Research: Increased number of psychopaths in upper management

Sep 08, 2014 12:00 AM

For the first time, a study has shown those with psychopathic tendencies and high intelligence can and do manipulate tests designed to reveal their true psychopathic selves.

Perhaps more remarkably, the groundbreaking research was conceived and carried out by an undergraduate student at the University of Huddersfield, in England.

Carolyn Bate, who has since graduated with First Class Honors and a degree in psychology, first surmised there might be some interesting correlations between psychopathy and intelligence when she learned psychopaths made up only one percent of the population but three percent of upper management positions in business.

"I thought that intelligence could be an explanation for this, and it could be a problem if there are increased numbers of psychopaths at a high level in business," Bate explained in a press release. "The figure could be more than three per cent, because if people are aware they are psychopathic they can also lie -- they are quite manipulative and lack empathy."

To test her hypothesis, Bate tested her fellow students. She gave 50 participants a standard IQ test. The same 50 participants then took the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, which is designed to reveal psychopathic tendencies. Finally, Bate showed a series of sad images (a child crying or a the aftermath of a natural disaster) to the participants. A low-level psychopath would be expected to show little to no emotion, whereas a normal person would be expected to react with shock or some sign of empathy. A severe psychopath would be expected to show excitement at another's pain.

Bate found that only those with lower IQ scores reacted as expected, suggesting highly intelligent psychopaths manipulated their responses. Bate says the results suggest there could be even more psychopaths in corporate leadership than researchers say.

"Perhaps businesses do need people who have the same characteristics as psychopaths, such as ruthlessness," Bate said. "But I suspect that some form of screening does need to take place, mainly so businesses are aware of what sort of people they are hiring."

Her undergaduate work was formalized and submitted for publication. It was accepted, appearing in the latest issue of the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology. Bate has since decided to return to Huddersfield for a graduate degree in education.

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