and/or getting away with unethical and criminal behaviors.”
The study began with Welsh’s programmatic work in the area of successful psychopathy in partial fulfillment of her master’s degree. Lenzenweger and Welsh found missing areas of research on the topic and set forth to study it more in depth.
“We identified a significant gap in the literature regarding how and why psychopathic individuals obtain successful life outcomes,” said Welsh. “Our goals were to: 1) comprehensively define what ‘success’ means for individuals with psychopathic features; 2) understand why many psychopathic individuals are described as ‘charismatic’; and 3) assess whether charisma helps psychopathic individuals obtain more ‘successful’ life outcomes.”
They conducted a battery of scientific surveys on 315 individuals based upon self-reported measures of personality and behavior. The Psychopathic Success Inventory (PSI) is an assessment created by Welsh and Lenzenweger to comprehensively define success for individuals with psychopathic traits. People reported how often they engage in psychopathic tendencies such as antisocial and criminal activity, and how often they were caught for these behaviors. The PSI measured the domains of occupational success and frequency of escaping punishment and detection for psychopathic behavior. The results were ranked against the person’s success and career status.
Welsh discovered a positive correlation between charisma and psychopathy. People who received higher scores for psychopathic traits on the PSI commonly scored high for charismatic traits as well. Psychopathic individuals are not always charismatic or vice versa, but Welsh found there is an overlap in people.
This means charismatic people with psychopathy tendencies were more likely to avoid detection and punishment for their poor behavior. Bad behavior can include lying, manipulation, abusive actions, cheating and criminal activity. This study found psychopathic individuals can be charming, smooth-talking and likable with ingenuine intentions. More psychopathic individuals may also be better at influencing others.
“These findings have implications for both the criminal justice system and industrial or organizational settings,” said Welsh about the possible applications of these results. “Charisma is highly sought after in organizational settings, particularly for leadership roles. As a result, hiring committees may be more likely to hire someone with psychopathic traits because they are very charismatic. Employees who exhibit this combination of traits may more frequently abuse work privileges, violate company policies, exploit other employees or even steal from organizations without being caught or disciplined.”
Welsh and Lenzenweger are currently conducting research to replicate, extend and strengthen their findings through more objective, laboratory-based measures.