Most people on the streets agree that the typical profile of the psychopath is that of someone with great ability to manipulate others, dishonest, lacking in empathy, and above average intelligence.
However … Are they really the smartest psychopaths? This is a problem that has been dealt with experimentally over the past decades. Let’s see if this is true or is this another myth promoted by the media.
Psychopathy and its characteristics
Before going into more detail on the reasons why, in popular culture, we have the idea that psychopaths are smarter, it becomes necessary to explain, very briefly, the main diagnostic features of this personality disorder. .
Most psychological disorders are characterized by a series of symptoms that vary in varying degrees depending on the person affected. However, psychopathy is distinguished by its stability in terms of behavior and personality.
Psychopaths generally share a fairly stable set of personality traits, observable in the vast majority of them. The classic image of psychopaths is that of callous people, without remorse or empathy, very manipulative, with great impulsiveness and ideas of grandeur. They also possess great superficial charm, in addition to being pathological liars and having very promiscuous sex lives.
However, it is possible to differentiate two main types of psychopathy: primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy. Primary psychopaths, who are said to be most closely related to the stereotypical picture of psychopathy, are distinguished by their weak empathy and coldness, however, they generally do not commit violent or aggressive acts. In contrast, secondary psychopaths, also called hostile or reactive, are those who antisocial behavior, in the form of physical and verbal aggression and violence.
In recent decades, attempts have been made to establish the percentage of psychopaths in the population, varying the statistics between 0.2 and 1% depending on the country. So, judging by these percentages, it can be inferred that throughout life you will have the opportunity to meet someone who, to a greater or lesser extent, could be called a psychopath.
Although, as we said, not all psychopaths are aggressive and, therefore, they do not have to commit criminal acts, it is true that a significant percentage of the prison population meets the diagnostic criteria. Depending on the gender, culture and country in which the prison is assessed, the percentages of inmates with psychopathy vary from 11% to 25%.
Are they the smartest psychopaths? The myth of Hannibal Lecter
As with the vast majority of psychological disorders, psychopathy is not without myths. Among the most notable are that psychopaths are smarter people than most people. This has been approached experimentally, and we have seen that not only is it not true, but also the psychopathic population has, on average, lower intelligence than expected in the general population.
However, one should not be mistaken in thinking that psychopaths are in fact less intelligent than most people. To say that psychopathy has something to do with intelligence or that it influences this construction is wrong. In fact, this is how research conducted by O’Boyle’s group in 2013 found that the correlation between psychopathy and intelligence was close to zero, which would mean that the two psychological constructs are independent. one from the other.
One of the reasons it is associated with high intelligence psychopathy has to do with one of the characteristics of psychopaths: be proficient in social situations, at least on a superficial level. While this is not always the case, there are many psychopaths who possess some pretty striking social skills, allowing others to be manipulated by their superficial charm. Manipulating others is associated with having an intelligence superior to popular culture.
Another explanation that might explain why the general population sees psychopaths smarter than they actually are, especially primary psychopaths, has to do with the relationship that has been culturally given to intelligence when linked to cordiality, A dimension of personality.
Traditionally, people who see themselves as more logical also see themselves as cooler and less friendly. On the other hand, people who see themselves as nicer and friendlier also tend to underestimate their intelligence. In other words, that is to say culturally a very clear distinction has been made between reason and heartSeeing the two aspects as something totally opposite and, in case you have a lot of them, you should have little of the other.
This can be extrapolated from the point of view of primary psychopathy. Being people with a lack of empathy is supposed to make a lot of sense and therefore smarter than the majority of the population. This phenomenon, fueled by the media, has been called the myth of Hannibal Lecter, the famous psychopath from the film Silence of the Lambs by Jonathan Demme (1991). Despite this, science has not found a relationship between the dimension of cordiality and intelligence.
- Decuyper, M., De Pauw, S., De Fruyt, F., De Bolle, M. and De Clercq, BJ (2009). A meta-analysis of associations of psychopathy, antisocial PD, and FFM. European Personality Journal, 23 (7), 531-565. doi: 10.1002 / per.729
- DeYoung, CG (2011). Intelligence and personality. In RJ Sternberg and Kaufman, SB (eds), The Cambridge Intelligence Handbook (pp. 711-737). New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Edens, JF, Clark, J., Smith, ST, Cox, J. & Kelley, SE (2013). Bold, Clever, Dangerous, and Evil: Perceived Correlations of Basic Psychopathic Traits Among Jury Members. Personality and Mental Health, 7 (2), 143-153. doi: 10.1002 / pmh.1221
- Fetterman, AK and Robinson, MD (2013). Are you using your head or are you following your heart? Self-localization predicts personality, emotions, decision-making, and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105 (2), 316-334. doi: 10.1037 / a0033374
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- O’Boyle, EH, Forsyth, D., Banks, GC & Story, PA (2013). A meta-analytical review of the Dark Triad’s intelligence connection. Journal of Research in Personality, 47 (6), 789-794. doi: http: //dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2013.08.001