Psychopaths with high IQs can manipulate revealing personality tests

It’s an idea that you might already have had: your boss is a psychopath. Well, new research shows that this could be the case, even if he did a personality test when he or she came to take the job. For the first time, it has been demonstrated that people with psychopathic tendencies who have high IQs can mask their symptoms by manipulating tests designed to reveal their personalities. It raises the possibility that large numbers of ruthless risk-takers are able to conceal their level of psychopathy as they rise to key managerial posts.

But… actually the researcher didn’t test this hypothesis on real managers, but on students, although it was indeed already described earlier on that there are more psychopaths with managers than in the rest of the population.

From the press release:

Carolyn Bate, aged 22, was still an undergraduate when she carried out her groundbreaking research into the links between psychopathy and intelligence, using a range of special tests and analysing the data.  She wrote up her findings for the final-year project in her BSc Psychology degree.  Not only was she awarded an exceptionally high mark of 85 per cent, her work has also been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology – an unusual distinction for an undergraduate.

Carolyn, who has now graduated with First Class Honours, said that her project was triggered when she read about research which showed that while one per cent of the population were categorised as psychopaths, the figure rose to three per cent in the case of business managers.

“I thought that intelligence could be an explanation for this, and it could be a problem if there are increased numbers of psychopaths at a high level in business.  The figure could be more than three per cent, because if people are aware they are psychopathic they can also lie – they are quite manipulative and lack empathy.  This could have a detrimental effect on our everyday lives,” said Carolyn, who added that some researchers have suggested that episodes such as the Wall Street Crash could be blamed on the numbers of psychopaths among decision makers.

She points out that, despite the media’s invariably lurid use of the term, there are various categories of psychopath and they are not all prone to physical violence.

“The ones who are at the top of businesses are often charming and intelligent, but with emotional deficits, as opposed to psychopaths who are quite erratic and tend to commit gruesome crimes and are often caught and imprisoned.”

Sufficient intelligence to fake their emotional response 

To test her ideas, Carolyn assembled 50 participants, mostly from among students, who underwent a series of tests – conducted in strict confidence – beginning with an appraisal of IQ levels using a standard procedure.  Then they completed the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, which established which participants had either Factor One or Factor Two psychopathic tendencies.

Then Carolyn used the technique of Galvanic Skin Response (GSR).  Electrodes were attached to the fingers of participants in order to gauge their reactions to images on a computer screen.  They included pictures of crying children, people being threatened and scenes of natural disasters.  There were no truly horrific images, but they were of the sort that would shock a completely normal person.  However, a person with Factor One psychopathic tendencies – the sort more likely to become a business manager – would display little or no emotional response; while a Factor Two psychopath would demonstrate a heightened response due to excitement.

Carolyn found that the GSR responses among her participants were much as she would have predicted – except for the fact that it was only those with lower levels of intelligence who displayed the expected levels of excitement.

The conclusion is that those with higher IQs had sufficient intelligence to fake their emotional response, making it more difficult to detect their condition.  This is the discovery that means Carolyn has made an original contribution to research in the field.

She has contemplated the implications and whether or not it is important to develop new procedures to screen out psychopathic people who are in line for top business posts.

“Perhaps businesses do need people who have the same characteristics as psychopaths, such as ruthlessness.  But I suspect that some form of screening does need to take place, mainly so businesses are aware of what sort of people they are hiring,” she says.

Abstract of the research:

This study examined the relationships between psychopathy (primary and secondary), intelligence and emotional responding in a sample of 50 university students, using a task measuring autonomic responses to 40 pictorial stimuli (20 neutral and 20 emotionally provoking). Results indicated no significant direct relationship between primary or secondary psychopathy and emotional response, or primary or secondary psychopathy and intelligence. However, a significant moderating effect of intelligence on the association between both psychopathy factors and emotional response was observed, indicating those scoring higher on psychopathy but with lower intelligence portray the expected emotional responses to the affective stimuli (primary: β = −.56, p < .05; secondary: β = .80, p <.001). These findings indicate abnormal reactivity to emotional stimuli in lower intelligence, higher psychopathic individuals, and suggest differing roles for the two facets of psychopathy in affective responsiveness deviations.

8 thoughts on “Psychopaths with high IQs can manipulate revealing personality tests

  1. whether psychopaths can or cannot fake emotions, their business(es) succeed as they are capable for understanding what people want to make profit. Therefore, psychopaths or not it doesn’t matter they can fake emotions as they are dependant on the majority to succeed by giving them what they want for whatever reason worth spending their money on.I think it would be a form of discrimination identifying psychopaths as long as they cause no harm to themselves or others.

  2. Psychopaths need not be anti-social. although some with low IQ might be max-direct profit oriented the ones with higher IQ might be driven to long term pro-social choices that are Ethical.

  3. The test was made on 50 university students but as mentioned in the article, the tendency for psychopaths among people are around 1%(and 3% among managers?), that means, with some 50% chance of luck, that there is 1 psychopath between those 50 students, so how is these tests contributing to anything again?

    And how are these 50 people categorised into Factor One and Factor Two psychopathic tendencies, when most likely only one (or two – with some good luck) out of these 50 people are psychopaths?

    If you’re arguing that all 50 students were psychopaths, that means you had to make tests on at least 5000 students to sort out ~50 psychopaths from the population of 5000 students..

    And what about people who has other emotional issues without being a psychopaths if undergoing such huge scale personality tests on 5000 students?

    For example people with low level depression, schizophrenia, asperger (even people undergoing high stress) just to mention a few mental stages. can all be lacking emotional response to things which can also inflicts on their level of empathy(this does not make them a psychopath). I doubt that these personality tests takes account for the above mentioned. I also doubt that these tests takes account for real-life thinking and behaviour that is a result of many different factors such as paradigms, social and cultural factors that also influence how people think and behave.

    And my last issues with these tests is the outcome and total sum of these personality tests as a result of peoples commitment (or lack of such) and ways of interpreting and reflecting upon the whole bunch of questions that follows such personality tests.

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