Despite what Hollywood suggests, psychopaths aren’t easy to recognise due to their habit of accessorising with a blood-soaked axe and a maniacal leer. So how can you spot them, should you be worried, and could you be working alongside one right now?
Chillingly cool, collected, cunning and clever. Is this the perfect description of a psychopath? For most people, Hollywood movies and popular culture generate such images of psychopathy. Be it Anthony Hopkins as Dr Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs or Psycho’s Norman Bates, such characters dominate the public’s perception of a psychopath. But how close is this popular image to reality?
The term ‘psychopath’ originated in the 1800s, from the Greek words ‘psykhe’ and ‘pathos’, which mean ‘sick mind’ or ‘suffering soul’, respectively. However, this can be misleading. “Psychopaths might be better conceptualised as people who are dissociated,” says criminologist Robert Blakey. “In other words, people who are detached from their own emotions and the emotions of other people. Consequently, they just don’t feel much. If they see a person in distress, psychopaths don’t feel the distress themselves, so they have less emotional incentive not to harm people.”
Blakey believes this dissociation can arise from inheriting an over-sensitive perceptual system. “If you’re very sensitive to visible signs of distress and anger in other people, then seeing those signs could become overwhelming for highly sensitive children,” he says.
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