Our ideas of what makes a person a psychopath is often based on Hollywood’s depictions. Some of us may think of a psychopath as someone who is morally corrupt and has trouble connecting with others. Others may associate this terminology with violence. Still, it’s best to have a clear understanding of what the professionals have to say on the matter.
Here are the things to watch out for if you suspect someone is a little off.
1. They’re immune to yawning stimuli
In a study published by Personality and Individual Differences, researchers gave 135 undergraduates the task of completing a questionnaire meant to assess their levels of psychopathic traits. Afterward, the participants were given three videos to watch in a random order — one had a person with a neutral face, one was of a person laughing, and the third was of a person yawning. While the participants watched the videos, the researchers closely monitored their faces, looking for minute facial muscle activity.
The results of the survey showed something very interesting: The participants who had scored higher in coldheartedness, a psychopathic trait involving emotional detachment, were less likely to be affected by the contagious yawning stimuli. Psychology Today explains coldheartedness is also associated with lacking empathy and having a “callous unconcern for the feelings of others.” This is just one piece to the entire picture, of course. But if you’re interested in testing out how potentially psychopathic someone is, you might want to try yawning in front of them.
2. They order black coffee
This one can easily be confused with someone who just wants to cut out dairy and sugar from their diet, but it’s still interesting. A study published in the journal Appetite suggests people who prefer black coffee may have psychopathic tendencies. The study of almost 1,000 people found those who preferred bitter foods and beverages were more likely, as in the past two studies, to display characteristics of “Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and everyday sadism.” It should be noted the answers were self-reported by the subjects. Still, pay attention to those coffee orders the next time you’re at Starbucks — trouble might be brewin’.
3. They tend to take a lot of selfies
Besides their inability to return a yawn, research suggests men who post a lot of selfies are prone toward psychopathy. In a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, researchers took a look at a link between men’s personality traits and how they present themselves on social media. The team surveyed men between the ages of 18 and 40 with the purpose of testing selfie-taking habits in relation to their levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy — three traits known as the Dark Triad.
Part of the survey asked about how frequently they utilized social media, including how often they posted pictures and the degree to which they would edit their photos before posting them. The survey found men who showed high levels of self-objectification and narcissism spent greater amounts of time on social media and similar networking sites. Further, the researchers found men who were more narcissistic and psychopathic were more likely to frequently post selfies.
4. They’re bored easily …
We all yearn for excitement — maybe you’ve been eyeing those expensive concert tickets or you can’t wait to ride the new roller coaster at the amusement park. Psychopaths are also looking for thrills, but they can be a lot more unsavory and dangerous than how most of us desire to spend our weekends. Psychology Today explains that psychopaths long to live life in the fast lane — desiring to be on the edge at all times. They’ll chase this thrill again and again, no matter how much it puts their life (or the lives of others) in danger.
Robert Hare, Ph.D., explains this further in the publication. When speaking with a patient about her rash, thrill-seeking behavior, she said, “But what I find most exciting is walking through airports with drugs. Christ! What a high!”
… and they might have trouble maintaining a routine
Some psychopaths may not exhibit this extreme tendency toward living on the edge, but they may still have trouble holding down a set routine or keeping to a designated schedule. Activities that are dull and repetitive are likely to leave your mind drifting into more exciting territory if you have this condition, Hare writes. This can make holding a job or keeping relationships very hard, as psychopaths are also prone to shirking responsibilities.
5. They displayed antisocial traits as children
Psychopathy can only be diagnosed if you’re thinking and speaking for yourself, but a study shows your behavior as an infant may reveal more than you think. In research published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers tested children to see if they exhibited any callous and unemotional traits. When children show these traits, it can be a precursor to adult psychopathy. These behaviors include impaired emotional recognition, remaining unresponsive to others’ distress, and a lack of guilt.
Dr. Rachael Bedford, the lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post, “Callous unemotional behaviors in children are known to be associated with an increased emotional burden on families as well as later criminality and antisocial behavior.” It’s also worth noting the researchers don’t know how strong the relationship between these behaviors and adult psychopathy is, but learning how your child behaves early on could clue you in on how they will act when they’re older.
6. They’ve had several short-lived relationships
If you’ve ever muttered to your friends that your ex was “definitely a psychopath,” you could be on to something. Most of us joke about our brief, tumultuous relationships, but Mark Holder, an associate professor, tells Psych Central that psychopaths are more likely to have very short-lived romantic relations with others.
People with this condition are generally self-serving, but this lack of connection could also lead to great unhappiness. Willem H. J. Martens, Ph.D., tells Psychiatric Times those with this personality disorder typically want love and sometimes feel genuinely upset they cannot better control their behaviors.
Dating someone with a trail of exes? Take a look at their behaviors to see if those exes took the high road for a reason.
7. They’re a CEO
You may think most psychopaths are behind bars. After all, if they’re prone to criminal behavior and they don’t have many social connections, there’s no way they could uphold a stable career, right? Surprise! The tyrannical boss you and your co-workers are always complaining about could, in fact, be a psychopath.
AOL highlights a passage from The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton, which reads, “a number of psychopathic attributes [are] actually more common in business leaders than in so-called criminals.” Think about the toughest bosses you’ve ever encountered. Some may be egocentric, persuasive, and willing to step on everyone below them to get to the top. Leaders with these attributes are probably not very well-liked by their co-workers, though they could have been charming at first. All of these signs point to psychopathy.
Professions with the most psychopaths
There are quite a few career paths that psychopaths lean toward. The Huffington Post explains those with this personality disorder are more likely to gravitate toward careers that put them into a position of power. They are not drawn toward jobs that connect with other people or deal with emotion, as they wouldn’t be good at them anyway.
Psychopaths are likely to be CEOs, lawyers, salespeople, surgeons, or police officers, to name a few. And you’re highly unlikely to meet any nurses, therapists, charity workers, teachers, or doctors who have this personality disorder.
Psychopathy in men and women
Research has said time and time again that psychopaths are typically male, but that doesn’t mean the few callous females you’ve known through the years can’t receive this diagnosis. Psychology Today explains most of what we know about psychopaths comes from studies done on prison populations. Our society may be less likely to suspect a woman of certain crimes than a man, so when researchers test prisoners for psychopathic behaviors, they generally have more men to work with. Because of this, we can’t really say for sure if men are more likely to have this disorder than women.
As of now, there’s no specific treatment for psychopathic behavior. There’s also an ongoing debate about what psychopathy truly is — some describe it as a mental illness, though it’s much more widely accepted as a personality disorder. Jennifer Skeem, a professor of psychology and social behavior, tells the Association For Psychological Science there’s a lot of contradicting evidence about how psychopaths even come to develop their behaviors.
Many people believe those with this disorder are born this way, but other findings suggest psychopaths are more often a product of their environments. And some psychologists believe there’s no helping these people and there’s absolutely no cure, though there’s not really any evidence to support this, either. Because of all of the different thoughts and opinions, finding treatment that works for everyone has been nearly impossible. Hopefully, there will be a clear approach for those who exhibit these symptoms in the future.
Taryn Brooke also contributed to this story