How to tell if you are a psychopath

Written by
Dr Tara Swart

29 Aug 2017

29 Aug 2017 • by Dr Tara Swart

How strongly would you identify with the following statements?

1. I’d have no problem cheating on my partner if I knew I could get away with it
2. I don’t get bothered by seeing animals injured or in pain
3. It would be fun to drive fast cars, ride rollercoasters and go skydiving
4. I’m very persuasive, and getting people to do what I want is a real talent of mine

If the answer to all of these is strongly agree, then there is a chance that you could be closer to the “psychopath” end of the personality spectrum on which we all sit. 

Professor Kevin Dutton at Oxford University has developed a test which you can complete in just minutes, to determine where you stand, and your job type might be a giveaway.

Lawyers, surgeons and chefs are examples of some of the careers with the most psychopaths, and CEOs are statistically much more likely to be psychopaths than their employees.

Signs of a psychopath

Self-centred / narcissistic, yet charismatic
  • Examples of this might include repeated self-reference, coming across as charming on first impression but ultimately lacking in agreeableness, and constantly seeking self-glorification.
Relentless focus & drive
  • Psychopaths are often motivated by thrill, lust and power, and it is the pursuit rather than actual attainment of the goal that they find gratifying.
Poor empathy/ ruthlessness
  • Psychopaths can assess a situation without forming an emotional attachment. This ability to be ruthless in pursuing what they want without any regard for the feelings of others may go some way to explaining why some psychopaths achieve success in business.
  • Psychopaths often exhibit reward-seeking behaviour, which is prompted by the activity of dopamine circuits in the brain. They might have higher testosterone levels, leading them to take more risks than another person.

Coolness under pressure

  • Psychopaths rarely feel any stress. They tend to have low levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in their blood. 
  • Cortisol can suppress the immune system, so psychopaths are often less prone to suffer from illness. ​

You can change the way you operate

If some of these ring true with you, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to over-write the pathways in the brain that enable you behave in a particular way.

For example, you might have a tendency to lack empathy or to be self-centred. But repeatedly practising being patient and understanding, for example with your family or your colleagues, can re-wire the neural connections in the brain such that you become better at these behaviours.

This is thanks to the power of what is called “neuroplasticity”, the ability of the brain to physically change in response to learning or experience.