WANTED: Charming, aggressive, carefree people who are good at looking out for Number 1

Burt and Jean Elmer Gantry

If our headline describes you, you could be a psychopath. Really.

Our title is actually part of a classified newspaper ad that researchers used to recruit potential psychopaths from non-jailed populations. The goal of the research was to study the differences between “successful” and “unsuccessful psychopaths.” Successful psychopaths are people that who would flunk The Psychopath Test, but who have managed to stay out of the criminal justice system.

Researches compared 5 different groups of psychopaths:

  1. Pyschopaths living in the community
  2. Psychopaths working for temporary employment agencies
  3. College students with psychopathic traits
  4. Corporate psychopaths in business, politics and other “white collar” jobs
  5. Serial killers

The bottom line: Successful psychopaths are smarter and sneakier than unsuccessful ones who are more likely to use violence to achieve their goals.

Both groups are superficially charming, manipulative, self-important liars who are callous, parasitic, prone to boredom and sexually promiscuous.

You can find more information on corporate psychopaths (“Snakes in Suits”) here.

Who are your favorite psychopaths? Most people these days would think of

  • Burt Lancaster (shown seducing Jean Simmons, above) in his title role as Elmer Gantry
  • Sissy Spacek in Badlands
  • Nicole Kidman in Malice

To prepare for her tole in Malice, Nicole Kidman consulted with Dr. Robert Hare, the Canadian psychologist who invented The Psychopath Test. “How,” Ms. Kidman wondered, “could she show the audience there was something fundamentally wrong with her character?”

Dr. Hare said, “Here’s a scene that you can use. You’re walking down a street and there’s an accident. A car has hit a child in the crosswalk. A crowd of people gather round. You walk up, the child’s lying on the ground and there’s blood running all over the place. You get a little blood on your shoes and you look down and say, ‘Oh shit.’ You look over at the child, kind of interested, but you’re not repelled or horrified. You’re just interested. Then you look at the mother, and you’re really fascinated by the mother, who’s emoting, crying out, doing all these different things. After a few minutes you turn away and go back to your house. You go into the bathroom and practice mimicking the facial expressions of the mother. ”

Hare says, “That’s the psychopath: somebody who doesn’t understand what’s going on emotionally, but understands that something important has happened.”

When it comes to movie psychos, Dr. Hare recommends Sissy Spacek‘s performance as Holly in the Terrence Malick film Badlands. As he says in his book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us

The last film we’ll mention is Elmer Gantry, starring Burt Lancaster, based on the 1926 novel by Nobel Prize-winner Sinclair Lewis. Elmer Gantry is a narcissistic, womanizing, manipulative con man who makes his living as an evangelical minister.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

1 Comment

  1. thepuffyshirt

    July 31, 2011 at 2:17 am

    I saw this article and immediately thought of the man responsible for the attacks in Norway. Is there a link between being a religious zealot and being a psychopath?

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