Angel is currently a first-year student at university studying psychology.
In an increasingly individualistic society, self-interest and narcissistic behaviours are valued and even rewarded. Society is encouraging behaviour that borderlines on psychopathic in order to achieve individual success. Psychopathic traits such as a lack of remorse can be particularly useful for an individual as they can achieve their goals without concern for how their actions will affect others; this allows them to achieve material and sexual success without the ethical concerns associated with such goals.
Psychopaths are often sexually promiscuous; their superficial charm and manipulativeness allow for easy seduction and coercion into sexual relationships. For impulsive and driven individuals, this allows psychopaths to fulfill their sexual desires successfully. From an evolutionary standpoint, this ensures that they are able to pass on their genes through reproduction.
Hare and Babiak (2006) comment on the reproductive success of psychopaths who can have many children "with little or no emotional and physical investment in their well-being." However, the definition of 'sexual success' is subjective. Although psychopaths are able to have many relationships, they rarely last long and lack the emotional connection others often seek when looking for a romantic partner.
Meyers (2014) argues that the "absence of [an] emotional connection and true empathetic feeling" means a psychopath is incapable of forming meaningful relationships. However, if psychopaths lack empathy and do not experience emotions in the same way as others, one could argue that they may not want emotional connections with people. Society believes that relationships should be romantic and spiritual, but perhaps psychopaths do not share the same beliefs and values; so they may consider promiscuity to be successful.
Ohara (as cited in The Wisdom of Psychopaths, 2012) found that in certain conditions, psychopaths can make better financial decisions. For those who want to become wealthy, psychopathic traits may be useful in achieving this goal. In Ohara's study, participants had to play an ultimatum game which involves two players deciding how much a sum of money should be divided between them. One player offers how they think the money should be split; if the second player agrees, they receive the appropriate sum, but if the second player disagrees, they both get nothing.
When a player offers a fair split, i.e., 50:50, the second will agree and the sum is split accordingly. However, if the first player proposed to split the sum 70:30, participants were more likely to reject this as it would be unfair. Psychopaths, on the other hand, did not seem to care about such inequality and accepted unfair offers regardless. As a result, the psychopaths earned more money than those who had rejected the unfair offers. This implies that under certain circumstances, psychopaths can make better financial decisions; this may also be why so many psychopaths become business leaders.
Despite these findings, some of the characteristics of psychopathy, according to the PCL-R, include impulsivity, irresponsibility and a lack of realistic long term goals. These traits suggest that psychopaths would not make sound financial decisions or many decent decisions in general. In fact, Cleckley (as cited in Snakes in Suits, 2006) found that his patients often made more poor life decisions, especially as they were unable to learn from their mistakes, so repeated dysfunctional behaviour. This means that the context of the situation largely affects whether finance is managed efficiently; one must also take into account the variability of psychopathic traits: those without (or at least low levels of) impulsivity and irresponsibility would be more functional.
Success varies from one individual to the next, and largely depends on which psychopathic traits one has and the severity of each behaviour. Ray's model of life success (see figure 1) indicates that optimum levels of psychopathy can be beneficial.
This model shows that certain levels of psychopathy are functional but too little or too much means an individual will not be able to function efficiently. This idea is further added to by Dutton (2012) who proposes a 'functional psychopath equation':
Functioning psychopath = (psychopath - poor decision making) / context
This equation takes into account the context of the situation and acknowledges that characteristics such as poor decision making must be absent in order for a psychopath to be functional and achieve individual success.
Overall, psychopathic traits can be beneficial in achieving personal goals, however, some characteristics can actually be damaging. So functionality is largely determined by which traits an individual has and to what degree they have them.
Psychopathic traits could help individuals to achieve their goals, and this is especially the case for sexual relationships which stand as an advantageous evolutionary tool. Furthermore, research implies that such traits can also influence better financial decisions. However, this does not necessarily apply to all psychopaths and instead is mediated by environmental factors as well as their own traits and their severity.
- Babiak, P. , Hare, R. (2007). Snakes in suits: when psychopaths go to work. Published New York, Regan Books.
- Dutton, K.. (2012). The wisdom of psychopaths: lessons in life from Saints, spies and serial killers. Published London, William Heinemann.
- Meyers, S. (2014) Sex and the Psychopath. Published online, available at Psychology Today.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Angel Harper
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 31, 2020:
Thanks for the information. Interesting and helpful. It would be great to achieve a healthy balance level for effective functioning.